BELLEAIR — At age 19, Edward Parker already knew enough about aviation to be a flight instructor. In his 80s, he was still racking up flight hours.
And somewhere in between, he played a significant role in the development of the Pinellas County waterfront town of Belleair.
"He is the father of Belleair history," said Robert Koch, a longtime resident and former commissioner in the small town. "There's nobody else even close."
Mr. Parker moved to Belleair in 1946 and became project manager with the company that would develop Belleair Estates, the town's core. For almost a decade, he built homes in the neighborhood and helped with its rebirth.
His attention later shifted to commercial building and the Biltmore Construction Co., which he eventually owned. By the early 1970s, Mr. Parker was a popular choice for mayor, though he didn't relish the role.
"There were a few concerned citizens that probably locked him in a room and told him he ought to run," said his son, Bill Parker, 64. "He had been here so long, and they probably thought he could add a little stability to things."
As mayor, Mr. Parker and the Town Commission set zoning regulations, which limited the number of condos that could be built. He wanted Belleair to grow, but without losing the small-town feel that had been established.
Belleair's population reached 4,000 around the time he was in office, and it's not much bigger today. Although Mr. Parker is well known as a businessman and developer, his family thinks of him first as a pilot.
After serving in World War II, he flew for 22 years in the Navy Reserves. An owner of planes most of his life, he flew for pleasure, business and charity.
In the air, Mr. Parker's kids say, he was fearless and confident.
He escaped unharmed after a fire forced him to land in the Atlantic Ocean during a military training mission.
"He taught me never to be afraid of anything," Ed Parker Jr., 66, said of his father.
Friends, relatives and children were his passengers. He put his love for flying to charitable use, transporting crippled and burned kids to Shriners Hospitals around the country.
In 1958, Mr. Parker flew his three sons from Clearwater to California to visit Disneyland. They crammed inside his Piper Tri-Pacer, a plane not generally used for cross-county trips.
Mr. Parker was able to fly until age 82. Doctors told his kids to say their goodbyes after he developed an aortic aneurysm and a bad heart valve. That was five years ago. Mr. Parker died Nov. 15 at Morton Plant Hospital following a battle with pneumonia. He was 94.
Until his passing, Mr. Parker lived in a home overlooking the Clearwater Harbor in the town he helped build.
Kevin Smetana can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2439.