TAMPA — Richard Gonzmart may be known as the fourth-generation owner of Florida's oldest restaurant and now a prospective waterfront redeveloper.
But he was celebrated Thursday as a man who, from the age of six, has represented the "heart and soul" of Tampa, generously giving his money and sweat to causes ranging from children's cancer to fallen police officers.
The Tampa Metro Civitan Club recognized Gonzmart, owner of the Columbia Restaurant, with its annual Citizen of the Year Award at the Governor's Day Luncheon opening of the Florida State Fair.
Longtime friend and Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor introduced Gonzmart as "a man whose life defines his motto, which is, 'Live every day with passion.' My friend. Everyone's friend."
In keeping with tradition, Gonzmart was not told of his pending recognition, but was lured to the fairgrounds on a ruse. Castor called Gonzmart Thursday morning, reaching him as he was sitting along the Hillsborough River, reflecting on his plans to undertake a $2 million renovation of Tampa's historic Water Works Building.
Castor told him that Gov. Rick Scott was planning to speak about Florida's history of homegrown jobs and was going to say a few words about the Gonzmart family. Scott never did.
Instead, Castor followed Scott and opened with the story of a 6-year-old Gonzmart donating his $20 school tuition payment to poor children in central and South America after hearing of their plight from a nun at his school. The stories progressed to those of Gonzmart giving money directly or raising money by competing in marathons or riding bikes for children battling cancer or families of fallen police officers.
Gonzmart, 58, said he was humbled to be included with past recipients, who have ranged from late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner to last year's recipients, Dottie and Sandy MacKinnon, longtime contributors to community causes.
"I haven't done enough yet to receive this award," he said. "There's so much more to do."