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Dad with pressure jobs loved laid-back life

By STEPHANIE HAYES, Times Staff Writer
Published January 25, 2008

Joseph Novak was chief of the South Pasadena Fire Department for 16 years and a captain with the St. Petersburg Fire Department for 20 years. He died Wednesday.
[Family photo]

LEALMAN - Joseph Novak worked long days at the fire station - 24 hours at a time. But when he was home, his neighbor noticed.

"My roommate and I used to watch him going down the street," said Esma Novak. "We used to think how cute he was."

Mrs. Novak, then a divorced mother of two, lived down the street. She got to know Mr. Novak's housekeeper and his two children, who would play with hers. Finally, the housekeeper set them up. "I met your next wife," she told Mr. Novak, who was also divorced.

They got along right away. They had the same sense of humor, and they loved each other's children. But soon, her lease on the house was ending.

He liked having her around. So, he asked her to marry him.

She still lives in his house down the street.


He was a Korean War veteran. For two decades, he was a St. Petersburg fire captain. Later, he served as chief of the South Pasadena Fire Department. At one point, he was a helicopter pilot, flying for the city of St. Petersburg.

But for such high pressure jobs, Mr. Novak was laid back.

"He had no problem watching the grass grow," his wife said.

Mostly, he loved the atmosphere and camaraderie of the firehouse, and spending hours with friends. His days off were reserved for his wife and kids, two more of whom he had with Mrs. Novak.

He loved celebrating his birthday, and made sure everyone knew. When someone came to the door, he'd say, "Got gifts?"

At parties, Mr. Novak was always first in line for free food. In fact, he loved anything free. He clipped coupons and went to CVS every morning for the sales. No matter what was in his pocket, he always told people he had $18 - that way, he wouldn't have to make change.

He tailed his wife and his sister around Atlantic City to watch them gamble. He would play only one token in each slot machine his wife finished. She'd give him her leftover quarters and loose change, and he'd count up how much he made that day.

Recently, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa sent Mrs. Novak a gift certificate for her 69th birthday, she said. Her husband wanted to know where his was. After all, he had spent $2.40 there. He was looking forward to going to the casino with Mrs. Novak to spend the certificate, and the $79 he earned there himself on their last visit.

But after Christmas, Mr. Novak developed pneumonia. He died Wednesday of congestive heart failure. He was 68.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or 727 893-8857.


Joseph Novak

Born: Jan. 6, 1940.

Died: Jan. 23, 2008.

Survivors: wife, Esma Novak; sons, David and Joseph Novak; daughters, Rebecca Bergin, Linda Novak, Joann Brown and Denise DeNote; grandchildren, Sydney Novak, Edward Holt, Matthew Bergin, Michael Bergin Jr., Tyler Bergin and Shawn Moore; brother, Paul.

Services: 3-5 p.m., Sunday at Gee & Sorensen Funeral Home, 3180 30th Ave. N., St. Petersburg. Funeral at 10 a.m., Monday Holy Cross Church, 7851 54th Ave. N.

[Last modified January 24, 2008, 22:16:44]

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