Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee spoke for many when he offered his condolences to the family of Freddie Solomon Jr., whose death Feb. 13 rocked the Tampa Bay community.
"Our sheriff's office's family is saddened by the loss of Freddie, but we are so proud to have the privilege to call him a friend and a college. That will never change," said Gee, in a prepared statement following Solomon's death.
"He worked for us for 21 years, teaching children about sports and about life," added Gee. ""His legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of countless boys and girls, some of whom are now adults."
Known as, "Fabulous Freddie," Solomon was a quarterback at the University of Tampa who went on to become, as the Tampa Tribune described him, "a cornerstone of the 1980s-era San Francisco 49ers,when the franchise went from laughingstock to perennial Super Bowl champions."
Solomon worked for two decades in community relations with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, serving as a mentor for kids, using football fundamentals to teach life lessons.
He died Monday afternoon, Feb. 13, after a nine-month battle with colon and liver cancer. He was 59.
"Freddie never stopped fighting his illness despite debilitating pain and fatigue and he kept his smile until the end," said Gee, who was a sophomore at Brandon High when Solomon graduated from the University of Tampa. "He leaves us all with lessons about humility and caring and loving others. Those timeless traits are what defined Freddie Solomon then, now and forever."
Solomon's family posted an announcement of his death:
"It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of Freddie Solomon, a beloved family member, friend, community leader and coach," reads the statement from Solomon's wife of 33 years, Dee. "We would like to thank all of those who have supported him throughout his life. We appreciate all the love and prayers during this difficult time."
Eddie DeBartolo, former owner of the San Francisco 49ers and one of Solomon's closest friends, said he had been a friend of Solomon's for 35 years.
"And he was one of the most gentle and best men I have ever met in my life," DeBartolo said. "Scores of generations will remember Freddie through their children and the youth he helped over all these decades. I have never met a man who cared so much about the human race, and there will never be another Freddie."
A memorial service is planned for St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Tampa, with details to be announced in the coming days.
Preceding Solomon in death were his grandmother Zinker Jones; his sister, Shirley Pugh; and his father, Freddie Solomon Sr.
Solomon is survived by his wife, Dee; mother, Bessie Solomon; mother-in-law, Mae "Sugar" Jeffers; brothers, Richard, Oneal and wife, Dorothy, Roger and wife, Jean; brother-in-law William Jeffers; special sister Ida Burns; and a host of nieces, nephews and other special relatives and many friends.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers donations be made to the Univerity of Tampa Freddie Solomon Scholarship Fund. Or, the HCSO Charities Inc. Or, the DeBartolo Family Foundation.