DADE CITY — I did not know Steve Grossenbacher well, but I knew him well enough that my gut clinched at news of his death.
The final line on Grossenbacher is that he was 77 and a victim of pancreatic cancer. But how long he lived, and what took him down, though prominent at the moment, are but footnotes in a life that, as recollected in his memorial service the other day, was uncommonly well-lived.
He was a Navy reservist and, in his professional life, something almost extinct: Grossenbacher was a company man, a climber of the corporate ladder. He worked for 33 years in telecommunications, starting somewhere in the 1950s with a shovel — “a Georgia backhoe” — digging trenches for cable and finishing up 33 years later as an executive for GTE (later Verizon).
He married his sweetheart, Sharon Pinkerton, and together, mostly on the shores of one central Pasco lake or another, they bloomed a family that extends, as this is written, to seven great-grandchildren.
In retirement, he built houses, helped Sharon run her balloons-by-the-bouquet boutique, and kept faith with his Masonic lodge and the National Rifle Association.
In all of this, his comportment was commendable. In another age, we'd have called him a pillar of his community, one of those unsung heroes who, by fulfilling their responsibilities with reliable and productive sturdiness, enable society to carry on. Even now, such heroes are sufficiently commonplace — thank heaven — that their routine activities rarely rise to the level of newsworthiness.
Indeed, for all his admirable achievements, Grossenbacher unobtrusively went about his business for the better part of 70 years and, as nearly as my research can discover, his name appeared in the news columns of the local paper exactly once, and then only because he was the victim of a crime wave targeting building contractors in the summer of 1992.
Although he'd had nearly $600 worth of plywood — no small setback — swiped from a homesite on Old Pasco Road, what he told the reporter packed neither vitriol nor remorse, but sympathy. In other words, it was classic Grossenbacher:
“I think they're probably being put on somebody's house right now. The economy is so damn bad, people are having to do what they can just to get along.”
If he left the impression that if the thieves had just asked, he'd have helped them load their truck, it might have been because he knew about doing without. He was a Great Depression baby, the last of four children born in the Lutz wilderness to Florence and Ernest Grossenbacher. The boy was barely a toddler when his dad died, leaving it to his mom and, when he returned from World War II, his older brother, to see to his upbringing.
Getting anywhere meant walking or, on Saturdays when they'd head to downtown Tampa's movie houses, hitchhiking.
Kids who grow up doing without inevitably learn how to fix things, and so it was with Grossenbacher, whose reputation for tinkering and repair followed him into an adulthood in which he generally could rub together more than the proverbial two nickels.
This predisposition toward restoration probably explains how our paths began crossing with agreeable frequency about five years ago. He had grown increasingly interested in politics and, having given up on getting a satisfactory response from yelling at his television, became active in the Pasco chapter of the grassroots Tampa 912 project. Like him, they imagined the country was broken, and could best be fixed through the generous application of fundamental constitutional principles.
In this, Grossenbacher and I were — are — kindred spirits. We reviewed our mutual aspirations over the phone and by email from time to time, and he'd occasionally drop a line to commend or question a column. But his particular genius was being able to recruit, on 24 hours' notice, focus groups knowledgeable about the issues of the day.
Because, he sensed, well-crafted opinions backed by research would be the tools by which we'd fixed what ails us.
As I said, I didn't know Steve Grossenbacher all that well, but upon reflection, I knew him well enough to know he was a good fellow, a fine patriot and an invaluable journalistic resource. He will be missed.
He's missed already, because the work goes on.