CLEARWATER — He's known as Pinellas County's toughest and most successful land-use lawyer, but when he wasn't arguing for the rights of land owners, he was helping ensure that local hospital patients were well-served and advising some of the county's best-prepared candidates for public office.
On Monday night, Ed Armstrong was named Mr. Clearwater at the 92nd annual meeting of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce.
"I look at the folks who have won this award before me," Armstrong said on the podium after receiving his trophy and donning the honorary green blazer. "I don't think I deserve it certainly as much as they did or some other folks in this room, but I also don't think I'm going to give it back," he said, drawing a laugh from the standing and applauding crowd.
A Dunedin resident, Armstrong, 56, has practiced law in Clearwater for 30 years, most often representing developers, but sometimes those who opposed development projects.
For more than 27 years, he was a shareholder at Johnson Pope Bokor Ruppel & Burns, Clearwater's largest law firm. Last year, Armstrong started a Pinellas office of the Tampa law firm Hill Ward Henderson.
A pitcher who won a college baseball scholarship, Armstrong received a degree in accounting from the University of Maryland and is a graduate of the Vanderbilt University Law School.
He has served on the boards of the BayCare Health System, Morton Plant Mease Healthcare System and Clearwater chamber. He served twice on the Pinellas Charter Review Committee and has also been involved with Pinellas by Design, the Clearwater Downtown Development Board and the Pinellas Assembly.
Though he has never held political office, Armstrong has been active behind the scenes in local politics for years. Candidates who wanted to run for office made Armstrong's office one of their first stops, seeking advice and support.
A victim of polycystic kidney disease, Armstrong has had two kidney transplants.
He said he tried to stay involved with work and in the community, connecting to the world with his iPad when he could not leave the house.
"It also helped take my mind off my illness," Armstrong said. "It helped me focus on other things than waiting for a transplant to come through."
The support he and his family received from the community throughout his illness was "probably the most humbling thing," he said, getting emotional during the recollection.
The chamber also announced its annual business awards at Monday's banquet, held at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort. Winners included Small Business of the Year: Redefined Living; Medium Business of the Year: Easy Living Inc.; Large Business of the Year: Matrix Medical Network; Tourism Person of the Year: Noah Lagos, director of St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.