Seymore Sailes

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PALMETTO - People quietly came and went Thursday evening at the home on 31st Street East in Palmetto.

Some came with food.

Many came with remembrances.

All came with heavy hearts.

Seymore Sailes was dead.

The well-known Palmetto businessman, tireless community activist and longtime youth football coach passed away Thursday afternoon.

He was 61.

"He left the office . . . and said he was going home to rest," said wife and co-worker Osie Sailes, as she warmly greeted well-wishers. "He always did that when he wasn't feeling well. That's the last we saw him."

They celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary Jan. 15. The cause of death was undetermined.

But Mr. Sailes, a diabetic, had been on dialysis, according to the family.

In fact, he had seen his doctor Thursday morning, and they discussed Mr. Sailes' upcoming appearance before a congressional panel to testify about improving health care. "He told us he was going to be a 'poster child,' " said daughter Vanzetta S. Thomas, smiling at the idea. "He was excited about that."

Mr. Sailes' death hit the community like a shock wave. School board member Barbara Harvey was just one of many stunned by the news.

"When you think of all he has done, the changes he has made in this community, it has nothing to do with the years he lived, but the years he's given to the community and the state," she said. "The community has really lost, and it is our job to keep it moving. He wouldn't want it any other way. My heart goes out to his family."

Said County Commissioner Gwen Brown, "Seymore was always there. So very active. When you know somebody like that, you don't ever think or anticipate they're going to be leaving you. You perceive that person will live forever. It's a reminder at some point we're all going to go that way."

Raymond Woodie was similarly affected. Palmetto's head football coach is a neighbor and saw Mr. Sailes every day. Never seeing him again had not sunk in Thursday evening. "I still can't believe it," Woodie said. "I know when I told my players at school, they couldn't believe it, either. They all played for him with the Trojans."

Another neighbor, Jeanette Kelly, looked on from a distance at the gathering in and around the Sailes home.

"He was a stalwart type of man at the forefront of the community, who didn't take no for an answer," said the retired educator. "He fully involved himself in the betterment of the community, making it pleasant as possible for everyone.

"What a wonderful person."

Mr. Sailes was synonymous with the Palmetto Youth Center and the annual Martin Luther King birthday celebration and parade, both of which he helped found. He was also instrumental in securing scholarships and funding from Bealls for the center's youths.

He was a high deacon at St. John's First Baptist Institutional Church, which played a big role in his life. His family's insurance business is a familiar sight on Eighth Avenue and 17th Street in Palmetto.

"He was involved in so many things, touched so many lives, and crossed so many racial barriers to promote unity," said Ted Tillis, pastor of Palmetto's House of God Church, and a youth center board member who taught Mr. Sailes biology in the mid-1950s at old Lincoln Memorial High. "He was highly respected by both blacks and whites."

Count Palmetto Mayor Larry Bustle among Mr. Sailes' admirers.

"He was such a power in the community," the mayor said. "Seymore was out in front, stood up for what he believed in and promoted it. Losing a leader like him is a tough blow. I'm sad. I'll miss him."

So will Eddie Shannon, the coaching legend for whom Sailes played offensive center at Lincoln in the mid-1950s.

"So many avenues he's paved for us," Shannon said. "He was a man about getting things done for people. It's a great loss to the community."
Published in The Bradenton Herald on Feb. 3, 2006
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