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Stroke leaves a town in disbelief

Many were astonished to hear about the collapse of the man behind Johnnie's Bar-B-Q.

For a man who was always on the go, Monday's sudden stop was hard for his family to imagine.

Johnnie Clower _ the barbecue caterer and restaurateur behind countless benefits, charity drives, civic functions and heaping plates of ribs _ was knocked to the ground Monday by a stroke.

Clower, 56, was leaving A/J's Warehouse Foods about 9:25 a.m. Monday when he fell to his knees, struggled to get up, then slumped over his shopping cart and fell to the ground again, apparently the victim of a stroke, according to his wife, Betty.

He was treated at Pasco Regional Medical Center in Dade City and flown by helicopter to Tampa General Hospital on Monday afternoon.

"He's always on the go, always running and worrying," Betty Clower said. "It's so hard for us to see him this way."

She said her husband apparently suffered bleeding inside his skull. She stayed with him into the night Monday and learned on Tuesday that he had wiggled his toes and fingers.

It was a positive sign, she said.

For the past 10 years, the Clowers have run Johnnie's Bar-B-Q at the corner of N Fifth Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard. The restaurant is renowned locally for its Friday buffet, which often has people waiting in line for a table. The takeout orders pour in from area businesses and a nearby juice-processing plant.

Betty Clower said witnesses at A/J's said her husband tried to dismiss the incident at first and wanted to get back to work, concerned about a scheduled lunch job he had, but medical teams recognized the seriousness of the situation.

He was taken by a rescue truck to the local hospital.

Clower is a familiar figure throughout town, and news of his stroke spread quickly.

Penny Morrill, president of the Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce, heard about it before noon Monday.

"He's a staple of the community," she said. "It's just a shock."

Clower's friend, Pete Odom, usually known for his jovial and outgoing demeanor, was nearly tongue-tied with worry on Tuesday.

"I'm very seriously concerned about this," he said.

Odom recalled his longtime friend's giving nature, never turning down anyone who needed help and often risking his own money and time to help a good cause.

Clower's friendship transcended racial lines, Odom said.

"His friends are black and white and whatever," he said. "It doesn't matter to him. He knows everybody."

Sam Rainey, Dade City's human resources director and president of the local Rotary chapter, said he will be helping the family cook for a fish fry Saturday. He said he wanted to do whatever he could to help.

Charlotte Kiefer, a longtime downtown businesswoman and a candidate for County Commission, offered her services in the kitchen.

And at Pasco High School, where the Clowers' children attended school and the couple have been big boosters, Athletic Director Willie Broner said everyone has heard the news and is concerned.

"Everybody knows him," Betty Clower said. "Everybody has eaten here or seen him or had his cooking."

Betty Clower said her husband routinely wakes at 5 a.m. to get ready for the day. He was probably worrying about his Rotary lunch Monday when he went to the grocery store for a few more items. He has a benefit scheduled for Friday night and another scheduled for Saturday.

He often runs events on Sundays and at night in addition to running his restaurant, she said.

"I was telling him, you're getting older, you've got to slow down some," Betty Clower said. "When you're young, you can go, go, go, but when you get a little older, you have to start taking care of yourself."

She vowed to keep the restaurant going, with help from the family, so her husband would have one less thing to worry about.

On Tuesday afternoon, Clower was listed in critical condition at the neuro-intensive care unit of Tampa General Hospital.

Well-wishers

Get well cards can be sent care of Johnnie's Bar-B-Q, 14519 N Fifth St., Dade City, FL 33525.

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