Family and friends — including children he loved but sometimes took to task — recently paid tribute to "Coach" Dean Edwards at a candlelight vigil at Cyrus Greene Community Center.
"He got into the heart of people," said 14-year-old Kameron Shell, who saw Edwards as a role model. "He just came around and made us laugh, made us smile. He was a good man."
Edwards, 43, was shot to death at his home in February, Hillsborough County deputies said. His 22-year-old son, Dametrius Edwards Jr., has been arrested and charged with the slaying.
About 100 people came to the vigil last week to honor the elder Edwards and his service to the community. He worked as a lifeguard with the city for 26 years, beginning as a seasonal lifeguard in 1986. He graduated from King High School two years later.
He was hired by the city full-time in 1994 and taught hundreds of children how to swim. Many of those lessons took place at Cyrus Greene pool where he was a lifeguard and supervisor.
Co-workers, friends and former students who spoke at last week's gathering said Edwards offered more than swimming expertise.
"He was the extra father to our kids," said Shara Lindsay, whose two boys knew Edwards. "This wasn't a job to him. This was his life."
Several children tied paper angels to a memorial tree planted just outside the pool area.
Lindsay and others are leading a petition drive to have the city rename the pool for Edwards.
"We want to do that," said Greg Bayor, the city's parks and recreation director. It is a matter of researching the process for approving a new name for the aquatic center.
At the vigil, Bayor read a proclamation from Mayor Bob Buckhorn, honoring Edwards.
A scholarship is set up to help children and families at Cyrus Greene who can't afford the city's recreation fees. A check for $1,000 from accounting firm Kingery and Crouse was presented at the vigil. Telling Truth Ministries contributed another $200, and people reached into their pockets to make donations.
Essie Sims, pastor of Telling Truth Ministries, said Edwards was a tall, imposing man but, "I called him a gentle giant. No matter what the situation was going on with him, he didn't let himself get out of character."
Kenneth Webb worked with Edwards as a lifeguard. "He touched me and many people around here," he said. "He was a man of great integrity who always had a smile on his face."
After Precious Oliver's father died last year, Edwards stepped in to help the now 10-year-old.
He didn't let children get away with misbehaving. "He was strict, but not too strict," said Shell. "He taught us discipline." And 9-year-old Myteia Bryant said: "When I was feeling bad, he made me feel better."
Tyanna McRae, 9, said he seemed to know when things were wrong. "He always played with us when we were sad and didn't know what else to do."
Edwards' sister, Nikki Felton, said she was proud her brother had been such a positive influence. "He touched so many people," she said.