TIERRA VERDE — He organized a croquet tournament in the back yard. The prize? A six-pack of Coors. He once streaked to his mailbox in the dead of night and was known for keeping a reference book of jokes at the ready.
Richard "Dick'' Kearley was, as a friend described him, the social director of their set.
On the serious side, he was a career military man. As a helicopter pilot, he flew search-and-rescue missions off the USS Kitty Hawk during the Vietnam War, worked with Navy SEALs, trained reserves and retired from the Navy with the rank of captain.
Afterward he took up real estate, showing one young couple 33 houses until they found their dream home. It happened to be in Tierra Verde, in his own neighborhood.
"He was just so patient,'' said Faun Baldizzi, recalling the search 15 years ago.
"Dick was nonjudgmental and treated everyone equally,'' her husband, Dr. Anthony Baldizzi, said. "He had the best sense of humor. He became a friend. He was awesome.''
Retired Navy Capt. Kearley, 69, died Sept. 8. His family has arranged two memorials to reflect the man who was always bigger than life. They are suggesting that friends gathering today in Tierra Verde come in bathing suits, flip-flops and flowered shirts. The music of Jimmy Buffett — long his favorite — will play in the background.
A full military funeral will follow Friday in Pensacola.
His wife, Gwen, and middle son David chatted about Capt. Kearley this week, sitting at a dining table memorial of photographs and floral arrangements.
"For the most part, we knew him as a military man,'' said David, recalling that he, his parents and two brothers, James and Timothy, moved every three years, living at bases in such places as Pensacola, San Diego, Norfolk, Fort Rucker, Ala., and Tampa, at MacDill.
His father made friends wherever they lived.
Diane Gatlin and her former husband were among them. "The best part was going to the grocery store with him. He knew the butcher behind the counter,'' said Gatlin, who also moved to Tierra Verde.
Gwen Kearley and her husband grew up together, going to the same school and church and hanging out as teenagers.
"Little did I know that I would be with him forever,'' she said. "He left too soon for it to be forever."
The good times continued with their marriage, as when he was promoted from lieutenant commander to commander. "We streaked out to the sign (in front of their base quarters) and changed the sign to his new rank,'' she said, laughing.
They moved to Tierra Verde after he retired and built a house with a garage large enough for his hobby restoring MG's. The home on Monte Cristo Boulevard also became known for its annual Halloween haunted house.
When they downsized, fellow residents at the Village of Tierra Verde — a condominium complex of more than 200 units — elected him president of their association.
"He ran on a platform of open communication,'' Gwen Kearley said.
He followed up by setting up a website and going to work on serious issues such as dock repairs. When his health deteriorated, he stepped down.
A diabetic, he had cirrhosis and cancer of the liver. Son David was an exact match for a liver transplant, so he flew to Minnesota for the surgery. He was never well enough for it to proceed.
He died in the care of hospice with his wife and children around him.
"We were a very close-knit family,'' Gwen Kearley said.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.