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He was a scratch golfer who gave serious thought to turning pro. He was a well-known tax attorney who had a successful one-man law firm in South Tampa.

But when the people who knew him best talk about Harry Root III, there's one talent they say stands out.

"He was a good listener," his wife, Marlene, said.

That doesn't sound like an unusual skill, but Mr. Root turned it into an art form.

"It wasn't just that he would listen to what you had to say," said his son Harry Root IV. "He would genuinely care about what you had to say. He was never first in his own mind. He was interested in you. Even when I was very young, he always wanted to know what I was thinking, what I had on my mind."

Mr. Root died unexpectedly on Jan. 17 after a short illness. He was 70.

He never retired and was still practicing law out of his Davis Islands office almost until the day he died. His penchant for paying close attention to what other people said, and to what they wanted and needed, was part of what made him successful as a mediator and negotiator on behalf of his clients, his son said.

Mr. Root was a fourth-generation Tampa native.Except for his years in college, law school and tax school, he lived his entire life in South Tampa. Until he moved his office to Davis Islands, his law practice was located on Swann Avenue, within sight of two of his alma maters, Gorrie Elementary and Wilson Junior High schools.

After graduating from Plant High School, Mr. Root went to the University of Florida, where he was captain of the golf team. He went to law school at UF and then attended the New York University Tax School.

Mr. Root returned to Tampa and joined a downtown law firm. It was there that he met the woman who would become his wife of 31 years. She worked as a legal secretary in the same firm.

"I never heard him say more than two or three words," Marlene Root said. "He was a quiet man, although he wasn't shy."

One day in lighthearted conversation, a co-worker asked Marlene Root which of the men in the office she would like to date, if they were all single.

"I immediately said 'Harry Root,'" his wife said. "And I had never thought of him that way before."

But Mr. Root was married. It would be years before they had their first date, and a year after that before they married. It was the third marriage for Mr. Root and the second for Marlene Root.

His passion for golf never waned. He served as president of Palma Ceia Golf & Country Club, as had his father. His grandfather had been one of the club's founding members.

Mr. Root had given up golf in recent years, though. He preferred to stay home and help care for his wife, who suffers from a chronic medical condition.

"I tried to get him to play golf, but he wouldn't," Marlene Root said. "I really think if he had been playing golf and been able to relax, he might still be alive. But all he wanted to do was take care of me. He was so kind. I never heard him say a critical word about anybody. He never once criticized me, and there were plenty of things he could have criticized me for."

Besides his wife and his son Harry, Mr. Root is survived by his son, Taylor and his daughter Ruthie, his stepdaughters Tammy Bertron, Kelli Wischmann and Shannon Lewis, 10 grandchildren, his brother Tommy and his sister Gina Cummings.

Marty Clear writes life stories about Tampa residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at