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A LIFE ON THE WATER WILL GET AN APPROPRIATE SENDOFF

Stephen Maxwell's family will board a Coast Guard ship soon, and spread his ashes into the water.

It will bring his life full circle.

Mr. Maxwell grew up in Oceanside, N.Y., cruising around with a neighbor who taught him to sail. He worked in a boat yard and hung out at bay houses, boats held up by stilts in the water.

When he was a teen, the Vietnam War was raging. So when he turned 18, he decided that if he was going to serve, he was going to do it in the water.

He didn't plan to stay in the Coast Guard for 30 years or become a lieutenant commander. But the career fit him perfectly.

His wife understood why. She knew his personality - upbeat and cheerful, outgoing, a little stubborn.

She understood everything about him. They were just 4 years old when they met.

"We used to play together," said Denise Maxwell, 55. "I told my mom I was going to marry Stevie."

They went to church together. They had the same Sunday school classes, youth groups and Bible studies. When they were teenagers, he asked her to wear his ID bracelet.

At 20, they married in their home church. They moved around, eventually settling in St. Petersburg and raising four kids.

By 48, he was a military retiree. He repaired Volkswagens in his free time, but needed more to keep busy. He got a job with the city of St. Petersburg as a water equipment mechanic. In three years, he worked his way up to supervisor of two facilities.

"It's fairly complicated," said Patty Anderson, the city's water resources director. "These are not simple little machines. But he was so eager to learn and to make things better, faster."

He was impeccably organized and planned everything, including a detailed work plan for 2008, Anderson said.

"It was laid out for the whole year," she said. "It'll be so easy for someone to pick up where he left off."

- - -

In the Coast Guard, he removed asbestos from ships, his family said. That task didn't last long, but the effects did, they said.

He had some lung trouble, but nothing life threatening, they said. But around Christmas, he started feeling ill. Testing revealed the worst - Stage 4 lung cancer.

On Friday, just days after being diagnosed, Mr. Maxwell died. He was 56.

His family is glad he saw his youngest daughter, an engineer, graduate from college. And that the whole family just spent Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell's 35th wedding anniversary together.

On a cruise, at sea.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

BIOGRAPHY

Stephen Maxwell

Born: Dec. 5, 1951.

Died: Jan. 25, 2008.

Survivors: wife, Denise Maxwell; children, Bambi Breen, Kimberly Maxwell, Todd Maxwell and Tiffany Maxwell; mother, Joan Maxwell; brother, James Maxwell; sister, Karen Ferderber.

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