CLEARWATER — When it comes to helping charities jump through legal hoops, Bruce Bokor is generous with his time.
A respected tax attorney, he is frequently asked to help nonprofit groups navigate the maze of the Internal Revenue code so they can qualify as charitable organizations. It's a complicated, time-consuming task that Bokor performs at no charge.
That's only one of the reasons why Bokor got a big surprise Thursday night when he was named "Mr. Clearwater," the highest honor in the city he has called home for 32 years.
Like previous winners of the prestigious award — people like Jack Eckerd, Gus Stavros and Charles Rutenberg — Bokor was surprised to find himself donning the navy blue blazer of Mr. Clearwater. He had been kept in the dark until the end of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce's annual banquet, held at the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa.
"I am just absolutely overwhelmed," he said, accepting the honor as his wife, Joanne, and their two adult children materialized from where they had been waiting in the wings.
After the ceremony, he was still stunned: "I was waiting to applaud for somebody else."
Bokor, a tax and estate planning lawyer, is a partner in Johnson, Pope, Bokor, Ruppel & Burns, the largest law firm in Pinellas County.
Although he has been involved in numerous causes, Bokor's most prominent public role has been his longtime work on the boards of Morton Plant Mease Health Care and its charitable arm, the Morton Plant Mease Foundation. He's been chairman of both boards, has been involved with them for 28 years, and continues to help the nonprofit hospital group with fundraising and legal issues.
"His dedication to the betterment of his community has been without interruption," Bokor's retired law partner, Tim Johnson Jr., said in nominating him for the title. "He is a humble, kindhearted, decent person whose life could serve as a model for all."
The chamber has given the Mr. Clearwater/Mrs. Clearwater award annually since 1958 to recognize a person's exceptional community service.
About 500 people attended Thursday night's banquet, which had a new sponsor this year, the Clearwater-based insurance company Homeowner's Choice.
Restaurateur Frank Chivas was named "Tourism Person of the Year" by the chamber. He was recognized for promoting tourism with his destination restaurants like Island Way Grill, Rumba Island Bar & Grill, Salt Rock Grill and Marlin Darlin', but was also lauded for his work on behalf of numerous charities.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4160.