Tom Pleasants (right), 46, grew up in a house of 15 kids, making industrial-sized pots of spaghetti. He turned his love of cooking into a job as manager of the Seaside Grille on St. Pete Beach, where he worked for 13 years. He even got his picture with Lightning coach John Tortorella (right) and the Stanley Cup.

ST. PETERSBURG - On one of their first dates, Tom Pleasants showed compassion Gail Pleasants had never seen before. A stray cat in her apartment building had given birth. Where would the kittens go? Tom built a compound for the kittens, with hallways so they could enter and leave. "Oh, my gosh," Gail thought. "What kind of a man does this?" When Tom was 10, his dad died in a car accident. His mother remarried, bringing the household total to 15 children. In the crowded house, a simple meal could involve 40 people. So, he did his share. He cooked in huge pots. He did laundry and diapered babies. Gail Pleasants didn't know how to do any of those things. All she knew was, she loved the man who could.

Tom was an artist in the kitchen. Marinara sauce was an all-day affair. He had a bachelor's degree in counseling, but he preferred working in restaurants. He served at Silas Dent's Steakhouse. Then, for 13 years, he managed the Seaside Grille on Pass-a-Grille. Tom was a natural - honest, responsible, capable. And he had the patience to stand and cook for 500 people. When business was slow, Tom would grab his surfboard and drift away. He was healthy, stocky, athletic. He loved soccer, baseball and hockey. He listened to reggae and country music. He bought cat food for a lady who fed strays on the beach. If someone fell on hard times, he was quick with a $20 bill. He dreamt of being a teacher. Sometimes, he felt like he hadn't accomplished enough. Wrong, says his wife.

Marina Pleasants is 14 years old. She started school this week, a few days after her dad, Tom, died of cancer at age 46. Tom wanted Marina to go to school, no matter what happened to him. She's a lot like her dad, Gail says. Quiet, benevolent, smart. She loves animals. She has his eyes.

Tom built another kingdom, bigger than that kitten house. In 1997, the family bought a vacant fixer-upper. Tom laid decorative tile and installed windows and glass doors. He turned it into a lush hideaway. Most special, Gail says, is the garden. He grew tomatoes, plucking them for his fresh spaghetti. He built a winding walkway and a goldfish pond and planted fruit trees. There's an avocado tree, too. It's getting bigger, Gail says. Soon, it should bloom.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or 727 893-8857.

In memory of Thomas M. Pleasants

June 7, 1961 - August 17, 2007

(Tom, Mike and Alan - 1984)

(Alan, Tom and Mike - 2006)