CLEARWATER — John Wiser once brought a bag of trash to a Clearwater City Council meeting. Another time, it was a sack of cigarette butts that he has picked up from the side of a road. Then there was the time he passed out dog bones, asking council members to "throw Countryside a bone" in their budget.
"At my first meeting, he handed me a roll of toilet paper," said council member Carlen Petersen, who recalled that Wiser was protesting the lack of a public restroom in a neighborhood park.
Mr. Wiser, who was a colorful character and a tireless advocate for the Countryside area, died over the weekend of natural causes at his home. He was 69. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Countryside Recreation Center, a community gathering place that he had championed for years.
Mr. Wiser was a Rotarian, chef, caterer, school bus driver, newspaper columnist, avid bicyclist and volunteer.
He frequently criticized the city for not devoting more resources to Countryside, its northeastern section. City officials didn't always appreciate his blunt words and unorthodox methods, but they respected the way he passionately worked on behalf of his neighborhood.
"John had a really big heart," said Mayor Frank Hibbard. "He literally got his hands dirty and put his money where his mouth was. He would go out and clean up Countryside Boulevard, and he was always there for charity events."
Mr. Wiser was an active member of the Rotary Club of Clearwater East for 18 years. In 1998, he was named "Mr. Countryside," an annual honor that recognizes outstanding community volunteers.
Melody Figurski, who was Mrs. Countryside that year, recalled how Mr. Wiser rode his bicycle across the recreation center's basketball court to be introduced at the ceremony.
"He made me sit on the bike with him. He was a fun, fun man," Figurski said. "John loved Countryside as much as anyone I have ever known, and he worked very hard to make it a better place."
A longtime caterer, Mr. Wiser was known for his signature dessert, "Tampa Bay flambe," a heated concoction of bananas, ice cream and Plant City strawberries.
After retiring from catering, he drove a Pinellas County school bus and wrote a column called Eye on Countryside for the Countryside Cougar community newspaper. There, he recently ran a three-part "History of Countryside" told from the point of view of the community's original developers.
Mr. Wiser frequently volunteered time to children's causes such as the Special Olympics, Clearwater for Youth and the Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation. He raised money to extend the Countryside Rec Center's hours during summers and school holidays.
A lifelong bicycling enthusiast, he repeatedly collected bikes for hurricane victims who needed wheels to get around. His Rotary Club donated about 80 bikes to victims of Hurricane Charley and another 200 to victims of Hurricane Katrina.
"I think John was happiest when he was able to help somebody," said Doug Palonder, a past Rotary district governor who recently picked up trash with Mr. Wiser as part of an "Adopt a Mile" program. "We're going to be judged in life by what we've done to help, and I think John's going to be right up there because he was always thinking of that."
Joked Palonder, "John never had an 'inside voice.' He just had variations of loud. Even though he was at odds with the city, he got a lot accomplished."
Mr. Wiser is survived by two sons, a brother and a granddaughter.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4160.