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Eddie Strickland, 'the Book man,' dies after fight with cancer

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 23, 2011 - In his 40 years with the Greater St. Louis Book Fair, Eddie Strickland drove through the neighborhoods of the entire metro area collecting books, stories and friends.

On Tuesday, May 24, Strickland died at his Jennings home after a year-long fight with lung cancer. During that fight, Strickland showed the same determination he'd displayed throughout his life, from the high standards he set for his own four children to those he and his wife set for the numerous athletes they volunteer coached over the years.

Strickland, known to some as Coach Buck and others as the book man, began working for the Greater St. Louis Book Fair 40 years ago, driving the large white delivery van through the streets of St. Louis collecting donated books for the book fair. Each year, Strickland, who was the only employee of the book fair, hauled box after box of books to the fair's depot and then oversaw the yearly spring sale.

"He was the face of the book fair all year round," Joni Karandjeff, with the book fair, said on Thursday.

In that role, she says Strickland was always a gentleman, and after years of working with him, many donors called him directly and had cookies and tea waiting when he arrived.

In an April interview with the St. Louis Beacon, Strickland shared stories of the characters he met over the years on those collection trips, from the house of little people who had been circus performers to the woman who was ready to throw away 44 of her late husband's journals after she found out he'd been unfaithful. Strickland and his wife asked if she was sure, and she let them pull the journals from the trash. They were later auctioned off and bought by a university.

Strickland, whose love of sports helped him find his way again after returning to St. Louis as a young man, shared that same love with his own children and many others in the community. It wasn't just about success in sports, Strickland said in April, but helping the students develop self-esteem, keep their grades up and find success.

"It's about everything," Strickland said then.

His wife, Carol Jean, said on Thursday that her husband had an influence on more than just his own children.

"Every child that he dealt with, he left an impact on that child," she said.

In April, Strickland told his doctors they'd have to hold off on his cancer treatment until after the Greater St. Louis Book Fair. During the days leading up to the fair and the fair itself, he was there, thin and quiet, but still in charge.

Strickland, who was 65, is survived by his wife of more than 40 years, Carol Jean Strickland, their daughters, Lisa, Eva and Mary Ruth, their son, Joe, and their families. There will be a memorial service for Strickland at 11 a.m. Tuesday, May 31, at Lighthouse Baptist Church in St. Ann.

Kristen Hare

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