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Family, friends mourn death of a salesman


© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 12, 2001

TREASURE ISLAND -- "It's who you know and the smile on your face! . . . And that's the wonder, the wonder of this country, that a man can end with diamonds here on the basis of being liked!" -- Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman.

Those words ultimately rang false for Willy Loman, the fictional salesman in the landmark play.

But when death came last week to a real salesman, Miller's words fit like a benediction.

A memorial service will be held Saturday for William Ardell "Bill" Waters Jr., who died at his Treasure Island home Sept. 2 at age 73 of esophageal cancer.

Mr. Waters was an unusually successful salesman. But friends and associates say they will remember his human qualities more than his business skills.

A big man with a booming bass voice, Mr. Waters was fond of singing, talking and social gatherings. He performed regularly in local musical productions and charity fundraisers for Sertoma International.

"He enjoyed life. He spread cheer. You always felt better after seeing him than you did before," said Ernest Jenkins, who handled Mr. Waters' legal affairs for more than 25 years.

"I think he won the respect of almost everybody he was ever around."

The son of an insurance executive, Mr. Waters was born in Abington, Pa., in 1928. He was left to fend for himself after his parents divorced when he was a teenager, and came to Florida because he had relatives here.

Mr. Waters worked his way through Florida State University selling women's shoes -- not a bad job for a single man, as he always liked to remind people.

After graduation in 1951, he moved to St. Petersburg, where he proved so good at selling Pontiacs that he was offered his own dealership out of state.

But rather than move his young family, he switched to insurance sales and wound up employing more than 70 people at his three operations: Alley, Rehbaum & Capes, Northeast Underwriters and Clearwater Underwriters.

His daughter, Kristen Waters Hood, remembered how hard he worked to get his insurance business off the ground.

"He worked six days a week, every week," she recalled. "On Sundays, he took us to church and worked in the yard all afternoon."

Mr. Waters loved to eat grouper and raw oysters. He wore a dress shirt and tie to work every day, his daughter said, but never a coat -- "because he didn't want to look like he was above people."

He drove Pontiacs long after he could have afforded a more expensive car, and he used those Pontiacs as rolling office space.

Mr. Waters insisted on delivering all his insurance policies in person rather than mailing them. As a result, his cars were always crammed with papers, files and office records.

"I had to take my driving test in Dad's car," his daughter said. "And when the instructor told me to stop suddenly, all the papers came flying out of the back seat and onto his head."

Mr. Waters and his first wife, Carolyn, were divorced in 1978. He met his second wife, Christine Bryan Waters, when they both sang in a local opera production. They were married in 1982.

"He had a very strong and dominating personality. People were drawn to him," Mrs. Waters said. "It was his cheerful, dynamic personality that I was attracted to. He made me very, veryhappy."

Mr. Waters was a devoted fan of FSU football and had attended every FSU-University of Florida game since the first one in 1958.

Last year, he gave FSU $150,000 to endow scholarships in risk management and insurance in honor of his daughters Kristen Waters Hood and Cynthia Waters Fletcher.

He gave an additional $100,000 to endow a scholarship for the center on the football team, choosing that position because the center is an unsung hero, working hard for little glory.

"That's what we all wish for."

In addition to his wife and his daughters Kristen and Cynthia, Mr. Waters is survived by his daughters, Lynn Carpenter and Robin Waters; his son, William A. Waters III; his stepchildren, Ansel Buhrman and Parker Buhrman; three grandchildren and two step-grandchildren.

The memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at Faith Presbyterian Church, 11501 Walker Ave. N, Seminole.

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