ST. PETERSBURG – Well-wishers from the community and coworkers alike all came together to honor a man who has dedicated a lifetime of service to students in Pinellas County.
Rohland Bryant spent 37 years in the same building day in and day out, but his vibrant personality and strong work ethic made each day seem like a walk in the park for his coworkers.
“He works at an incredible pace and when he’s helping others, he’s got a smile on his face,” said colleague Carol Irwin as she read from a poem she crafted about her good friend.
During his tenor, Bryant helped establish the Public Works Academy at Pinellas Technical College (PTC), located at 901 34th St. S., back in 1989. As head of the program, he was responsible for the training and certification of students interested in perhaps not glamorous but stable careers in surveying traffic operations, wastewater treatments and even plumbing. Essential skills needed for every city across America. He’s also credited with assisting in finding jobs for more than 1,000 apprentices after completing the program.
“There’s too much history for me to stand up here and even give you a small clipping,” said Sammy Davis, a longtime friend of Bryant’s. Having met him some five decades ago, Davis can’t wait to spend time with his friend once he officially marks his last day. Rohland is going to want me to walk from the pier to Treasure Island, and I’m here to tell you it’s not going to happen,” he joked.
It’s Bryant’s zest for life and extensive energy that has always endeared not only his family, but his coworkers to him. When you meet him, you have a friend for life.
“We became brothers [instantly] and we have remained brothers,” said Davis who has fond memories of Bryant that he wasn’t afraid to divulge to those in attendance at the retirement party.
On one occasion Davis was privy to seeing Bryant teaching students how to dig ditches out in the hot Florida sun. “It was always simply, work, work, work,” said Davis who respects Bryant for always passing on that positive work ethic to his students.
A trait evident in the fact that in his 37 years with the college, Bryant is known for only taking two sick days. Even calling up Davis to transport him to work when he broke his ankle years ago instead of just staying home.
“The county lost big on that,” joked Davis who knows Pinellas County policy is to pay tenured employees upon retirement for their unused sick leave. “He took them to the woodshed.”
Bryant was also known as the go to person if anyone was in need of a job, counseling or special training. His retirement is a loss that is already being felt among his peers.
Ray Gorman, who for the last two years has been grooming to take over Bryant’s duties, knows he has big shoes to fill.
“They’re ginormous and they’re one of a kind,” he said. “There’s no one else who can really do what you do.”
Pete Cavalli has known Bryant for some time. “It’s starting to get close to double digits,” he joked. But in the small time he has had the pleasure of working with Bryant, Cavalli has welcomed Bryant into his life as not only a colleague and a boss, but as a friend and confidant.
“He’s done so much to bring them along, to build their confidence” Cavalli said speaking of the myriad of people in the community that Bryant has helped over the years. Those who perhaps were a little lost on their path in life. “I’ve seen him take people who didn’t have a direction and make them somebody.”
Director of PTC, Boe Norwood, expressed his heart-felt gratitude to Bryant saying, “There’s not a person at the school that you haven’t touched in some kind of way. There’s nothing we’ve ever asked for or needed that you didn’t come through or had someone come through for us.”
And when the man of the hour took his turn at the microphone, with his 93-year-old mother in audience, it was evident why so many will feel the loss of his leaving. As the words from his heart poured out through a song he holds dear, Bryant spoke of looking back along the winding road of his life.
“I’ve had my share of hard times, but I wouldn’t change a thing,” said Bryant who believes God has been by his side through it all guiding him along the path of life and giving him all that he needed. “I feel blessed beyond my wildest dreams when I go to sleep at night.”
Bryant thanked everyone who showed up to the Orange Blossom Café to wish him well in his retirement and those who took the time to put it all together. After hearing more words of endearment from person after person who has been touched by the “spirit of Rohland,” it was time to get on the dance floor.
Bryant plans to continue to volunteer at PTC, help raise his beloved grandchild, and yes Mr. Davis, take long walks with you by his side.
“You have been the best of family,” he said to everyone in the room. And of course, the feeling was mutual. Congratulations on a well-deserved retirement Mr. Rohland Bryant.