Note boy launched in bottle in 1984 comforts grieving parents

Friday, July 11, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Almost five years to the day that Roger Clay died in a motorcycle accident, his parents got one last message from him -- a sun-scorched note he had stuffed in a bottle as a child and set adrift in 1984.

A man found the bottle in a St. Petersburg canal on the Fourth of July and returned it this week to Clay's mother.

"I dread this time of year every year. It's the worst," Lisa Ferguson told the St. Petersburg Times for Thursday's editions. "But now I have something wonderful to think about."

Clay died July 10, 1998, nine days after his 21st birthday.

He had been 7 years old and on vacation when he tossed the tape-sealed Pepsi bottle into the Gulf of Mexico from a pier in Clearwater, just north of St. Petersburg.

"To whoever finds this letter please write me a letter and let me know," the note said in shaky pencil. The note included his address in Fairfield, Ohio, and the date: Dec. 27, 1984.

When the bottle turned up behind Don Smith's home on Tampa Bay, on the opposite side of the Pinellas County peninsula, Smith set out to find the boy. With the Times' help, he learned of Clay's death.

Smith said he was determined to find the parents. "Imagine what that message would mean to them," he said.

Ferguson was tracked down on vacation in Seminole, a St. Petersburg suburb.

"Here I am, trying to escape Roger's death, and he reaches out and gives me this message, this gift," she said.

Clay's father, Roger K. Clay, said he had forgotten all about the bottle.

"It's kind of hard to put into words, all the emotions that brings back," he said. "I told Lisa, it was like he was trying to remind us he was still with us."

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