TARPON SPRINGS — Diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at age 34, angler Peter T. Assimack took it in stride, friends said.
"He'd say 'If it's meant to be, it's meant to be. Who knows? Maybe God needs one hell of a fishing guide up there right now,' " said longtime friend Chuck Brady, 52.
God got his fishing guide a year later when Assimack succumbed to the disease on Aug. 21, 1996. He was 35.
But Assimack's legacy lives on. On Saturday, friends will honor his memory during the 13th annual Peter T. Assimack Memorial Fishing Tournament.
For 10 years the event has raised money for a fund set up in Assimack's name that provides scholarships for Tarpon Springs High School seniors. Over that time it has raised more than $43,200.
Friends say it's just the tribute Assimack would have wanted: on the water with rods and reels.
You don't have to look far in Tarpon Springs to find people who loved Assimack. So many people attended his funeral that mourners spilled out onto the front steps of a packed St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
And they had lots of memories to share.
Like the way Assimack would rise before dawn to get in a few hours of fishing before he headed to work in the morning.
Or the time he got dressed up in a suit and tie to have his picture taken, but left his waders on so he'd be ready to hit the water when the tide turned.
Then there was his visit to Tarpon Springs Elementary School for career day. He was supposed to talk about his work as an accountant. But within minutes, he was outside with the kids, teaching them how to cast a net.
His mom, Kathleen Nena Assimack, the school's former principal, asked him what he was doing.
"He said, 'Mom, you can't do work all the time. You've got to teach kids they've got to know how to relax, so I'm showing them this is the best way to relax," she said.
Mrs. Assimack said her son had a lifelong love affair with the water. Growing up on Kreamer Bayou, "he was in the water constantly," she said.
When he was 6 years old, his parents had a child-sized cast net specially made for him. As an adult, he taught many local children how to fish, friends said.
He was never one to say no to a fishing trip. "When you fished with Peter Assimack, it was daylight to dark," said Brady, chair of the Assimack scholarship fund.
Tell him you were hot and tired and wanted to head back to land?
"He'd just keep casting," Brady said. But he never kept the fish. A strict conservationist, Assimack wasn't into trophy fishing.
He'd say: "Turn him loose. We'll catch him another day," Brady said.
Never once did Assimack complain about his cancer, even as his illness zapped his strength, Brady said.
"If you ever met him, you experienced something you probably will not experience another time in your life," Brady said. "He was a gentle, fun-loving soul."
Assimack, who earned a degree in accounting from the University of Florida, was a partner in the firm of Stone, Parker and Assimack.
He was past president of the Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce, past president of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association and treasurer of the board at St. Nicholas, where he was a lifelong member. He was a member of the Tarpon Springs Rotary Club and served on the board of the Tarpon Springs Boys Club.
Assimack loved to grill and made a mean barbecue sauce, friends said. And he was particularly fond of Jimmy Buffett.
"That's all he ever played in his truck was Jimmy Buffett," said tournament co-chairman Gary Gainey, 56. "Everybody knew that about him."
Friends said they also know that Assimack would never have wanted his name attached to the tournament. He was much too humble for that.
But he'd be thrilled to know that there will be kids fishing his beloved waters of Tarpon Springs on Saturday — some for their first time, Mrs. Assimack said.
"I'm sure he's smiling right now."
Rita Farlow can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4162.
227 Number of anglers who participated in last year's tournament.
300 Number of anglers expected this year.
20 Number of scholarships given to local students since 1997.
$43,200 The total amount raised awarded for scholarships.
$20,000 Average annual amount of cash and prizes awarded to participants.