TARPON SPRINGS — John M. Billiris had strong ties to the community where he lived and worked.
His grandfather helped bring sponge diving to Tarpon Springs. He ran a deep sea fishing company and worked with his family's St. Nicholas Boat Line.
But his greatest love was for his family, said his son, Michael, 57.
"He dedicated his whole life to his family," he said. "He sacrificed a lot for all of us, and I can never repay him for all of that."
Mr. Billiris died Sunday, May 25, 2008, at home under the care of his family and Hospice of the Florida Suncoast. He was 86.
Mr. Billiris had been ill with emphysema. He suffered two small strokes since November — the last leaving him bedridden, Michael Billiris said.
In 1904, Mr. Billiris' grandfather, also named John, immigrated to Tarpon Springs from Greece, where he had been a sponger. Since that time, the Billiris clan has owned sponge and charter boats and has run a bevy of businesses at the Sponge Docks.
George Billiris, 81, who is married to Mayor Beverley Billiris, said his older brother never shied away from hard work.
"We grew up working seven days a week. We didn't know any better," George Billiris said.
Mr. Billiris served in the Pacific theater during World War II as a U.S. Navy chief gunner's mate. In 1945, he was transferred off the USS Bunker Hill a month before it was crippled by an attack from two Japanese kamikazes.
"All his friends were killed," Michael Billiris said. "He was lucky."
More than 20 years later, he'd find luck on the water again, when the charter boat he was piloting caught fire. Mr. Billiris was able to get more than 100 children to safety and was honored by the city and the Coast Guard for his actions, his son said.
Mr. Billiris had a deep appreciation for his hometown, Michael Billiris said.
"His whole life was right here in Tarpon Springs," he said.
Mr. Billiris served on the board of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral and was a past master in the Masonic Lodge.
In addition to his brother and son, other survivors include his wife of 58 years, Katherine; son George, of Tarpon Springs; a daughter, Maria Knox, of Atlanta; five grandchildren; brothers Ted, of Tarpon Springs, Nick, of Clearwater, and Angelo, of Seminole; and three sisters, Sylvia Billiris, Mary Christopoulos and Frances Daskarolis, all of Tarpon Springs.
Rita Farlow can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4162.