PLANT CITY — Terry Ballard was an encyclopedic source of this city's history. It was his hobby, friends say, and it helped shape his work and relationships.
"I would term him 'Mr. Local History,' " said Shelby Bender, 62, president and executive director of the East Hillsborough Historical Society. "I really would."
Mr. Ballard, a former Plant City mayor and commissioner, Florida Strawberry Festival president and retired brigadier general in the Florida Army National Guard, died on June 22. He was 79.
While mayor and commissioner in the 1970s and 1980s, Mr. Ballard leaned on his knowledge of local history to make decisions, said Michael Sparkman, an on-and-off Plant City commissioner since 1989.
"He was very thoughtful," said Sparkman, 71. "He did his homework. He was kind of a historian."
To Mr. Ballard, who was born in Tampa, one of the most important goals was to spend city money wisely, Sparkman said.
"He spent the city taxpayer dollars like he would spend his own," Sparkman said.
But that doesn't mean Mr. Ballard was always tight with money. During his banking career at Hillsboro, SunTrust and Wells Fargo banks, he would sometimes help out people who couldn't qualify for loans, Sparkman said.
Plant City residents considered Mr. Ballard family, said his daughter Renita Boles, 52. Her father "could talk to anybody," she said.
"They were his equal," Boles said. "It didn't matter who you are. He cared about you and what you were going through in your life."
It's common to come across people in Plant City that Mr. Ballard helped, said Rick Lott, Plant City's mayor.
Lott, 55, said his brother was among those who received a loan from Mr. Ballard.
"Everyone has a story like that," he said, "Where somehow or another he had a hand in creating the next step in life."
One of Lott's first interactions with Mr. Ballard was when he made add-on donations toward the livestock Lott would show as a teenager during the annual Strawberry Festival.
Mr. Ballard was similarly generous with his knack for local history, Bender said. He would often drop by the historical society to share tidbits of Plant City lore.
Mr. Ballard was always on the quest for more knowledge to make decisions that would shape Plant City's future, Lott said.
Even while serving on the Strawberry Festival board of directors later in life, he said, Mr. Ballard was pragmatic.
"He got all the facts, and once he got all the facts he made the decision that was right for the city or the organization," Lott said. "If it wasn't good for everybody, it wasn't a good decision."
That steadfast sense of right and wrong made him "the city's rock," said daughter Teresa Salo, 56.
The irony, Lott said, was that through those decisions and his lifetime of public service, Mr. Ballard himself became a major historical figure in Plant City.
"He was the city's historian, but what made it unique is that he didn't just know the history," Lott said. "He was part of it."
Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Samuel Howard at (813) 226-3373 or [email protected] Follow @SamuelHHoward.