(ran PW and PS edition)
Robert Vernon Hudson, one of six former Stauffer Chemical Co. workers who claimed in a lawsuit that the plant poisoned its workers, died Wednesday, a month before he was scheduled to give a deposition.
Mr. Hudson, a lifelong mullet fisherman known to many as simply the Mullet Man, was a descendant of the founding family of the town of Hudson.
Mr. Hudson, of Holiday, worked for 32 years at Stauffer, operating the furnace at the former phosphorus processing plant that is now a federal Superfund site.
In January, Mr. Hudson said he welcomed a proposed study of the health of former workers, but said he was dying from lung problems he attributed to working at Stauffer and doubted he would live long enough to see the study happen.
"Whatever we're going to get out of it we'd better get pretty quick or it won't be doing me a hell of a lot of good," Mr. Hudson said.
Over the last several years, Mr. Hudson, 77, relied on an oxygen machine to breathe. His wife, Mercy, said his lungs finally could not function anymore, and he died.
She and other family members blame Stauffer.
It is sad that Mr. Hudson will not be able to see through to the end the lawsuit he helped initiate, said Wil Florin, the attorney representing the former Stauffer workers in the 4-year-old lawsuit. The lawsuit seeks the establishment of a medical program to provide ongoing health monitoring of all living former Stauffer workers. The goal is to provide early detection of disease, such as lung, skin, bladder, kidney and liver cancers, as well as asbestos-related diseases that may be linked to their employment at Stauffer. Florin estimated there may be as many as 2,500 former Stauffer workers.
"One of the things we've been concerned about is that none of these guys is getting any younger or healthier," Florin said. "The longer time goes on without the medical monitoring we're seeking, the more ominous the potential situation becomes for them."
Florin said Mr. Hudson's death will not derail the lawsuit.
"We've got enough . . . living workers, the full story of what happened at the plant is going to be told," Florin said.
Stauffer Chemical president Brian Spiller declined to comment on Wednesday, noting that the litigation is ongoing.
A lifelong mullet fisherman, Mr. Hudson cast his nets from Aripeka to Anclote Key. He was well-known in the Tarpon Springs area for hosting fish fries, including annual parties on an island at the mouth of the Anclote River. He also was an avid gardener and beekeeper, raising orange blossom honey, avocados and collard and mustard greens. A Navy veteran of World War II, Mr. Hudson was a regular at Mr. Bill's Donut and Deli in Tarpon Springs, discussing local issues with other regulars.
"He is an original Florida Cracker," said his wife, Mercy.
Longtime friend and another of the principals in the case against Stauffer, Harland Kingsley, 74, said he visited Mr. Hudson at least once a week. Sometimes when they weren't talking about mullet fishing, the conversation would turn to the Stauffer lawsuit.
"He would always say, "What is 20 years of your life worth?' " Kingsley said.
"I will miss ole Vernon," Kingsley said.
Visitation will be Friday, 6 to 8 p.m. at the Vinson Funeral Home, 456 Tarpon Ave. E, Tarpon Springs. Funeral services will be Saturday at 11 a.m at Vinson.