Cleo Sellers, a longtime Southold resident who was well known around town for his friendly demeanor and his strength, died late Monday night. He was 73.
Many who knew Mr. Sellers described him as genuine, trustworthy and one of the hardest workers they knew.
“As far as Cleo is concerned, a short description is that he really was pound-for-pound the strongest and probably kindest person in Southold Town,” said Jaap Hilbrand, co-owner of the Doofpot in Greenport and a close friend of Mr. Sellers, who could be seen around town picking up odd jobs for many local business owners.
Mr. Hilbrand and Mr. Sellers used to work together unloading 40-foot containers. Items that typically took two to three people to unload, Mr. Sellers could carry on his own, which was something he “prided himself on,” Mr. Hilbrand said. Sometimes, if Mr. Sellers arrived before the container did, he would pick up whatever was around and start working on a nearby yard.
“You always had to watch out that he’s not doing something you don’t want him to do because he didn’t like standing around,” Mr. Hilbrand said with a laugh.
According to a 2010 column written in The Suffolk Times by former publisher Troy Gustavson, Mr. Sellers also did jobs for Aldo Maiorana of Aldo’s Coffee Shop in Greenport, Arlene Marvin of The Cookery Dock in Greenport before it closed in 2015, Lori Feilen who used to own an outdoor furniture shop in Southold and David Markel of Markel Estate Liquidator in Southold, among others.
Mr. Markel said one day he and a friend were moving a safe into his basement when it got wedged in the tight stairway. No matter how hard the duo tried, they couldn’t move the safe.
“I walked away for a second, next thing I know [the safe] is on the floor,” Mr. Markel said. “I don’t know how he did it, but Cleo had the strength of 10 men.”
Mr. Hilbrand attributed this work ethic to Mr. Sellers’ upbringing. According to Mr. Hilbrand, his friend was the youngest of “at least seven brothers and sisters.” Mr. Markel said that number might be closer to 15. What they did agree on, however, was that Mr. Sellers grew up in the South and eventually made his way to New York City before settling on the North Fork.
“Cleo spent a lot of time in New Orleans as a child, collecting nickels and dimes in a saloon that B.B. King used to play in,” Mr. Markel said, adding that Mr. Sellers used to fill up beer tins for the music legend. The comparably famous Little Richard also used to play in the area and Mr. Markel said it was rumored that he “patterned his style after Cleo.”
Mr. Markel, who met Mr. Sellers in 1974 at his father’s country store, said they developed a strong friendship and he now knows Mr. Sellers is watching over him, especially when he’s moving furniture for work.
“He was my best friend,” Mr. Markel said. “A best friend is somebody that you can count on and that’s why he was my best friend. Because I knew no matter what, I could always count on him.”
Mr. Maiorana, who’s known Mr. Sellers for 28 years, said he had too many memories of his friend to choose from. He paid tribute to him on Facebook and is currently working on funeral arrangements for the man who was called “a true local legend.”
A GoFundMe page was created Tuesday to raise funds for the service. Within a day the page reached its goal of $5,000.
“He was unique, very unique,” Mr. Hilbrand said of Mr. Sellers. “There was nobody like him.”
Photo Caption: Cleo Sellers in an undated courtesy photo.