TAMPA — When Frank Megna heard 40 years ago that Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. was about to set up its regional headquarters in Jacksonville, his reaction was immediate.
"I thought: 'Jacksonville? We need to get that in Tampa,' " Mr. Megna recalled years later. He helped persuade his employers to change their minds about where to put their Southeastern office — putting Tampa on the nation's corporate map.
"In those days, there weren't many large companies down here," former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco said. "I would say that was the first large company to come to Tampa that got the attention of a lot of people."
If Mr. Megna felt someone had helped him, he repaid in kind — and then some. A counterintelligence tour in the Army turned into a long attachment with the Association of the U.S. Army and a mayor's liaison to military functions. In retirement, a trip to a clinic for sick or severely injured children in Peru became a place where he spent four to six months a year.
"If you could pick one word for Frank, that word would be 'loyal,' " said Tampa businessman George Levy, one of the mourners gathered Monday at St. Lawrence Catholic Church. Mr. Megna died July 12 while visiting an ill friend in Virginia after suffering a pulmonary embolism, his family said. He was 79.
In 1970, two years after Mr. Megna moved to Tampa to head up a small sales office for MetLife, he and Greco led a delegation to corporate headquarters in New York. The company was decentralizing and had selected a tentative site in Jacksonville.
They invited executives to Tampa, where they wined and dined them, and treated them to fresh-caught mullet.
"They didn't even know what a mullet was," Greco said. The pitch worked, and soon about 200 employees had moved with the insurance giant to Tampa.
"After that, other large corporations came," Greco said. "It makes it easier to say, 'Well, MetLife is here.' "
Mr. Megna retired in the early 1990s. Greco appointed Mr. Megna the city's liaison to MacDill Air Force Base and related military functions, an appointment renewed by Mayor Pam Iorio. He also served as president of the Association of the U.S. Army.
He attended the Army Ball in June at the A La Carte Pavilion.
"He was just as happy as he could be, working the room," said Col. Jim Previtera of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. "Gen. (David) Petraeus was there. Frank was the kind of guy who could talk to generals or a private walking into the room. He treated them all the same."
He expressed himself freely. "He was conservative, but that isn't to say he wasn't tolerant of other people's lifestyles," said his son, William Megna.
Mr. Megna devoted much of his retirement to running marathons and helping underprivileged children in Central and South America. Several years ago he visited a clinic outside Lima, Peru, Hogar San Francisco de Asis. Tampa pediatrician Anthony Lazzara is the medical director at the clinic, which treats children who have been injured or have birth defects such as cleft palate or missing limbs.
In typical fashion, Mr. Megna went all in. He began going to the clinic for three months at a time, twice a year, sleeping in a convent and driving children from their homes to medical appointments. They called him Tio Frank, or "Uncle Frank."
"Whenever he was due to come, I would tell the kids, and they would be overjoyed," Dr. Lazzara said. He could often be seen bearing flowers and cookies for the children, bread and milk for the nuns next door, food for the guinea pigs or bones for the dog.
Mr. Megna grew up in Boston, a descendant of Sicilian immigrants. He served four years in the Army in Germany and also worked in Frankfurt selling MetLife insurance plans to servicemen. His marriage to Renata Michen lasted 20 years. He later moved to New York and Tampa.
A resident of St. Pete Beach for the last several years, Mr. Megna was well known on both sides of Tampa Bay. On July 4, he dressed up in an Uncle Sam outfit, handed out flags and led two dozen children in a patriotic march down the beach. It was the 27th time Mr. Megna had led such an informal parade on July 4.
"He was always about other people, his country and his family," Previtera said. "When the news of his death reached me, it was just shocking. A month ago, he was the picture of health."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or email@example.com.