Coronavirus claims an ‘extraordinary’ Madeira Beach bookman

Bookdealer Harry Nash, who co-owned DoraLynn Books in Madeira Beach, died May 5 of COVID-19.

MADEIRA BEACH — Bookdealer Harry Nash led a most interesting and extraordinary life, according to his longtime business partner in the used book trade, Sean Donnelly.

That life was cut short when the 75-year-old Madeira Beach resident became one of now more than 30 patients at Freedom Square of Seminole who contracted COVID-19 and died May 5.

Nash and Donnelly were co-owners of DoraLynn Books, on Madeira Way in Madeira Beach. The bookstore was named in honor and memory of their mothers, Donnelly said in a recent interview with Tampa Bay Newspapers.

The two started the bookstore in 2010. Donnelly had known Nash for some years before that, as Nash had been buying and selling used books, notably antiquarian books that were of particular interest to him. He felt Nash’s experience would be a perfect fit to making the book selection choices necessary to running a successful bookstore.

Nash grew up in an environment that spoke of adventure. His dad, Harry Sr., managed resort properties, including a number of grand hotels. Among them were the Soreno in St. Petersburg; Corinthian Yacht Club in Marblehead, Massachusetts; and Rivermont Hotel in Memphis.

As a child, Nash would move with his family to catch the prime tourist season from Florida to the mountains to the New England seaside. His early life experiences included encounters with the rich and famous often seeking adventure.

His family residences at the resort properties also brought him into contact with the great outdoors and the plant and animal life so plentiful in that setting. He developed an interest in nature at an early age, especially reptiles.

By the time he was 10, Nash was collecting the small animals he was interested in from the woods around his homes, in the places like Miami, Marblehead, and Philadelphia.

Donnelly said “he also began haunting bookstores everywhere the family moved, looking for reference books and field guides to further his studies.”

When Nash acquired the field guides, he would read and memorize every page, Donnelly said. His head was like an encyclopedia on the life and habits of various reptiles. “He could tell you all sorts of details about each species,” Donnelly said. Ask him about an unusual lizard you’d seen, and he could tell you interesting stories about where the species originated and how they survived in the area.

Nash had an overriding interest in gaining knowledge throughout his adult life, Donnelly said. In college, he had more than enough credits to graduate but never did, as he did not take certain required courses that did not interest him.

Donnelly said, “Harry’s college friends probably thought he was working toward a career in science or academia, but he was too much of a free spirit for that.”

He was more interested in learning than getting a degree. That quest for knowledge furthered his interest in books as a prime source of knowledge, and his eventual settling into book selling as an occupation.

Nash’s field work with animals and geological survey work that let him spend time in the wilderness and looking at nature led naturally to his becoming “a guy that scouted books on subjects that interested him,” said Donnelly.

Those interests went beyond natural history to include history in general and antiquarian books.

Nash would search out places to buy books cheap, like library castoffs and yard sales. He had an eye for which books would be good sellers, and brought them back and sold them to book dealers. He made a living doing that for a number of years, Donnelly said, commenting that this was before the time when such transactions were done on the internet.

Nash then began selling his books in rented space at antique malls and other book stores.

As his book collection grew, Nash obtained a large consignment space at a bookstore in Madeira Beach at the invitation of owner Judy Fish. Her shop, Books to the Ceiling, in the Winn-Dixie shopping center, was a popular destination for locals and tourists for many years.

That’s where Donnelly and Nash, both avid book collectors, became acquainted in the 1990s. After a few years, they teamed up to sell their books at the annual Antiquarian Book Fair in St. Petersburg. When Books to the Ceiling closed in 2010, they decided to start up DoraLynn Books in a high traffic area on Madeira Way.

Donnelly mentioned a skill Nash had that was especially useful in their business. He could take a stack of books that a customer brought to the cash register, and rapidly add up the prices in his head.

“It was like he had a calculator in his brain,” Donnelly said. The customers also liked that he would throw a discount or two into the calculation.

His computer mind was also apparent in his skill at chess. Nash played chess since his childhood, participated in tournaments, and eventually earned the rank of Expert, Donnelly said.

Despite all his accomplishments that required visual skills, Nash lived most of his life without vision in one eye. His right eye was shot out at an early age by a childhood friend in a game where the two shot arrows at one another.

Harry Nash’s death, at 75, came after a struggle with COPD and related ailments that put him in the hospital for a time earlier this year. He returned to his familiar seat at the counter in the bookstore and continued to work with the aid of a breathing machine, which most customers hardly realized was there.

His condition worsened in March, and he returned to Palms of Pasadena Hospital for treatment. It was there, in what turned out to be a fateful move, that he was transferred to Freedom Square of Seminole for skilled nursing rehabilitation.

While there, an outbreak of COVID-19 led to dozens of patients and staff members contracting the virus, including Nash.

The blow, coupled with his preexisting conditions, proved too much for Nash, and on May 5 he died.

“Harry was a valued bookman and friend. We’ve lost a unique and extraordinary individual who I and the antiquarian book trade will greatly miss,” Donnelly said.