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Kimberly Shoemate, Floyd Whitfield’s niece, said her uncle changed his life “to help his fellow man.”

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

Floyd Whitfield

,

Robert MacIntyre

,

2 died as they lived - serving their neighborhood

  • Article by: DAVID CHANEN
  • Star Tribune
  • May 25, 2011 - 12:34 AM

The men lived 4 miles apart and were six years apart in age.

The day of the tornado, Floyd Whitfield and Robert MacIntyre were helping neighbors -- something the longtime north Minneapolis residents did often. Whitfield, 59, a deacon and usher at New Resurrection Missionary Baptist Church for the past three years, was driving a boy he mentored home from church. MacIntyre, 53, was helping neighbors at their damaged houses, even though part of his roof was blown off.

Whitfield died when a tree was blown through his windshield, somehow sparing the life of his passenger. MacIntyre was hauling trees from neighbors' yards with a tractor when he had an apparent heart attack.

City Council Member Don Samuels called MacIntyre a friend, a solid neighbor and a leader in the community.

"He was a '60s guy and had a lot of the best that era still in him," he said. "He died a hero's death."

Feeling the loss

Hours before he died, MacIntyre called John "JD" David, one of his best friends. Nearly a dozen pine trees were strewn across MacIntyre's yard, but he cut a path through his driveway and asked David to buy and haul over 20 sheets of plywood, for boarding up other people's houses.

"He didn't care about his house," David said. "He went door to door, making sure everybody was OK."

Local kids will feel the loss. MacIntyre kept old lawn tractors in his yard for teens to work on. He also raised chickens, letting the young people harvest and sell eggs and keep the money.

Some people playfully described MacIntyre as a mad scientist for his mechanical and engineering skills. As president of the board of directors for the nonprofit Raptor Resource Project since the 1980s, he developed and built cameras installed in nesting areas of falcons and eagles. His most challenging feat may have been a tiny camera to place on falcons, resulting in amazing footage shown on a public television documentary, said Bob Anderson, the project's director.

"Beyond this technology, he was a driving force behind captive breeding of several birds of prey and repopulating peregrine falcons in Minnesota," he said. "Bob didn't like to be told something couldn't be done."

Longtime North Siders

MacIntyre and Whitfield each lived on the North Side for more than 30 years. MacIntyre and his wife, Janet Carstens, lived in the same house for most of that time, in the Willard-Hay neighborhood.

Whitfield and his sister moved to the area from Mississippi, hoping for a better life. He drove a truck and eventually became a self-employed mechanic, said his niece, Kimberly Shoemate.

Whitfield struggled with some personal issues and had a criminal history. But in the past few years he turned his life over to the church "to help his fellow man," Shoemate said. He was a deacon, usher and choir member at New Resurrection, serving as the pastor's right- hand man, she said. He often drove young people to Bible study, including the 10- and 20-year-old brothers he was driving home from church during Sunday's tornado.

Shortly after he dropped off the 20-year-old, the tree smashed into his windshield. Shoemate said he was killed instantly. The 10-year-old in the back seat only remembers somebody rescuing him, Shoemate said.

A fund for Whitfield's funeral expenses has been set up at TCF Bank in his name. He would have loved all the kindness and support people have shown the family since his death, Shoemate said.

"We don't know why or how this happened," she said. "It just happened.

Leverne Dorsey, Whitfield's companion for three years, wanted people to know he had truly turned his life around.

"He died doing the Lord's work," she said. "It's still a shock to all of us."

Staff writer Steve Brandt contributed to this report. David Chanen • 612-673-4465

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