Bruce Peele, age 60, longtime resident of Islamorada in the Florida Keys, died March 7 of pancreatic cancer. He passed away at the home of his twin sister Laurie Potteiger and his brother-in-law Dick Potteiger in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia where they had the joy of being together for the last several months of Bruce’s life. Bruce is also survived by his loving partner, Lazaro Perez de la Noval of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and many adoring cousins.
Bruce’s mission in life was to bring joy and happiness and a feeling of being loved, appreciated and understood to everyone he met. He did that until his last breath.
In his hometown of Arlington, Virginia, where Bruce resided until his early 20s, he enjoyed the love of incredibly devoted parents Wilfred and Alice Peele and a small circle of wonderful friends. Nature Camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, where he was a camper for several years as a young teen, was a major influence on his life.
Bruce’s advanced education came from a decade and a half of living in Washington, DC, New York, and San Francisco and religiously reading the New York Times, the New Yorker, and 20th century American literature (his favorites works included many by Joan Didion and Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights). For his erudition he received no diploma, but anyone who has met him was blown away by brilliant use of the English language to express joy and appreciation of so many facets of life
In his work he preferred to use his hands and his heart rather than his intellect. “I’m a card-carrying member of the proletariat,” Bruce would proudly say when asked about his choice of jobs. He made his living in his twenties and early thirties most often as a sous-chef. “You can chop onions anywhere,” he would note when explaining all the different places he had lived in his youth. When he settled in the Florida Keys in 1995 he soon found work as a night auditor at the iconic Pelican Cove Resort, where he was treated like family, took great pride in his work and made lifelong friends among co-workers and guests.
Bruce showed unconditional love in profound ways, always putting the needs of others before his own. Almost always often he helped people quietly, in ways that others did not know about.
However, one dramatic episode of Bruce’s altruism unfolded online in a very public way on Facebook. When Hurricane Irma threatened the Florida Keys with a category 5 storm, Bruce saved an elderly friend of the family from certain death. She had refused to leave her trailer that only a few days later would be destroyed by a storm surge. As his own convenient transportation options began to vanish, he stayed behind long enough to persuade the friend to get on a bus out of the Keys. Because of the delay, it took days of tortuous travel on multiple buses, an Uber ride paid for by a relative from afar, three airplanes, and finally a car ride to get them both to safety in Harpers Ferry.
Many HIV/AIDs patients in the Keys were ministered to by Bruce through his volunteer work with AIDs Help, where he was a client himself. As long-term HIV-AIDs survivor (at one point he had just three t-cells, which he named Larry, Curly and Moe), he had a special ability to understand HIV patients’ needs and comfort; the organization recognized his potential and gave him perhaps the most gratifying work of his life. He also served as client liaison to the AIDS Help board. In 2008 he was honored with the AIDS Help Volunteer of the Year award and in 2012 was the recipient of the prestigious Presidents Award.
Every interaction Bruce had with people was an opportunity to make their day. He would always ask clerks or anyone he met how they were doing. If they asked him the same, he would respond by saying with a beaming smile, "better for your asking." He knew the names of the clerks at every establishment he frequented in Islamorada, including CVS, the bank, the post office, and the Trading Post. His habit of continually leaving behind his keys, wallet, credit card or backpack- and the subsequent embarrassed, apologetic calls - only endeared him further to residents. He was so focused on people and making them happy that he would completely forget material things. Wherever Bruce went he made friends.
In Bruce’s eyes, people were perfect and lovable just as they were. He never criticized, corrected, or tried to change anyone.
In the family’s mind the best way to preserve Bruce’s legacy is to aspire to live more like him.
For those wishing to make a donation to a charity in his honor, Bruce has requested that contributions be sent to AIDS Help www.ahmonroe.org/giving, where a special memorial fund for Bruce has been created, or Hospice of the Panhandle.
A celebration of life will be announced at a later time.
Condolences may be posted here or sent to Dick & Laurie Potteiger, PO Box 731, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425 or emailed to email@example.com. Additional photos and remembrances may be found on Bruce Peele or Laurie Potteiger's Facebook page.
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