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Island pioneer, leader Sam Bailey, 86, passes

By Staff | Sep 22, 2010

Sam Bailey, pictured on the cover of the April 2010 Sanibel & Captiva Chamber of Commerce magazine, promoting Islands Night.

Lifelong islander, community leader and humanitarian Samuel M. Bailey died early Wednesday morning after complications from brain surgery. He was 86, although most islanders would have said he was immortal, certainly ageless.

One of the patriarchs of this community, he was born on Sanibel to Frank

Bailey, founder of Sanibel Packing Company (now Bailey’s General Store), and

Annie Meade Matthews.

"All of his life was spent somewhat as a leader, whether it was sports or whether it was in this community," said Richard Johnson, general manager of Bailey’s General Store. "Sam shied away from politics, but he really understood what this island stood for. He was a champion for Sanibel Island."

According to Johnson, two of the popular annual events created by Sam — Islands Night, which takes place at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, and Baileyfest, held at Bailey’s Center — will continue in his honor.

"A lot of things he did were kinda quiet, and Sam wanted it that way," said Francis Bailey, who considered his brother’s legacy would be his outspokenness. "He was a good brother… born and raised here."

Johnson also spoke about Sam’s time spent dedicated to community activities.

"He was really good at getting people to help get things done," he added.

During his teenage years, Sam would catch a ferry on Sunday nights and hitchhike into Fort Myers, where he would spend the week going to school, spending nights in a boarding house. But every Saturday morning,  he would return to Sanibel bright and early to work in the family store.

"I didn’t get an opportunity to work with him very long," said Bailey’s cashier Patty Hadgkiss, who joined the staff in March. "But he was a very kind and generous man. He was a humanitarian."

After attending the University of Georgia and completing his coaching career of 26 years at the University of Tampa, he returned to his island home, where he was active in local ecological protection efforts and the city’s Historical Preservation Committee.

During a presentation about his autobiography, “A Sanibel Son Looks Back,” at the Captiva Memorial Library last year, Sam — then 85 — said "I feel like the good Lord has blessed me, and when I die, I want to die of a heart attack trying to steal second base!"

And while Sam was certainly an athlete, known for his strategic prowess on the football field, the thing Sanibel resident Joe Pacheco remembers most about him had nothing to do with Sam’s athletic abilities.

“The thing I’ll always remember about Sam is that he wrote lively, funny, witty poetry,” Pacheco said. “He liked to dabble in it and he enjoyed reading it. That’s what I will always remember about him — that, and he told such great stories about the old days of Sanibel.”

He is survived by his wife, Thelma (Cookie); three daughters, Tee Ann Bailey of Tampa, Toy Lynn Bailey of Hawaii and Tye Carter of Tampa; and three grandchildren.

According to the family, a celebration of Sam’s life will be held at the Old Bailey Store, located on the grounds of the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village. A date and time for the memorial, which will be open to the entire island community, has not be determined.

A funeral will take place in Tampa.

(Jeff Lysiak, Jane Brickley and Anne W. Bellew contributed to this report.)