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The pickup artist

Ever tossed something out the car window or stepped over a piece of litter and thought, "Someone will pick it up"?

Meet Brian Kennedy. He picks up your trash.

Funny thing is, he's not a county garbage collector. He's not an artist hunting for found objects. He's not even all that eccentric.

He's a retired math teacher who can't stand clutter lining the streets in Westchase. So when he goes for walks with his wife, Sandra, he picks it up.

"I just got tired of seeing garbage by the road," said Kennedy, 63, who walks several times a week.

Kennedy, a steady-voiced man with a penchant for cleanliness, is not the type to moan and groan when something bugs him - that doesn't get you very far.

"If something is bothering me, I try to do something about it," he said, relaxing on the patio of his tidy Westchase home.

On a standard walk, Kennedy goes through his village, the Bridges, through West Park Village, and sometimes down Linebaugh Avenue. He fills about three plastic shopping bags with trash using a long grabbing tool that Sandra got him to spare his back from constant bending.

"He said that's what he wanted" for his 60th birthday, Mrs. Kennedy said. "It's really pretty gross to pick up a lot of that stuff."

He finds Starbucks cups, Gatorade bottles, cardboard pieces, Styrofoam. He'll even snag abandoned bags of dog waste.

The Kennedys came to Westchase from Michigan five years ago. They were drawn to the community because while other places were brown and crispy in the midst of a drought, Westchase remained green and lush.

When her husband first started trolling for trash, Mrs. Kennedy thought he was "nuts." Now, she gladly plays along.

"He prides himself on seeing everything, so sometimes it makes him a little irritated if I say, 'You missed something,' " she said.

Kennedy thinks Westchase has been cleaner since the community taxing boards, which maintain the common areas, outsourced landscaping and maintenance services in 2005. He said he has seen less trash than five years ago.

Still, there's plenty to pick up. Does he ever get bitter? Want to throw the proverbial towel into the Dumpster and say, "Do it yourself?"

Sometimes, he said. But more than that, he questions the litterbug sense of entitlement. "What I wonder is why they think other people ought to be picking up their trash," he said.

Some neighbors have come to recognize Kennedy as he makes his rounds.

"I've seen him go down to the edges of retention ponds and lean into the water and pull trash floating out of the water," said Chris Barrett, Kennedy's neighbor. "Here's a fellow who has actually found some way of working community service into his daily exercise routine."

Barrett nominated Kennedy to receive Westchase's first-ever Nathan Lafer Good Neighbor award, named for a community activist who died in February.

The award is a way to recognize the unsung community hero, the person who finds his or her own way to make suburban life a little better.

Lafer, a botanist and entomologist who served on many community boards, was committed to keeping Westchase beautiful and admired Kennedy from afar, said his wife, Susan Lafer.

"We've always seen him out cleaning up," she said. "Every time my husband would go out to the store, he would come home and say, 'He's at it.' "

Kennedy will receive honors and a plaque at the Westchase Community Association meeting Dec. 14.

He finds the attention a little embarrassing.

"I think that everybody ought to do a little something for their community," he said. "There are an awful lot of people in Westchase who do a lot more."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5303.

FAST FACTS

Brian Kennedy

Age: 63

Occupation: Retired high school math teacher, street beautification specialist.

Warming up: Kennedy and his wife, Sandra, moved to Florida from Michigan five years ago when Kennedy retired after 37 of years teaching. "I had to, 'cause my wife said, 'When you retire, we're moving somewhere warm.' I retired in June, and in July, we lived here."

The good life: Kennedy occasionally substitute teaches at Berkeley Preparatory School, where his wife works. He enjoys exercising, playing golf, reading the newspaper and photographing his grandchildren.

Restaurant regular: Favorite Tampa restaurants include Catch Twenty-Three, the Bamboo Club, Maggiano's Little Italy and P.F. Chang's.

On politics: "I don't have thick enough skin to be a politician."

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