TAMPA — A simple red bench sits in a courtyard at Brandychase, a condominium complex a stone’s throw from a busy section of Tampa’s Gandy Boulevard.
To those ignorant of its origins, nothing about the bench would stand out; it looks like just another piece of wooden furniture, the type you see in courtyards and parks throughout the city.
Those who live in Brandychase know the bench is much more.
It is the work of their friend, Donald C. “Bud” Dickson, Jr., who passed away Sept. 8 at 51 from complications of Hepatitis C.
“He was that rare individual who truly cared about everyone,” said his sister, Linda Pearce. “There are not many people as kind as him or as loved as him.”
She backs her statement by telling the story of the courtyard that is home to the red bench.
Pearce said it was once dilapidated, nothing but old cedar chips, weeds and a cracking fountain. Those who lived in her brother’s building are a close knit group, like family, she said, and he thought they deserved a home that matched their spirits.
He successfully lobbied condo management; if they supplied what limited funding they could, he would do the rest. He would design the courtyard, make the purchases, and do the legwork.
Unfortunately, Dickson’s health stalled his courtyard venture midway through.
Pearce said her brother contracted Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion almost 20 years ago. In recent years, the disease had weakened his body to the point that on some days he could not walk.
While sprucing up the courtyard, his legs gave out on him; he tripped and broke his finger. He was heartbroken that he could not continue.
Myra Ware, his neighbor and close friend, could not stand to see such a loving man depressed. She sat him in front of his condo window overlooking the courtyard and told him to bark out orders where each flower and plant should go. Today, the courtyard is a work of art.
“It was hard work,” said Ware. “But I enjoyed every moment of it. It made him so happy.”
There was a time when Dickson’s body mimicked his peppy attitude, his sister said. He was a successful chef and restaurant owner in Miami before he grew ill. When he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, he relocated to Tampa, where for a short time he lived with former Tampa City Councilwoman Helen Chavez.
“His mother is friend of my mother’s,” said Susan Chavez, Helen’s daughter. “He needed a place to stay so my mother offered. He turned into part of our family. She refers to him as a son. He would often babysit my kids. He was one of kindest and sweetest people I have ever known.”
As his illness progressed, he sought refuge in art. It began with a cute idea called “Beach In A Box.” His sister said he would decorate a shoe box or something akin to it, and place inside of it a bag of sand, a toy beach chair, a mini umbrella, and other miniaturized beach memorabilia.
“He said this way everyone can take their vacation home with them,” she said.
Dickson later experimented with mosaics of historic photos. For instance, he would take a photo of a historic cigar factory and lay photos of famed cigar personalities on top of it. Over the past few years, his talents earned him a spot in a few art shows.
“I asked why he never got into art sooner,” said Chavez. “He said because while he was a chef he never had the time to try something new like that. If he’d found the time sooner, I think more people may have known his art.”
Dickson’s true passion was landscaping. His first major project was helping his sister redo her lawn.
“He just looked at my lawn and saw it for how it should look and made it happen,” she said. “It was amazing. He enjoyed it so much.”
His friend Art Keeble said Dickson was especially fond of the courtyard’s two wooden benches, including the bright red one. Even in the now-colorful courtyard, the bright paint job stands out.
Dickson had two peace lilies sitting on either side of his condo’s front door. After he died, his neighbors moved the flowers into the courtyard next to the benches, a tribute to their friend.
“It’s weird that he is not here,” said neighbor Loretta Reno. “He would be taken to the hospital from time to time, but he always came home. It doesn’t feel right without him here.”