Remembering South Tampa activist Bill Sharpe

"From the first time I met him he was driven to make a bigger difference in life," Wilson said as he began his remarks.

As only a good friend can, Wilson critiqued Sharpe's personality. "He always believed he was right. Even when he wasn't," said Wilson, adding that Sharpe's way of politely dismissing something would be to say, "There's truth to what you're saying."

Bill Sharpe did not have an easy life. There were several business failures, and legal problems as well, such as when he was found guilty of selling counterfeit American Express money orders while running a bar in Ocala. Wilson said he lived at 11 different addresses, including an RV camp outside of Tampa that gave him first-hand awareness of how anybody with bad luck could end up homeless.

But Wilson said that, most of all, Bill Sharpe showed him never to give up, no matter how many times one failed, "and that's what makes Bill's death so hard," he admitted.

Both The Reverend Walker and Warren Elly quoted from some of the inspiring statements made on Sharpe's Facebook page in the 15 days since his death.

Linda Karson said that Sharpe "has passed the torch to each and every one of us," regarding his dedication to helping the homeless.

The people who worked with Sharpe on the Epoch insist it will continue to publish. Sheila Wigent, a hawker who sells the paper at a corner in downtown Tampa, thought immediately about the paper's future after she got over the shock of hearing of Sharpe's passing.

"He was a friend. He never met anybody that he didn't like....he motivated me to do the right thing and be a good representative and right now that's what I want to do. I want to represent the Epoch the way that he always thought I did and he would expect me to."

Shirley Clemens (left) says she'll continue to sell the Epoch
  • Dawn Morgan
  • Shirley Clemens (left) says she'll continue to sell the Epoch
Shirley Clemens said she spoke with Sharpe on Sunday, April 1, when he gave her papers to sell, as he did with his vendors every day of the week between 7:00-8:30 a.m. He would be dead 24 hours later. "He said he was good. He said he was all right." She said when she learned he had passed she wasn't sure she could continue to sell the homeless paper. "It was really upsetting to me."

Although he was best known in South Tampa as the publisher of the website and the South Tampa Community News, Sharpe lived a lot of life in his 59 years on earth.

After the service, Skipper's Smokehouse proprietor Tom White recalled Sharpe's 10-year tenure owning that bar/restaurant in Ocala during the ’80s and ’90s. He said Sharpe would stay with him when he came to Tampa, and frequently booked the same bands that would later play at Skipper's. "He had a rickety old stage," White said of the bar, called Mr. Pub. "It was like Animal House," he said about some of the wild things that happened there.

The Reverend Walker said Sharpe always knew how to throw a party, and that's exactly what many did afterwards, hanging out at MacDinton's in South Tampa to continue the celebration of the life of Bill Sharpe.

click to enlarge Bill Sharpe at his Blues and BBQ event in October 2011 - Dawn Morgan
Dawn Morgan
Bill Sharpe at his Blues and BBQ event in October 2011

click to enlarge Bill Sharpe at his Blues and BBQ event in October 2011 - Dawn Morgan
Dawn Morgan
Bill Sharpe at his Blues and BBQ event in October 2011
  • Bill Sharpe at his Blues and BBQ event in October 2011

As she came to the conclusion of her benediction at the service for Bill Sharpe, The Reverend Vicki R. Walter noted the diversity inside the Hyde Park United Methodist Church on Tuesday afternoon.

There were people from the upper crusts of Tampa community life, and there were the homeless, several wearing the blue Tampa Epoch t-shirts that they wear every day selling the newspaper that Sharpe began publishing late last year, after the city of Tampa imposed a partial ban on panhandling.

The hour-long service included testimony from three of Sharpe's friends: homeless advocate Linda Karson, former Fox-13 reporter Warren Elly, and political consultant Gregory S. Wilson, who went back 30 years with Sharpe, and was amazingly frank about their longtime friendship.

Sharpe was found dead in his office on Monday, April 2, in a death that authorities called a suicide by strangulation. It stunned many in Tampa who didn't believe he would ever contemplate ending his own life.

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