Hard times bring out the best qualities in Weller
With faith and generosity, the new Pinellas public schools activities director has stayed strong through family adversity.
By BOB PUTNAM, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 24, 2003
Walter Weller heard the news in late May and knew whom to call.
He was being hired to succeed Bob Hosack as activities director for Pinellas County public schools, and he had to share the news with the man whose life lessons had led him on the path to success.
He had to tell his father.
The father who likely won't live long enough to share many more successes.
"I have the greatest father any child could ever want," Weller said. "He was involved in sports. He wrestled and boxed when he was in the Navy. He played football when they didn't wear helmets.
"He also was involved with me. He was my Little League coach and watched whatever sport I played. He helped shape me."
Weller, 40, beat out four other finalists for the job. He will manage the funding for Pinellas' 16 public high school athletic programs in tight economic times, referee recruiting disputes in the confusing school choice era and seek to achieve gender equity.
But Weller, formerly assistant principal for activities at Dixie Hollins High, knows things aren't always easy.
All he has to do is look at his dad.
Herbert Weller was diagnosed with lung cancer two years ago. Never a candidate for a lung transplant, Herbert instead has to go through debilitating chemotherapy treatments, and an oxygen mask now is strapped to his face.
"Cancer is very mean," Walter's mother, Harriette Weller, said. "You have your good days and your bad days. But no matter how down I get, Walter has always been there to pick me up. He's always been the quiet, solid one. He helps mow the lawn, he brings his wife and the grandchildren to visit, he goes with us to Moffitt Cancer Center.
"I know that he's busy, but he still takes the time to do those things. He knows every day is precious."
These days, Weller is swamped. Since taking over the position July 1, he has secured activity buses for games, adjusted schedules, paid for officials and fielded recruiting calls. He and his wife, Karen, also are expecting their fifth child, a daughter named Chloe, in August.
Walter still provides support for his parents.
"That's just how I was raised," Weller said. "If someone needs help, you try to make things better for them. There are times when I don't know if I'm doing enough."
Weller has remained strong thanks largely to an unwavering faith that has been tested time and again.
In 1999 the Wellers were expecting their third child, a son. Everything was fine until Karen went into labor. Weller watched helplessly as doctors struggled through the night to find a heartbeat.
They never found it. Seth Weller was delivered stillborn.
Walter sat with his wife and family and held Seth as though he were alive.
"To this day, it's a mystery as to what happened to him," Weller said. He had no defects in any way, shape or form. Doctors tried to perform an autopsy to locate the reason why.
"It was just God's time."
Being brought up with a strong faith laid the groundwork, but the experience of losing his child shaped the walls, halls and roof of Weller's belief.
He embraced his faith with renewed fervor. He coordinated the music for his son's funeral, buried him near their home and planted rose bushes around to remember him.
"Walter is a very strong person and helped me get through a very personal time," Karen said. "It's something you never really get over. But he has a strong faith in God and a never quit attitude."
To heal, the Wellers decided to help others. They formed a support group to counsel others who have lost loved ones.
"We found out that a lot of people have gone through similar circumstances. We try to use it as a positive. It's the same way I approach my job."
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