CLEARWATER — When Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard first ran for office several years ago, his friends told him Joseph Calio was one of the first people he needed to talk to.
"He gave me the lay of the land on Sand Key and what was important to residents," said Hibbard, who forged a friendship with Mr. Calio. "He was a very upfront, candid guy. He didn't sugarcoat stuff, and he knew how to get things done."
The man known to many as "Mr. Sand Key" died Wednesday (Aug. 25, 2010) after a battle with cancer. He was 83.
A problem-solving dynamo who shirked the limelight, Mr. Calio was responsible for much of what Sand Key is today.
A founding member and former president of the Sand Key Civic Association, he was involved with numerous boards and projects in Sand Key and the Clearwater community.
He remained on the Jolley Trolley and Clearwater Community Sailing Center boards up until his death.
He was involved in efforts to restore the beach and he helped start the Sand Key volunteer beach patrol. He backed the effort to bury power lines in Sand Key and was on a task force that led to a fire station there.
Among many other endeavors, he worked with the city to create a nonprofit group to manage the sailing center, where he took a leadership role.
Thanks to him, the center grew from fewer than 40 members to about 400, said Graceann Keysor, a board member along with her husband, Clark.
"I remember that Joe would sit outside — rain or shine — at the table, greet each person and by the time they left they had a membership," Keysor said. "He even promised new members that Clark would take them sailing on the Hobie Tiger, a high-performance catamaran, and that they could go fast and fly a hull. Joe had no clue what he was talking about because he didn't sail."
Last year, an addition to the sailing center, the Calio Veranda was dedicated in his honor. The entry road was named Joe Calio Way.
Clearwater Harbormaster Bill Morris, who worked closely with Mr. Calio, said he "could be a bull in a china shop when he needed to be" but had a "heart of gold."
Mr. Calio was also a champion of the Sailability program at the sailing center, which provides sailing activities and training for people with disabilities.
"He could be irritating, but you knew it was for the good," said Claudia Nable, president of Sailability and chairwoman of the sailing center's board, who called him a mentor. "He was a perfect role model for anyone."
A couple of years ago Sailability raised money to buy another boat. On its sail are the words: "We (heart) Joe".
Mr. Calio used to own a hospital supply business in the Philadelphia suburbs. He retired in 1978 and a few years later he and his wife, Staycee, bought a home on Sand Key. They were seasonal residents until settling here about 20 years ago.
Life with Joseph Calio was a "joyride," said his wife of 36 years. When he wasn't fighting to make the community better, they often were traveling the globe.
"The world was like an open book, so much to see and do," said Staycee Calio, 71. "He loved people."
And it was those people skills that helped him be a forceful community advocate without alienating city leaders.
"There's some people that just complain," said friend and City Council member John Doran. "Joe didn't complain. Joe got stuff done."
Lorri Helfand can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4155.