MADEIRA BEACH — When people talk about Richard LaGrua, they mention the half-moon, toothy smile that was his signature.
They talk about the freedom he felt on the water.
They talk about his spirit of resilience.
"He loved life, and he loved people, and he was very tough," said his son, Michael LaGrua. "He fought."
Dr. LaGrua, a chiropractor and well-known member of the local sailing community, died Monday after what his family said was likely a quick seizure. He was 70.
Fourteen years ago, Dr. LaGrua had brain surgery. He should have been back at work within a month. Instead, he had a stroke on the operating table, and his health was never the same.
Despite it, he strove to stay positive. People called him "Doc Fantastic," because of how often he said the word. When problems arose, he'd chirp the word "EAHFOB," a sort of acronym he had devised. Roughly, it meant, "Everything always happens for the best."
Dr. LaGrua was born in New York. When he and his brother contracted pneumonia as young boys, a doctor ordered them to Florida, where their grandmother took over raising them.
Here, he became fascinated by the water and sailing. He eventually went to college, paying his way by driving an ambulance and working at a brake shop, before becoming a chiropractor.
When he wasn't practicing in Seminole, he was sailing with his two children by his side.
"He was a huge influence on me," said his son. "I did a lot of sailing with him. We were raised on boats since were kids."
Dr. LaGrua, who had a waterfront home in Madeira Beach, split time between yacht clubs at Treasure Island, Davis Islands and St. Petersburg. He raced with well-known sailors, including Bill Jennings, Dick Misener, and George Dewar. He helped organize the Morgan Invasion Regatta and the Bikini Cup.
At one point, he shared a 30-foot boat called the Right Now with Mary Maloof, current mayor of Treasure Island. The two dated for several years in the 1980s.
"He was an extraordinary person," said Maloof. "He was just one of these happy people all the time. He never saw anything bad in anybody, and he would bend over backward to do whatever he could to help you."
As his health deteriorated, Dr. LaGrua moved into an assisted living facility. He made friends easily and swept the football betting pool his first week there. He went to lunch every day and ate a small salad and rice pudding.
He couldn't sail like he used to. But sometimes at his living facility, he'd board a pontoon boat and just float on the bay.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8857.