TAMPA -- To the nation, he was a war hero. To the Tampa Bay community, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf was a hero for local charities.
The retired Desert Storm commander died at the age of 78 in Tampa, where he was involved in causes ranging from sick and orphaned children to prostate cancer awareness. Friends said he frequently attended fundraisers as a celebrity guest, which allowed charities to raise much-needed funds.
John Osterweil, a Tampa resident who supports the military through various charities, got to know Schwarzkopf in 1989 when their sons became friends. Over the years, Osterweil and Schwarzkopf attended football games together, played tennis and attended charity events around the city.
Once, when Osterweil’s wife was in charge of fundraising for the Tampa Museum of Art, Schwarzkopf agreed to be a guest celebrity at a $1,000-a-plate dinner. The museum raised $50,000 that night, Osterweil said.
"By his presence alone, organizations were able to raise sizable chunks of money," he said. "He was very gracious about that, very willing."
Schwarzkopf spent much of his time working on children’s causes including the Ronald McDonald House and The Children’s Home in Tampa, which provides family support services and aids in foster care adoptions.
He and the late actor Paul Newman co-founded Camp Boggy Creek in Central Florida, a summer campground for kids with life-threatening illnesses.
"I may have made my reputation as a general in the Army and I’m very proud of that," he once told The Associated Press. "But I’ve always felt that I was more than one-dimensional. I’d like to think I’m a caring human being. ... It’s nice to feel that you have a purpose."
An avid fisherman, hunter and skeet shooter, Schwarzkopf also served on the board of the Nature Conservancy.
Schwarzkopf and his wife also owned a home in Telluride, Colo., where he was on the board of directors for the Telluride Foundation, a group that raises money for local charities.
He was also active in raising awareness about prostate cancer as a national spokesman for the cause; in 1994, he was diagnosed with the affliction and was successfully treated.
Gen. Schwarzkopf stepped down as CentComm commander in 1991, and remained in Tampa for retirement, initially renting a home in the Cheval community.
"The people of Tampa have made me and my family feel right at home the moment we moved here," he said then.
Sports — specifically, skeet shooting — played a major role in the retired general’s social life.
For years, the Gen. Schwarzkopf Cup sporting clays tournament was held in his honor to support the Children’s Home. It has raised more than $1 million, said Merrill Stewart, director of development at the nonprofit that supports abused and neglected children in Tampa Bay.
Former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco met Gen. Schwarzkopf at a skeet shooting event and they became fast friends. Greco used to tease the retired general about the time they went to the Super Bowl in Miami and billionaire Wayne Huizenga’s mother mistook him for TV personality Williard Scott.
Greco remained friends with Gen. Schwarzkopf after his retirement from the military and was his neighbor when the general settled in Harbour Island.
"It was very difficult to watch a strong, wonderful man not be in good health. He was a great American and a great sportsman," Greco said.
Gen. Schwarzkopf didn’t retire from public life when he hung up his stars, and he gave his time to charities across the area, said Tampa developer Al Austin, who was a friend.
Austin discovered he had prostate cancer in March 2002 — a few years after Gen. Schwarzkopf had his own battle with the disease. The general had become an advocate for research and promoting early detection.
"He gave me advice before my surgery," Austin recalled. "He just did so many great things."
Bob Graham, the former Florida governor and U.S. senator, said he trusted Gen. Schwarzkopf so much he wanted to hand over relief operations to him after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
Often people who remember Gen. Schwarzkopf recall what it was like to be with him.
"He just sucked all the air out of the room," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
Tampa Bay Times staff writers Robbyn Mitchell and Amy Scherzer contributed to this report.