There was an empty seat on the bench at the back of my church on Sunday. This was where Eddie Card sat.

This is where I saw Eddie and his wonderful wife, Joan, almost every week. He was still reaching out and squeezing mine tightly.

He looked me in the eye and asked me how things were going. We were discussing the events of the week, often sporting. I tried to see him after to tell him that I would catch up with him next week.

Next week will not come. Eddie died the day before Valentine’s Day. He was 96 years old. He and Joan had been married for 68 years.

If you’ve never met Eddie, that’s unfortunate for you. I first met him while covering the University of South Florida basketball team for the Tampa Tribune.

It was in the mid-1970s when the team was known as the Golden Brahmans, not the Bulls as we call them today. They played at old Curtis Hixon Hall in downtown Tampa. Eddie and Jack Harris, now known on 970-WFLA radio, took care of the shows.

“He was just a great guy to work with and to work with,” said Harris. “He wasn’t a professional announcer, but that made him even better. He loved what he was doing and it was so much fun.”

No, you wouldn’t call Eddie a golden voice or anything like that. He got the radio job because he worked for Art Pepin, which ran the large Budweiser beer distribution in Tampa and sponsored the games. Eddie was part of the case.

There’s a story behind that too, and for more details we’ll see Joan and A Night in Westport Central, NY that changed their every life.

Eddie was working at the local high school when he showed up to her house one night. Joan’s older sister, Polly, thought he was there to ask her to go dancing.

“But then he asked, ‘Where’s Joan? “Jeanne said laughing.” He was about 10 years older than me, but everything was fine. “

They went for an ice cream soda, and a love story was born that spanned centuries.

All was not lost for Polly, however. She eventually met and married a young man named Art Pepin, and that’s how Eddie and Joan ended up in Tampa – working 19 years for the man everyone knew was Pep.

Eddie certainly knew his sports. He played baseball, football and basketball. He coached a state championship basketball team, athletic director of a high school, and eventually became president of the Tampa Sports Club. He was a founding member of the Gold Shield Foundation of Tampa.

Most importantly, he was Joan’s husband and a loving father.

“I don’t know anyone who didn’t like Eddie,” Harris said.

We started to feel the end approaching when Eddie stopped showing up to church. He had been admitted to the Florida hospital with kidney failure but did not want visits. Doctors wanted dialysis, but Joan said treatment “wiped out” him and he didn’t want it anymore.

“They told him they could give me a few years if he had had dialysis, but he said he’s been through enough,” Joan said. “I told him it was his decision. The morning he died he was supposed to go to the hospice. He was just exhausted.

“I’m grateful for the way he went, but I know the hardest part is yet to come.”

This is always true when a loved one dies, especially when they’ve been together for as long as Eddie and Joan. But people surrounded her with love when she joined her daughter, Kim, on the benches on Sunday.

They will not forget a love story that spanned nearly seven decades. They won’t forget Eddie Card, sir and friend. This seat will always belong to him.