Bobby Vernon Knight, Sr was born to Mary Ethel Highsmith and Elijah Sinclair Knight on March 12, 1930 in Paola, Florida. He left this world peacefully in the late evening hours of August 8 with his beloved grandson Elijah by his side.
Bobby attended Robert E Lee High School in Jacksonville, FL where he met his future wife Muriel Jones. After graduation, they both traveled to Gainesville to study at the University of Florida. While there, he excelled at sports, lettering not only in football wearing #81, but in baseball, basketball and track as well! His time at Florida was interrupted when he chose to serve his country in the Army during the Korean War.
Bobby began his coaching career as an assistant coach for the Florida Gator team. He then worked in Live Oak, FL. Upon returning to Jacksonville, Bobby coached football at Jean Ribault High School, later serving as principal there. His career continued as principal of Terry Parker High School until he was made Area Director for the Duval County School System. He was then promoted to Assistant Superintendent and remained in that office until his retirement in 1990. During his long and distinguished career he touched the lives of countless young people. They were impressed and empowered by the example he set. Bobby was the epitome of integrity, kindness and generosity. His work ethic was beyond compare.
Bobby returned to Gainesville again and again to cheer on his Florida Gators! He loved horses. He enjoyed nature and gardening. He took great pride in his yard in Arlington which won several awards. But more than anything, Bobby adored his family. He never missed an event, large or small that his grandchildren participated in. Family dinners were a regular occurrence as they grew up.
Bobby is predeceased by his dear wife of over sixty years, Muriel. He is survived by his daughter Cynthia Ann Knight Griffith and his son Bobby Knight, Jr (Marcy); his grandchildren Ryan Knight, Heather Herring (Dale), Brandi Combs (Jay), Elijah Knight, and Brianna Knight; and his great-grandchildren Trey, Cheyenne, Destiny, Daniel, Alexis, Savanna, Steven and Kaylee.
A graveside service is scheduled for 11AM, Monday, August 15, 2016 at Arlington Park Cemetery, 6920 Lone Star Road, Jacksonville, Florida 32211, (904) 724-6384, with Rev. Patrice Spencer officiating.The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Northeast Florida Community Hospice.
Before major sports retailers opened stores in Jacksonville, there was Charlie Coleman’s Sport Shop.
Over three decades, thousands of players got their athletic apparel at his chain of five stores.
Friends called him an innovator, a man with a generous heart and a legend on the Northside where he opened his flagship store in 1964. Mr. Coleman also was an athlete who was in the Jacksonville Sports Hall of Fame and the University of Tampa Hall of Fame.
He died Sunday night after a series of strokes.
Mr. Coleman was 82 and had been in hospice care in Palm Bay, Fla., where he moved to be near his daughter.
Hundreds expressed their sorrow on several Facebook pages and recalled that they got their first gloves, their first uniforms or their first surfboards at Charlie Coleman’s. Many bought a T-shirt that they wore on the first day of school. But it wasn’t just the apparel. They enjoyed talking to him, appreciated the time he spent helping them make selections and his empathy for youth leagues.
“I will never forget Charlie’s truly kind and giving heart,” one man wrote. “I came into his store on Norwood to look at letter sweaters and didn’t quite have enough money. He said, ‘Wait’, as I started to leave. I know you didn’t know about discounts for Jackson students. Let me get this sweater bagged up for you.”
A former employee recalled he was hired in November and was surprised to get a $100 Christmas bonus after only a month. Mr. Coleman bought his employees lunch on Saturdays and frequently brought in fried chicken gizzards which they would top with hot sauce. He was also known to smoke 25 turkeys for a Thanksgiving feast.
A native of Live Oak, Mr. Coleman was born in December 1933 and moved to Jacksonville when he was 3. He was captain of the football team at Andrew Jackson High School and made All-City and All-State. He served two years in the Navy. Upon discharge, he earned a football scholarship to the University of Tampa where he was a starter and standout performer at four positions. He graduated in 1959 and was inducted into its sports hall of fame in 1983.
In 1958, he married Eleanor Ebsary Coleman and taught physical education and coached football at Forrest High School for one year and at Ribault Senior for five years. While coaching, he had difficulty finding the equipment he needed, said his former bookkeeper, Debbie Jones. So his wife advised him to order directly from the companies, Jones said. That eventually led him to open his first store on Norwood Avenue.
His generosity and reputation for offering fair prices enabled him to build a loyal clientele, Jones and others said.
He allowed struggling sports associations to buy equipment and uniforms on credit and pay him the remainder when they could, said Larry Peterson, a retired Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department chief, whose mother sewed the letters on the jerseys for Mr. Coleman.
“Charlie loved sports and wanted to make sure those kids had what they needed to play ball during tough times,” said Peterson, adding that Mr. Coleman helped with his equipment needs when he went into amateur boxing. “He obviously did very well in the sports business, but he shared with others. You went back to Charlie because he was the guy who took care of you.”
Jones said that Coleman later opened stores on the Westside, Arlington, the Beaches and Gainesville. He also hired an employee to take orders in small towns in Northeast Florida that didn’t have stores.
In 1978, he replaced his smaller Norwood shop with a new 14,000-square-foot store a short distance away that carried enough softball uniforms to outfit 300 teams. The 2-story building also had a large inventory of football, basketball and baseball uniforms and equipment. Mr. Coleman had his own uniform.
In the 40 years she knew him, Jones said she rarely saw him in anything other than shorts and a T-shirt, summer or winter.
In describing his business acumen, she said Mr. Coleman was an innovator who sought ways to diversify. For instance, he opened a tanning salon in 1986 because there was only one other on the Northside at the time, and he always had to wait when he went there, she said. Later, he sold it to Jones.
Mr. Coleman was devoted to his wife, who was mayor of Fernandina Beach from 1992-94, and to his daughter, Carla Schell, Jones said. They moved to Amelia Island in 1985. When his wife became ill with cancer, he sold the business in 1994 to take care of her.
He was passionate about sports and physical fitness and attended all of her track meets and softball games, his daughter said. Indeed, he was one of the first to be appointed to what was then the Jacksonville Sports Commission.
Robbie Rose, a radio personality with WQIK, met him when he was 16 and a student at Ribault when Mr. Coleman coached there. They reconnected years later at a class reunion, and Rose would take him to lunch or to doctors’ appointments.
“We talked about everything,” Rose said. “He enjoyed life. He had a sweet heart and a love for people. He just took to everybody, and everybody knew him.”
Jones added that Mr. Coleman enjoyed attending high school reunions across Jacksonville and seeing old friends.
In addition to his daughter, survivors include his son-in-law and two grandsons.
Services will be at 3 p.m. on Monday, August 29, 2016 at the North Jacksonville Baptist Church, 8531 Main Street North, Jacksonville, Florida 32218. Reception to follow the service.