DADE CITY — The Rev. Lewis O. Tanno, who served as priest of St. Mary's Episcopal Church for nearly two decades, died Wednesday. He was 81.
Father Tanno was known for his devotion to God, his keen sense of humor, his love for people and appreciation for golf.
"He was the kind of person who could make everybody he came in contact with feel special," said the Rev. James Renault, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Dade City and one of Father Tanno's golf buddies. "There were about 5,000 people that felt like he was their best friend."
One of those was Hutch Brock.
"There are so many good things to say about him," said Brock, a former city commissioner and mayor. "His way and ease with people made so many people comfortable. He just had a way to explain a point, that even if you disagreed with him, you liked him anyway."
A 2003 Tampa Bay Times profile described how Father Tanno knew every church member by name and sent out 30 to 40 handwritten notes a week to people who were sick or celebrating birthdays or anniversaries.
"Jesus is coming. Look busy," read the bumper sticker on his office door.
Born in Cleveland, Father Tanno received a degree from the Episcopal Theological Seminary of Kentucky in 1969. He was ordained deacon and priest in the same year by Bishop William R. Moody. While in seminary, he served at St. Thomas in Beattyville, Ky. Later he served at Our Savior in Richmond, Ky., a mission church in Cold Spring, Ky., and longtime tenure at Ascension Episcopal Church in Mount Sterling, Ky.
He was appointed Archdeacon of the Diocese of Lexington in 1975. He joined the Diocese of Southwest Florida in 1986 when called as rector of St. Mary's Church. After his retirement in 2003, he served as interim priest at St. Andrew's and St. Clement's, both in Tampa, and St. Francis, a mission in Bushnell. Father Tanno also served the Diocese of Southwest Florida as Dean of the Tampa Deanery. Additionally, he was also a supply priest at St. James Episcopal Church in Florence, Italy, and St. Patrick's Church in Kenmare, Ireland. He married Kathryn Naomi Farquhar in 1952, and they had three daughters, Jessica, Laura and Roberta.
"Some people say 'I'm religious but I don't care for organized religion,' (but) if you knew my dad you might think otherwise," said daughter Jessica Armstrong, a former Times reporter who now is a journalism professor at Auburn University.
She recalled how growing up, her home was filled with people who had no one to be with during holidays. Sometimes he would bring homeless people in for dinner.
"He was always offering people love and fellowship who didn't have it," she said. "That's what organized religion should be about."
After he retired, he could be found out on the links.
"He would say 'Isn't this nice?' " said Renualt. "He would play golf every day, if he could."
Father Tanno was fairly healthy until the end of last year, when an inoperable aneurysm he'd had for years began worsening.
He was in hospice care when he died.
As the end neared, those close to him said, he retained his sense of humor.
"He was cracking jokes, even though he was heavily medicated and in pain," Armstrong said.
His last time in the pulpit was Oct. 28 at First United Methodist, when he filled in for the vacationing Renault. "Get into the mind of Christ" was his sermon theme.
Father Tanno told the Times in 2003 that the hardest part about being a priest was dealing with members' deaths.
But it's okay, he said, "because this is not our home. This is just our basic training for the next existence."
The family plans to hold a coffee hour at St. Mary's Church for the public to celebrate Father Tanno's life. A date is still being determined.
"He wanted it to be a joyful event," daughter Roberta Tanno said.
Hodges Family Funeral Home is handling the arrangements.
Times staff writer Molly Moorhead contributed to this story.