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Loved ones celebrate life of 'a true saint'

Leon Toups, a Largo businessman, actively aided the Diocese of St. Petersburg. The church was close to his heart.

Published September 10, 2006

Leon Toups was a generous man devoted to his family and his Catholic faith. He was a born storyteller who made people feel good about themselves and was an avid baseball collector. The most prized was signed by Pope John Paul II.

Friends and family and prominent members of the Catholic community celebrated Mr. Toups' life Friday with a Mass. The Largo businessman, 67, died of pancreatic cancer Tuesday (Sept. 5, 2006), days after Arnold Andrews, another prominent Tampa Bay area Catholic, was killed in a plane crash. Their funerals were held within hours of each other.

"We will bury a true saint today," Gregory Jewell said Friday of his friend Mr. Toups.

Mr. Toups was committed to supporting the growth of vocations in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, the Rev. Len Plazewski said. He was one of the founding members of the diocesan vocation enrichment team, which helped provide leadership and guidance for vocations in the diocese, Plazewski said.

"He was very faithful to it," Plazewski said, adding that Mr. Toups did not hesitate to interrupt his workday or evenings to help.

"He wasn't one of these guys who gave ideas and expected someone else to do it. He had a great love for the priesthood and religious life and enjoyed being around our seminarians. He was disappointed not to get to go to the ordinations this year in May. It was right after he was diagnosed."

It wasn't a surprise when one of Mr. Toups' sons became a priest.

Jewell, former owner of the Moss Feaster Funeral Homes, was a longtime friend. "Both families were at the Bellaire Country Club," he said. "They were having such great fun as a family, we said, 'We've got to know these people.'"

That was 20 years ago.

"They were a very close family," Jewell said, adding that his friend's diagnosis brought the family even closer. "He was really a spiritual adviser to his family and he was a very devout, holy Catholic man."

Carol Marquardt and her husband, Mark, had been friends with the Toups for about two decades. "He was a good man," Carol said. "He was a good person."

"He was fun to be with and he had a way of always making people feel good and upbeat about themselves," she said.

That's a quality Myron "Pat" Miller, former president of the St. Petersburg Theological Seminary, remembers well. Mr. Toups served on the board of the small school. "I think he was probably the most gentle and most encouraging person I ever met," Miller said in a telephone call from Texas. He was humble, Miller said, recalling that he did not know Mr. Toups had a doctorate from MIT for more than a year.

Mr. Toups' autographed baseball collection included one from Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island, and another by General H. Norman Schwarzkopf. The one signed by the pontiff with a blue Sharpie in 2004 was his most coveted. "I consider him a holy athlete," Mr. Toups said last year. "He's probably the only saint who ever signed a baseball."

Mr. Toups is survived by his wife, Lynn; a daughter, Vicki; two sons, Michael and David; and six grandchildren.

[Last modified September 10, 2006, 07:12:39]

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