SHUMATE, Otho Jr. "Bill" November 27, 1930 - July 7, 2020. On Thanksgiving Day in 1930 Oklahoma City, the Housels and their extended family were seated at the table, enjoying dinner and conversation. When the dinner ended, Eloise (Housel) Shumate neatly folded her napkin, and announced, "I'm ready to go to the hospital." Thus began the life of Otho Woodson Shumate, Jr. He took after his mother's side of the family with blond hair and blue eyes, and was fondly nicknamed "Little Billy." Bill graduated from Classen High School in 1948. He then graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a BS in business, and was a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. Bill served in the U.S. Army in Korea. In 1956 he married JoAnn Fifer, and they became parents of two children, Lynn and John. Bill worked as a salesman in Chicago and Milwaukee for the TEK Toothbrush company, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. He later worked for Johnson & Johnson in Houston and in Tulsa. In 1963 Bill found his calling in the restaurant business. His first restaurant, opened with partner Sed Kennedy and their wives, was "Across the Street," in Norman, Oklahoma, opposite the University of Oklahoma. The opening weekend was packed, with a line out the door. Management and employees had to learn on the fly. Bill purchased the franchise rights and opened five more "Across the Street" restaurants in Oklahoma and Kansas. From there Bill and family moved to 19th Street in Oklahoma City, and he and JoAnn opened the downtown "Cornucopia" restaurant. It, too, was a success. Bill and JoAnn divorced in 1967. He later married Norma (Simmons) Bernardy, and became a father to her three children, David, Bill, and Karen. They moved to their Oklahoma City country home on Bryant St., where Bill held lively summer parties for friends and employees. Bill loved to party, and his nickname became "Wild Bill." Norma passed away in 1981. He opened more restaurants over the years, including the Butterfield Overland Express and 63rd Street Grille. He also opened Harry's Oyster Bar & American Grille and Clementine's (a disco) with his protégé and good friend, Paul Seikel. Bill married Joanie Corneil in 1983 and was a loving father to her sons, Jason and Jarrod Dyer. They divorced in 2001 but remained business partners and friends. Bill and Joanie moved to Tampa, Florida, in 1986 so he could pursue his love of sailing on "big water." He acquired a 38-foot Beneteau, his pride and joy, and named it Lady Eloise after his mother. He loved entertaining friends on the water. Some highlights were racing to the Florida Keys and even sailing to Cuba (back when it wasn't allowed). The move to Tampa was intended to allow Bill to semi-retire but he couldn't stay away from the business. He and Joanie co-founded Bella's Italian Café, Fire-Fish Grille, and Square 1 Burgers & Bar. Bella's remained his favorite. He loved the staff, particularly long-time managers Eric Potts, Larry Heisel, Michelle Rice, Milisa Burns, Nate Lara and Mikaela Walter. Many of the repeat customers became close friends. Bill then met Elizabeth "Libby" Tolson, and they were a couple for the rest of his life. They traveled together and enjoyed going out or just hanging out at each other's home. He was good friends with Libby's daughter, Spring McKenney, and her two daughters, Grace and Charlie. Bill was active in the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and was elected state president in 2000. He was an association favorite and enjoyed his time serving his fellow restaurateurs. Bill was named to the FRLA Hall of Fame as the 2014 Restaurateur of the Year for his decades of contribution to the restaurant industry and the consistently high quality of his endeavors. Bill had been suffering with Lewy Body Dementia for several years, and had recently been in the hospital after a fall. He passed away peacefully in his sleep at a St. Petersburg, Florida care center on July 7, 2020. Survivors include his children and stepchildren, Lynn (Eric) Chamberlain, John (Amber) Shumate, Karen (Gerard) Lazaro, David (Cindy) Bernardy, Bill (Gina) Bernardy, and Jason and Jarrod Dyer; 23 grandchildren and step grandchildren; and numerous great and step great-grandchildren. Over the years Bill enjoyed playing bridge and golf. He was a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, and closely followed politics all of his adult life. He was also an avid OU football fan. Most of all he enjoyed spending time with friends and family. Bill Shumate was a self-made man. For almost 60 years Bill relied on his own ingenuity, driving work ethic and willingness to accept calculated risks, he loved the excitement of a new restaurant venture, and always held himself personally accountable for the results while maintaining his high principles for both business and personal relationships. "I started my life with a single absolute: that the world was mine to shape in the image of my highest values and never to be given up to a lesser standard, no matter how long or hard the struggle." Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged. Memorial services will be held at a later date.
Published in Tampa Bay Times from Jul. 19 to Jul. 20, 2020.