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Friends, family in Pasco remember Bill Munz

Midway through the celebration of Bill Munz's life, in a packed Dade City church where tears of both sorrow and laughter flowed, a cell phone rang.

More specifically, it played a song.

Normally, such insensitivity would call for a cold stare, but in this case it was perfect. Before its owner could hit the mute button, the phone blared the beginnings of When the Saints Go Marching In.

Most often, this song is associated with New Orleans and Dixieland jazz. It can make a funeral march feel like a party.

So, as I said, perfect for Mr. Munz — a man who kept his Tanqueray in the freezer, Jimmy Buffett on the stereo.

William George Munz, 56, died last Sunday. Liver cancer finally did him in, but he had a host of ills beginning in 1995, when a virus attacked his heart. Before then, he was a bull with thick legs and muscular arms, a plain-talking, hard-working man whose sharp mind and personality led him to the No. 2 position in Pasco County government. A green sign above his parking spot at the government center reserved it for Wild Bill Munz.

The No. 1 guy, County Administrator John Gallagher, is a legend in Pasco, routinely credited with cleaning up a corrupt government after his appointment in 1982 and then bringing relative stability over a quarter-century.

On Thursday, in the large sanctuary of First United Methodist Church, with much of Pasco's Who's Who crammed shoulder to shoulder, Gallagher stood a few feet from Munz's leather fedora and cigar pouch and said Munz was one of the smartest men he ever knew.

Gallagher inherited a county government that had been ruled by developers who put together their own patchwork of water and sewer systems so that they could build thousands of homes. They sold the systems to the county, which soon found itself under orders from the state to fix them and clean up the pollution they spewed into waterways.

Gallagher hired Munz, a Georgia Tech engineering grad, in that first year. He took over utilities and public works at a time the county government was on the verge of a building boom. Munz was a key player in the planning of a regional sewer system, a garbage incinerator, roads, parks and libraries.

At the time, he lived in a two-story house at the end of a cul-de-sac in Bayonet Point. The light in his office was often on into the wee hours of the night as he worked on the county's comprehensive plan. I know this because I lived next door.

One day in 1983 I walked over to say hello, and he invited me in. "Look what I got,'' he said, with his usual wry smile. That's how he introduced me to Barbara, his new wife. They had known each other at South Dade High School in Homestead, where they graduated together in 1969. "Smarty pants got to skip his senior year,'' she recalled, because he was in an honors program at the University of Miami. She's done all right herself and is now in her 20th year as principal at Pasco Elementary School.

The neighborhood loved Bill Munz. If there was a snake to kill, he came over with his machete. He used that engineering degree to build a swing set for the kids, including his son Matt, now 23 and about to pursue his own engineering degree at the University of Florida. We hated it when they moved to Dade City. We still refer to the house as the Munz place.

Over the years, I'd see Bill at the courthouse from time to time. A stroke in 2000 and other illnesses changed his appearance, but not his sense of humor or pursuit of happiness. He loved camping with Matt, who shared stories at the memorial service, including his dad's predictable statement each time Matt didn't quite understand what he wanted: "I didn't stutter and your ears don't have flaps.''

"He had sickness,'' Barbara said, "but he always rallied. As much as it hurts us now, we know he's so much better off.''

Somebody will write me this week to suggest that Munz didn't always hold developers' hands to the fire or that the comprehensive planning in Pasco County is an oxymoron. He'd probably agree, and he'd laugh.

That's how we'll remember him.

Friends, family in Pasco remember Bill Munz 06/07/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 18, 2008 9:06pm]
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