TAMPA — To his friends and neighbors at Tampa Baptist Manor, Norman Lester Porterfield was the man who fed and spoiled Lucky, the scruffy stray calico cat in the back yard.
To his friends and coworkers at the Salvation Army, he was a great athlete, a man who battled his demons and overcame an alcohol addiction.
But the Tampa Police Department says he’s also the man they found dead in Hillsborough Bay on Wednesday, floating facedown near the Davis Islands seaplane basin.
The death is under investigation, but police do not suspect foul play and say it may have been medically related.
He was 72.
"That cat gave him a lot of happiness in life," said neighbor Nancy Griggs. "He’d go out there four or five times a day to feed and give her water. Lucky would only come up to me, Norman and a few other people. I don’t know what the cat’s going to do now that he’s gone."
Lucky started coming around Tampa Baptist Manor, a senior living facility at 215 W Grand Central Ave., as a kitten about five years ago.
Griggs couldn’t remember how or when Lucky and Porterfield became best friends. But she always saw them together.
"She’d know it was him coming out the back door," Griggs said. "Norman would sit down and pet her, and she’d rub against his legs. She’d get into his old gray station wagon, and she’d take a snooze in his lap or on the seat."
When it rained, he let her sleep in his car. When it was cold, he set blankets by the back door.
"She was his baby," Griggs said.
Just before 11 a.m. Wednesday, an 11-year-old boy discovered the floating body while he was sailing near the Davis Island Yacht Club. Shortly after, his sailing coach called the police.
Porterfield was wearing a gray shirt, denim shorts and black sneakers with his glasses still on his face when detectives found him. A small knife and flashlight were in his front right pocket.
Griggs doesn’t know how her neighbor wound up there. The day before he died, he’d just finished working on his station wagon, parked in the back yard, near a tree Lucky liked. The apartment building is about two blocks from the Hillsborough River, which feeds into Hillsborough Bay.
Porterfield had battled an alcohol addiction for years and previously lived at the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center, said friend Christopher Pluchino.
Pluchino, 43, met Porterfield years ago in the rehabilitation program. Pluchino went on to be director of operations for the five Tampa Salvation Army stores. Porterfield worked as a clerk and donation attendant at the store and donation center on MacDill Avenue in South Tampa, but quit over a year ago to reconnect with family in Michigan. The friends lost touch.
"Norm was a great guy. It was great to see someone able to get out of recovery and live to fulfill his potential," Pluchino said. "I don’t know where his head was at when he died, but I know he was at least able to reconnect with his family. That was really important to him."
Porterfield’s grieving family members were not ready to speak publicly Thursday when reached by phone.
Griggs, who has lived in his building for 16 years, could not remember how long Porterfield had been at Tampa Baptist Manor. He liked to ride his bike around the neighborhood and to the grocery store, she said.
Nelson Ligori, 67, who has lived there for 10 years, said Porterfield was an avid bowler and would often be seen Thursdays at Pin Chasers bowling alley on Armenia Avenue.
"He was pretty good, and he carried about a 200 average," Ligori said.
Pluchino and Porterfield became friends through sports.
"The first time I ever met the guy was through basketball. So here comes this older guy, trying to guard me, and I was thinking it would be easy," Pluchino said. "I quickly learned that not to be true. He ran me ragged that day."
Pluchino doesn’t remember his friend as an animal lover, but said he wasn’t surprised to hear about Lucky.
"It just goes to show what I know about him already. Big heart, loyal and caring. Sounds like just something he would do," he said.
In the small back parking lot of the building, Griggs stood under the covered patio Thursday and called Lucky. After a few minutes, the cat timidly approached but kept a distance. Occasionally, she would let out a raspy meow.
"See that? She’s asking for him already," Griggs said, extending her hand for Lucky to sniff. "I’m sorry, sweetie. Norman is gone, and he’s not coming back."
Contact Tim Fanning at [email protected] Follow at @TimothyJFanning.