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Even grandkids couldn't keep up with him

He left the turpentine camps of Georgia, determined that his children would do better.

By JODIE TILLMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published November 28, 2007


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photo
Elige George turned 93 on Sunday. He died Monday.
[Handout]

ST. PETERSBURG - Eight years ago, Kanika Tomalin saw an old man riding a bicycle on First Street. She might not have thought twice about it except the man was her grandfather, nearly 85 years old and just a day out of the hospital after minor surgery.

"What are you doing, Granddaddy?" she called.

He kept pedaling.

"Shhh ... don't tell your grandmother," he said. "I'm taking care of my business."

As someone who knew him might say, that's Mr. Lige.

* * *

Lige was short for Elige George, who left behind the turpentine camps of south Georgia in 1940 and moved to St. Petersburg. He lived near 22nd Street South, an area about to enter its heyday as an African-American main street. He became a well-known mason who helped shape the tight-knit community with the houses he built, the roofs he fixed, the driveways he poured.

He started with little money and education, but he insisted his children have more. His grandchildren include members of the city elite, including Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis.

George's work ethic bordered on stubborn. He refused to quit.

"If he cut himself," recalled grandson Gregory Davis, "he'd tie it with a rag and keep going."

Some summers, he'd summon his teenage grandsons to help him at job sites. He'd set up the scaffolding, get the boys to keep the concrete - the "mud" he called it - mixed. They'd haul blocks to him, and when they got tired, they'd ask if it was time to quit.

"It's still light," he'd reply, and they'd keep working.

"Granddaddy didn't know when to come home," Davis said. "He'd stay until the sun went down."

* * *

When he was fighting prostate cancer a few years ago, granddaughter Michelle Pearson visited, hoping to find him resting. His bed was empty. She finally found him under his favorite shade tree on 18th Avenue, holding court with younger elders.

George's health deteriorated in recent years, and his family realized he could no longer live alone. They moved him into a nursing home a couple of weeks ago, with a word of advice for the workers: Don't tell him what he can't do.

Naturally, his will kicked in.

He didn't like the bed. He had his own bed back home. He pulled himself out of his wheelchair one day, and tried to make his way down the hall. He was headed for home.

George turned 93 on Sunday. The next day, he died.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or 727 992-8267.

BIOGRAPHY

Elige George

Born: Nov. 25, 1914.

Died: Nov. 26, 2007.

Survivors: Twelve children, Lige George Jr., Robert Dinkins, Benjamin Dinkins, Beatrice Russell, Geraldine Williams, Carrie Johnson, Yvonne Jelks, Bonita Britten, Jeanette Hamilton, Joan Livingston, Beverly Gray and Angela Taylor; 48 grandchildren; 56 great-grandchildren; and 22 great-great-grandchildren.

Services: Saturday at 11 a.m. at Edward McRae Chapel. Visitation is Friday from 3 to 7 p.m.

[Last modified November 27, 2007, 22:03:30]


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