Sailor, outdoorsman, chef; a short life full of savor

By STEPHANIE HAYES, Times Staff Writer
Published July 29, 2007

CLEARWATER - Ice cream from the container was commonplace. Strawberries were naked if not dipped in chocolate. A plated meal was art, not just fare to chomp on and forget.

If food came from Stephen Bailey, it was special.

"He turned out to be a fantastic cook," said Stephen's father, Chuck Bailey. "How the food was on the plate, what it smelled like, the appeal, what it tasked like, how he experimented with it."

He was a rough and tumble outdoorsman. But in the trappings of life, he found a flair.

Who would have thought?

* * *

In 1970, Stephen Bailey was born into a California Navy family.

Stephen was a Boy Scout for most of his childhood. He coped with hyperactivity, and the Scouts gave him structure and gentle discipline, his father said.

He loved roughing it in the woods. His troop took camping trips 10 times a year.

When agitated, he'd take a fishing pole down to the shore and sit for hours collecting his thoughts. Inevitably, he'd return calm.

The family moved around a lot. Stephen easily opened up to people, as long as they wanted to talk about something interesting. You had to keep him engaged.

"He wasn't one to give a monologue," Chuck said.

* * *

His teenage culinary prowess stopped at pancakes and fried eggs.

Mostly, Stephen wanted to join the Army so he could drive tanks. Eventually, he settled on the Navy, like his father and grandfather before him.

During the first Gulf War, Stephen worked on a boat that shipped Marines and Navy SEALs overseas.

He respected their principles and strength. He felt an urge to take care of them.

Stephen worked in the mess hall, preparing food for the masses. He helped select the day's menu, making sure it was balanced and tasty.

He experimented, adding last-minute entrees to the mix. He invented exotic sauces to compliment meats. He made melt-in-your-mouth desserts.

He was great at it. It was his way to serve.

* * *

After the Navy, he kept with food.

He managed Boston Market restaurants, his father said, with the same sense of order and cleanliness he learned in the Navy mess hall.

Later, he craved freedom. He became a truck driver, transporting cargo like copy machines, printers and restaurant food across the country.

He took in the sights with awe. He wondered why more people didn't vacation in places like the Teton Range in the Rockies.

Life was good.

* * *

Two years ago, he started having headaches.

It was anaplastic astrocytoma, a vicious brain tumor that came out of nowhere.

He joined his family in Clearwater and sought treatment at Bay Pines VA Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

"I'm only 34 years old, and I'm not ready to give up," he told his father.

He fought for two years. Then, the outlook was bleak.

Around the same time, his mother, Melinda, developed colon cancer. The two bonded closer, talking twice a day.

Even at his weakest, he wanted to help Melinda - to serve her, just like the soldiers.

"That was his nature," Chuck said. "He was a service guy."

On Monday, Stephen died. He was 36.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or 727 893-8857.


Stephen Bailey

Born: Oct. 4, 1970.

Died: July 23, 2007.

Survivors: Parents, Melinda and Charles Bailey; maternal grandparents, Anita and Carl Chormicle; paternal grandparents, Sharon and Roland Bailey; sisters, Christina (Michael) Remus and daughter Hannah Michelle (Dusty) Oberbeck and sons Kyle and Alden, and Kimberly Bailey; girlfriend, Kristen and her daughter, Chelsea.

Services: 2 p.m. Aug. 4, Church of the Ascension, Clearwater.