Dick Greco recently turned 80, a big birthday that nearly snuck up on Tampa's four-time mayor and perpetual man-about-town.
"I don't ever think about age. I never have," says Greco, whose mother last voted at 97. "My life has been so busy, and suddenly people are talking about how you're going to be 80."
It would prove to be an interesting birthday.
There were the inevitable joke calls and emails about how a lucky day would now mean being able to find his car in the parking lot, how he shouldn't be insulted if people think he's wearing alligator shoes when he's barefoot. Ha ha. The curator of history at the Tampa Bay History Center joked at a recent ceremony that Tampa's first mayor was elected in 1855 "in a tight race with Dick Greco."
So a birthday party was planned for him and two friends also turning 80, but first his wife took him off on a trip to St. Thomas. And as he stepped off the plane, his hearing aid quit — not a dead battery but dead.
Okay, he figured. He could handle that for a couple of days.
They were out to dinner when he picked up a spare rib and — oh, let him tell it: "I hear a clink," he says, "and my damn teeth fall in my plate."
The six front teeth he had capped 40 years ago, after he accidentally hit them with the barrel of rifle while he was hunting, were no longer with him. "Linda," he told his wife. "my teeth just fell onto my plate."
In their hotel room, he tried a smile in the mirror, and it wasn't good. "I look like that guy on TV who hunts alligators … worst thing you'd ever seen," he says. "No way could I go four days with no teeth."
Naturally, his wife went out for Super Glue, sat him down in the bathroom and glued his teeth back in. Then she blow-dried them. (Well, sure.) He carried that Super Glue the rest of the trip, "just in case my teeth fell out," he says.
He got back to Tampa and to his party, except the two other celebrants didn't show. Everyone hemmed and hawed and finally told him that both were in the hospital, one with heart problems, the other with pneumonia. (Thankfully, they were okay.)
"This was a party for three people, only one left standing," Greco says. "After my hearing aid broke and my teeth fell out."
Later, at a speaking engagement, a nice woman came up and said she'd heard his 80th had been that Saturday and hers was Sunday. They got to talking about where they grew up in Tampa, knowing some of the same people, as it turned out. "There was a gal that lived in that house where you are now," Greco said, making the gesture for a great figure. "That's me," she said.
He went to get his hearing aid fixed and was told: Oh, you haven't heard. The doctor passed away. He was 59. "And here I am," Greco says, "still running around."
He tells these stories with some amusement, how 80 had to be his strangest birthday, so far.
His city has grown up; what was once his family's hardware store is now the Gaybor headquarters. He was elected to the City Council half a century ago, a number that amazes him.
"I never had time to think about how old I was," he says.
It's long been the Greco philosophy: Do whatever you can for as long as the world lets you, and laugh at all of it, he says. "Because who knows what's next?"
Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this column.