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Longshoreman loved his family, work, union

Published March 23, 2007


WEST TAMPA - For 83 years, Howard Hepburn was a fixture in West Tampa, where he lived his entire life. For most of that time, he was also a forceful presence on Tampa's docks and at the International Longshoremen's Association union hall.

Mr. Hepburn, who died March 13 at age 83, spent his working life on Tampa's waterfront. He started as a water boy when he was 14, and after high school he worked as a longshoreman until he retired.

It was hard work, but Mr. Hepburn loved it and did his best to make sure other young men who were drawn to waterfront work got the opportunity.

"When he went out, he would always make sure to take some of the young men who were trying to get their union cards but didn't have enough hours," said his daughter, Carolyn Hepburn Collins.

"A lot of men were in the longshoremen's union because of my dad."

Mr. Hepburn's life revolved around his work, his family and his union. He stopped working after he had a stroke in the 1980s, but for many years afterward he kept abreast of what was going on at the ILA, for which he had served as secretary.

"When there was a vote, the men from the union would come and get him in his wheelchair and take him down to the car," his daughter said.

"Then they'd carry him up to the second floor (of the union hall) and bring him home."

Mr. Hepburn was raised in the area that is now the housing projects on N Boulevard, and, except for his Army service during World War II, he lived within a few miles of that neighborhood his entire life.

He was a familiar sight on West Tampa streets because he virtually never drove. He walked or rode a bicycle everywhere he went.

Actually, his daughter said, he did drive once in the 1960s - and that one time he had an accident. He backed the family car out of a parking space, lightly tapped a car in the next space, and never got behind a steering wheel again.

People hadn't seen him much in recent years. After his stroke, he spent most of his time at home. He seldom left the back room of the home he shared with Leola, the girl from the neighborhood he had married in 1942.

"He had no interest in going out," Collins said. "Everybody knew Mr. Hepburn was in that back room."

To his six children, Mr. Hepburn was a source of guidance and inspiration, Collins said.

He loved helping people and thought of all his work as providing a service to the community. That was true even when he would shine shoes at the airport when the longshoremen were on strike.

"With his daughters, he always told us that we could be anything we wanted to be," Collins said. "He would tell us that we could be Miss America if that's what we wanted. He was saying that we could do anything, and he would be there to help us.

"With his sons he was a little different. He told them that a man should always take care of his mother, because a man who takes care of his mother is a man who takes care of his wife."

Mr. Hepburn's health started to decline a few months ago, and he died peacefully. He told his family he was "going home."

Besides his wife and daughter Carolyn, he is survived by sons Malcolm, Mark and Matthew, and daughter Debra, two brothers and two sisters. He is predeceased by one daughter.

[Last modified March 22, 2007, 07:59:10]

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