ST. PETERSBURG — The battle began for George E. Locascio after he left the Navy.
Having contracted polio at 19 while serving on a PT boat in the South China Sea, Locascio returned to an America that marginalized those with disabilities. While he walked with crutches or used a wheelchair for the rest of his life, Mr. Locascio became the brawn and the voice for those with disabilities.
Mr. Locascio lobbied public officials, served on community boards and sued those who refused to obey the law by making their buildings accessible.
Mr. Locascio, 83, died from a severe infection about 1 p.m. Saturday.
"George was a tireless advocate," said Tish Elston, St. Petersburg's city administrator. "On his own, he would go to any facility, public or private where the community had access, and if there were concerns, he always called the city. Access for those with disabilities, that was his passion."
His wife of 17 years, Dorothy, 74, said everyone knew about her husband's concern for the disabled.
"It was even on his business card that he was an advocate for the disabled," she said.
Paul Locascio said his father was never bitter about contracting polio and being paralyzed from the waist down as a result.
"He used it like a stepping-off point to go beyond, well beyond, what you expected," Paul Locascio said. "He saw himself as an individual with capabilities who was not to be defined by disabilities."
A father of two sons and a daughter, Mr. Locascio worked at Times Publishing, which owns the St. Petersburg Times, from 1968 until 1981. He was an assistant manager of commercial services, said Dorothy Locascio. His first wife, Breverly, and a daughter preceded him in death.
For many years, Mr. Locascio worked with Abilities of Florida, a Clearwater-based organization that provides vocational evaluation, skills training, and job placement services to those with disabilities. He also served on the board of the Abilities Foundation.
At Abilities of Florida, Mr. Locascio made it a point to hire workers who had disabilities.
"George was way out in front of the disability movement in terms of making sure people with disabilities had access to everything a community had to offer," said Frank DeLucia, 61, and the president and CEO of Abilities Foundation. "From employment to entertainment, he just wanted to make sure that someone's disability didn't stand in way of someone's quest to be an independent and contributing citizen."
In 1988, Mr. Locascio sued the city of St. Petersburg over accessibility of the then-Suncoast Dome to disabled people. The suit resulted in the city spending $600,000 to $700,000 on features that included more widely dispersed wheelchair seating and improvements to bathrooms and concession areas.
In 1995, Mr. Locascio filed a complaint with the Justice Department contending that the city failed to provide adequate parking for disabled vans when converting the old Florida Federal building into a downtown government facility.
In 1999, Mr. Locascio battled BayWalk's Muvico to ensure that the movie theater had proper seating for those in wheelchairs. A few years later, Mr. Locascio took on the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays to make sure that Tropicana Field was accessible to those with disabilities.
Tom McLean and Mr. Locascio were neighbors for more than 50 years. McLean, 85, said his neighbor was a dedicated spokesperson for the disabled here and around the state.
"If he found something that was making life difficult for the disabled, officials heard about it," McLean said. "And as far as I know, he usually won. He was just a regular bulldog at seeing that disabled people got a fair shake. Not more than what they deserved, but a fair shake."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at dalee@sptimes or (727)445-4174.