King Pithla walked into the historic Churchill Hotel in Washington, D.C., wearing his crown. "Welcome, sire,'' said the receptionist. Royalty and diplomats have visited the Churchill for decades. It sits near Embassy Row, so staff is used to greeting such dignitaries. This king wore an eight-pointed, gold-plated tin crown with 24 rhinestones and eight equally spaced mini peacocks. He dressed in blue jeans and carried his own suitcase. He asked for an ocean view.
Okay, the staff figured, maybe he's an eccentric king with a sense of humor. They figured right.
Bob Memoli has traveled the country in the crown. He accepted it last spring during the annual Chasco Fiesta in New Port Richey. Since 1947, King Pithla has been synonymous with public service, and nobody in Pasco County volunteers for more good causes than Memoli.
On this day in May, Memoli, 65, flew to Washington for a national Realtors' conference. Mary Rinaldi, president of the West Pasco Board of Realtors, checked into the Churchill at the same time.
"They bowed to him,'' she recalled. "Everybody came out to see him.''
This amused Memoli, who quickly explained that his kingdom included a small town on Florida's west coast called New Port Richey. He accompanied Rinaldi to her room, nice but nothing special. Then he unlocked his room.
"They gave me a huge royal suite,'' he said. "I couldn't believe it.''
Fit for a king.
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Most King Pithlas have worn the crown a few times for special occasions. Memoli doesn't sleep in his, but his Facebook page is full of pictures where he wears it proudly — Denver, Cape Canaveral, Key West. He's heard people laugh and call him the Burger King, but the crown attracts questions he is eager to answer.
For instance, in an elevator at the Churchill Hotel, a couple asked about it and learned how the annual formal ball to coronate King Pithla and Queen Chasco (Cindy Ewald this year) also serves as a major fundraiser for the Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind.
"Do you think we could copy it in Washington?'' the woman asked.
"Why not?'' Memoli answered. "Just give me a buzz.''
More recently he wore it to dinner at swanky Ruth's Chris Steak House in Tampa. The general manager approached his table.
"Sir, you know you're not allowed to wear hats in here,'' he said, before quickly adding he was just kidding. Memoli used the occasion to explain how Chasco Fiesta benefits nonprofits and the manager gave him a $50 gift certificate to help a Lighthouse fundraiser and a promise of future help.
Memoli's enthusiastic volunteerism and leadership has benefitted dozens of organizations, from the American Cancer Society to Take Stock in Children and the Center for Independence. He has been a member of the Seven Springs Rotary Club since 1993 and is a five-time recipient of the prestigious Paul Harris fellowship, signifying exemplary service to his community.
His sense of duty came early in life. At age 9, he sold baseball cards and toys on the streets in Long Island to raise money for his family. His father had developed Huntington's chorea that left him unable to work. When Memoli turned 12, he took a newspaper delivery route with Newsday and, again, gave every penny to his mother. That would be the case for several years, even when he was in the Army, before his father died at age 54.
Memoli excelled at sales in the greeting card business but a grueling work schedule, long hours traveling and cold weather led him to Florida and the real estate business in 1993. Six years later, he and partner Chris Masseo started Florida Luxury Realty. They sold the business in 2009 but Memoli continues to work for the company. He and his wife, Phyllis, manager for Costanza Homes, have a son, Brian, 42, an army lieutenant colonel, and two grandchildren.
He has no plans to retire. "I love what I do,'' he says, "especially working with young families.''
Come March, his reign as king will be over. That spiffy crown will grace another noggin, but Bob Memoli will have a year full of royal memories — if not the royal suite.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Mary Rinaldi's first name was incorrect in the initial version.