NEPTUNE BEACH, Fla. — A beloved First Coast lifeguard passed away over the weekend.
Larry Hobbs was the first African American lifeguard in Neptune Beach.
The gentle giant, with an even bigger smile, saved so many lives while he was a lifeguard from 1986 to 1995.
This week, colleagues and friends reminisced about their time with him.
Neptune Beach Police Chief Richard Pike said, "He was the model lifeguard.
I started in '84 and Larry started in lifeguards in '85."
"Anybody who met Larry couldn't help but like him," Rich Banks said. The two men worked together as lifeguards.
A legend in Neptune Beach, Hobbs had a big smile and a recognizable laugh.
He most recently worked at Safe Harbor Seafood. He was 55.
Gary Snyder with the police department described Hobbs as a "bodybuilder type".
"He was one of the nicest gentle giants you could ever meet," Banks said. "Let me put it this way, Larry was someone you didn't want to mess with."
Hobbs was the first African American lifeguard in Neptune Beach, but his friends said that wasn't a big deal to him.
"Not at all," Snyder said. "He was just a very capable, professional lifeguard."
"That was something he never brought up. Lifeguarding wasn't about any of that to Larry," Banks said. "It was about saving lives."
And he did save many lives.
"We had several summers with a lot of riptides that required a lot of rescues and a lot of people pulled out of the water," Pike said.
Banks remembers those times and said, "We were led by Larry."
Even after Hobbs retired from being a lifeguard, he still helped out with bettering the rookies. He would get into the water and act like he was drowning, to see what the newer, younger lifeguards would do.
Banks said, "You know, they'd bring him in. And he'd say, 'You did this right, and you this wrong.'"
Hobbs will be remembered for his love of the community, the people, and for guarding both.
"The world was a better place because Larry Hobbs was in it," Snyder said. "To know he's not here brings us all a lot of sadness but I think the memories will stick with us forever."