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Fatal crash turns reunion to memorial

Published Sep. 16, 2005

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

The sprawling Lollis clan gathers in Largo every year to share the family bond. The extended family, numbering in the hundreds, had planned a picnic in Taylor Park on Saturday.

Instead, family members will attend the double funeral of Robert and Karen Lollis, longtime Largo residents who had left just three weeks ago to start a new business in South Carolina. They were killed Wednesday in a car accident.

"He was coming back this weekend," said Robert Lollis' older brother, E. C. Lollis, who lived next door to his brother and sister-in-law on Gladys Road for more than 20 years.

The childhood sweethearts had decided to return to the family's roots in South Carolina and start a construction business. Robert, 57, and Karen, 53, already had bought a house in the small town of Honeopath.

"They planned on staying, but if things didn't work out, they would come back," E. C. Lollis said.

They never got to make the decision. The couple were driving about 6:20 p.m. Wednesday when they collided with a pickup truck. Robert Lollis died on the spot; his wife died two hours later at a hospital. South Carolina state troopers say Lollis was at fault in the accident.

Grady Lollis, 50, came to Largo from Cyprus this week for the family picnic. He was shocked that his brother died in a car accident, he said, because his brother loved restoring old cars and competing as a driver. Robert Lollis used to participate in amateur races at the Sunshine Speedway, his brother said.

"I thought someone was playing a joke," he said. "He was always a really good driver."

The Lollis family moved to Largo from South Carolina in 1948. Robert Lollis had 14 siblings, all of whom live in Pinellas except for a sister in California and his brother Grady, who works in Cyprus.

"We're a tight family," E. C. Lollis said. "We all hug each other when we meet. Even all the brothers hug when we meet."

Karen and Robert Lollis met as teenagers at Clearwater's Bay Drive-in restaurant. They married in 1958 and shared a family nostalgia for the 1950s. Robert Lollis worked as a plumber and restored old cars as a hobby.

Karen moved to Pinellas from Toronto in her early teens. After marrying Robert and raising three children, she worked as a beautician at Nail Designers on Clearwater-Largo Road for the past 10 years. For her, the move to South Carolina offered a welcome rest.

"We were a little bit jealous because she was retiring," said Constance McCrimmon, a co-owner of the beauty shop. "It was a new adventure for her. It was going to be fun."

McCrimmon and co-owner Ginny Bance said Karen Lollis brought good cheer to the shop. "We were always laughing in here," McCrimmon said.

"We were all so shocked," she said. "This isn't supposed to happen yet. You know, it's like, 'You still have more nails do.' "

Family members said they will miss Robert Lollis' humor and Elvis Presley impressions.

"He loved to joke with people," said E. C. Lollis. "Robert looked like Elvis when he was young. They called us the Elvis brothers."

Robert and Karen Lollis are survived by two daughters, Debbie Slate, 36, and Tracy Lollis, 34; and a son, Dustin Lollis, 20. All are Pinellas residents.