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Treasure Island's Fant retires for the third (and last) time

TREASURE ISLAND — Years ago, Millie Fant told her husband, Julian, "If you ever get involved in politics, I'll divorce you."

She didn't stick by her pledge, though. The Fants have been married for 62 years and as her husband leaves office this week as District 2 commissioner for Treasure Island, she's proud of his accomplishments during his 25 years of public service.

"He doesn't like controversy, he's more of a team player," Millie Fant said. "We both love Treasure Island. I support him and he supports me."

The "trophy room" in the couple's Intracoastal Waterway home in Isle of Palms is filled with recognitions, plaques and tributes to the couple, who have been involved in civic affairs since they moved here in 1961. Both have been active in the Isle of Palms Civic Association and the Treasure Island Action Club. Julian Fant was a member of the Treasure Island volunteer fire department for 30 years, serving alongside his son Charlie, who became chief of the fire department. He also is the unofficial city historian and founder of the art guild.

Millie Fant is a member and former president of the Treasure Islettes, a longtime women's civic organization that has contributed nearly $1 million over the years to community and city projects.

Julian Fant, who first served as manager of the Treasure Island Chamber of Commerce in 1961 and then as mayor for 10 years beginning in 1965, is stepping down as commissioner Tuesday after fulfilling three months of the term of Commissioner Irving "Butch" Ellsworth, who died in October.

• • •

A native of St. Augustine, Fant was recruited to take over as manager of the Treasure Island Chamber of Commerce while he was assistant manager of the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce in St. Augustine.

Several years later he resigned during an ongoing dispute with then-Mayor Fred Anderson.

"He didn't believe in supporting tourism, and I've always been a believer that tourism is the backbone of Treasure Island," Fant said.

So he took another job but it wasn't long before a delegation of businessmen and citizens asked him to run for mayor.

He did and defeated Anderson. "It was one of the hottest elections Treasure Island has ever had," Fant said. "I was elected by a 2-to-1 margin."

But Fant was left to deal with four commissioners who opposed his tourism efforts, he said.

"It was rough going for a while," he said. His wife said her husband, who shies away from controversy if he can, had trouble sleeping at night during the period of raucous City Commission meetings.

Fant jokes now that his "innate charm" got him through the controversy, and eventually the commissioners were voted out of office.

As the youngest mayor ever elected, at the age of 33, Fant went on to serve five two-year terms. In the 1980s he ran for the District 2 seat and won, serving eight terms in office.

"There was only one campaign where I was unopposed," he said. "I ran 13 times and never lost an election."

As mayor, Fant headed up an effort to buy 4 ½ acres in the center of the city that is now the site of the community center and park.

In 1968, he and other city officials went to Washington, D.C., and then to Tallahassee and the Pinellas County Commission to successfully lobby to become the first Florida city to receive beach renourishment funding.

"The whole southern end of Treasure Island was in danger of going into the gulf," Fant said. "Everything south of 104th Avenue was badly eroded."

During his political service, Fant worked full time while drawing his $150-a-month salary as mayor. He worked for an advertising agency in St. Petersburg, then as senior vice president of First Bank in Treasure Island for 10 years. When the bank was sold, he got his stockbroker license and went to work for E.F. Hutton & Co. until it was sold. Then he got his real estate license and worked as a Realtor for Marie Powell's agency.

After his eight commission terms, he thought his political career had concluded, but in January commissioners asked him to fill Ellsworth's term.

He thinks Treasure Island government and politics have become "more mellow and productive" over the years. He describes the current commission as "progressive and amenable to suggestions from the citizens."

He is a longtime supporter of banning alcohol on Treasure Island beaches, sometimes not a popular opinion with voters, who turned down a referendum in the late 1980s to eliminate drinking on the beach.

"The argument has always been that they want to watch the sunset and have a drink on the beach," Fant said. "But there are plenty of places across from the beach where you can have a drink and still watch the sunset."

Mayor Robert Minning is glad that Fant agreed to serve on the City Commission for a short, but important, stint.

"He has been a great asset to the commission," Minning said. "It is great to have someone on the board who has historical perspective."

Longtime friend Gary Kilroy, who met Fant as his son's math teacher, describes Fant as "a real gentleman. If it wasn't for his decisions and involvement with people, Treasure Island wouldn't be the place it is today," Kilroy said.

At the age of 81, Fant said this is his third and final exit from political office. He and Millie have a home in North Carolina where they plan to spend more time, as well as with their three grown children and two granddaughters.

Fant likes telling stories and enjoys ribbing Millie, his high school sweetheart, by telling friends he is "the only mayor who got a Treasure Islette pregnant.

"It's a historical fact," he said with a grin. "She kicks me under the table every time I say that."

Treasure Island's Fant retires for the third (and last) time 03/16/13 [Last modified: Friday, March 15, 2013 7:23pm]
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