ANNA MARIA ISLAND – Anna Maria Island lost a beloved friend and local character when 67-year-old George Cameron Wilson Jr. passed away on Monday, July 8.
Wilson worked at the Anna Maria General Store in Anna Maria and lived in Holmes Beach with his roommates Lisa O’Connell and Rick Weaver.
According to General Store owner Brian Seymour, who was out of town at the time, Wilson started feeling sick on Saturday, July 6. He came to work the following day not feeling well and went home. Wilson was hospitalized Monday and passed away later that day.
“He was at the hospital for about four or five hours, and his heart stopped four times before they pronounced him dead,” Seymour said.
As of Sunday, an autopsy report was still pending, and the exact cause of death remained unknown.
“The great thing is that George lived every day of his life. He didn’t have to be taken care of, he wasn’t in a home and he wasn’t under treatment for cancer or anything like that,” Seymour said.
“He was the first associate I hired. He was working for the previous owner and he was the only associate I kept when I bought the store in 2010.”
At the time, Wilson also worked as a substitute teacher at Lee Middle School in Bradenton, which he did until he retired from teaching.
“He was my nighttime guy, working the register, greeting customers, making sandwiches, stocking the shelves – he pretty much did it all. He wasn’t just an employee, he was probably my best friend on the Island,” Seymour said.
“He was sometimes misunderstood, but if you got to know and love George you’d find out he was fiercely loyal. He was fiercely loyal to making sure kids had a good experience at the store. He liked to take care of the fish tank, and he’d teach kids all about the fish.
“There was no one more dedicated and loyal to the success of the business than George. He would show up early every day, never called out and he was always talking about the business and trying to grow the business. And he, by far, had the most repeat visitors who came in here year after year asking for him,” Seymour said.
Celebrating George’s life
A celebration of life will take place on the deck of the Anna Maria General Store at 503 Pine Ave. from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Monday, July 22. at 8:30 p.m., Wilson’s friends will walk down to the bay and place flowers in the water. At 9 p.m., the celebration will resume at D Coy Ducks in Holmes Beach.
Seymour started a GoFundMe page – “In memory of George C. Wilson” – for those who wish to assist with the costs for Wilson’s celebration of life.
Dave Cochran is the general manager at the Rod & Reel Pier in Anna Maria.
“I’ve known George as long as I can remember. We’re from the same hometown, I knew him growing up in New Castle, Penn.,” Cochran said.
Cochran said Wilson attended Youngstown State University in Ohio and graduated with a bachelor of science degree in education in 1976. He then spent the next year teaching at inner-city schools in Houston, Texas.
Through the 1980s and 90s, Wilson worked as a performance and executive recruiter in Dallas, Texas, as a sales manager for the Northern Light Company in Pittsburgh, as a sales and operations manager for Environmental Resources Inc. in Wampum, Pa. and at a consulting, sales and marketing group in Hermitage, Pa.
Cochran said at some point after 1996, Wilson became a substitute teacher in the New Castle/Wilmington/Shenango area, and he did that until he moved to Anna Maria Island in 2003 or 2004.
“He took a vacation in Key West and was on his way back to Pennsylvania because he’d gotten a teaching job in Pittsburgh. But he decided he was going to stay here, and he didn’t take the job,” Cochran said.
“George was a free spirit that made everyone feel good and happy around him. Everybody loved George. He’ll be missed by all,” Cochran said.
Friend of the bride
Wilson became close friends with Holmes Beach residents Morgan and Ben Bryant.
“He was definitely a one-of-a-kind person. Everybody loved him. He came to be part of our family. We’d have him over for Christmas and things like that. And Ben and George went for coffee almost every morning,” Morgan said.
“Then we had our son, Finn, and Finn started going to coffee with them, so they’d have a little men’s group. George never had kids of his own, so he wasn’t sure how to act around Finn at first, but they grew to love each other and he became Finn’s Uncle George,” Morgan said.
“George was a groomsman in our wedding. We didn’t have a honeymoon planned. After we got married, George and the group from the General Store were going on a cruise, so we ended up honeymooning with George,” she joked.
“George was friends with my stepdad, Tim Sullivan, who passed away four years ago. Tim and George hung out at Bortell’s, and George would come over for family get-togethers when I was younger. I’ve known George for probably 15 years,” Ben Bryant said.
“During the last four years we hung out every day. He was my lunch buddy and my coffee buddy. I also have a property in California, and George came to work on the farm last year. We were knocking off some bucket list items,” Ben said.
Ben was flying to California the day Wilson died.
“I had just landed in Sacramento, and I started getting calls from the ICU because I was his healthcare surrogate. The doctor was asking me when was the right time to stop giving him cardiac support and CPR. I just got back to yesterday, so it’s all becoming real,” Ben said on Sunday.
When asked what he’ll miss most about Wilson, Ben said, “His honesty and realness and living in the present moment. It’s rare to find people who live for the present day and who are so open and sharing.
“We’d drink together and George could definitely hold it down, even at 67. This celebration of life is going to be a stellar event. It will feel like George is there,” Ben said.