DUNEDIN — Former Dunedin City Commissioner and longtime civic activist Thomas J. Osborne Jr. never ran out of ideas for improving local, county and state government.
After an illness of several weeks, Mr. Osborne died Thursday (July 10, 2008) at Mease Dunedin Hospital. He was 85.
Over the years, his energy and commitment converted even some opponents to friends.
"He was controversial, but he was popular," said Mr. Osborne's brother, Fred Osborne of New Jersey. "He was challenging. He made them think. And people find they like thinking."
Mr. Osborne served as a Dunedin City Commissioner from 1994 through 1999. One of his ideas, abolishing the city's police department, has saved the city more than $25-million, according to the mayor at that time, state Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Dunedin, who voted for the idea.
Mr. Osborne ran for the Dunedin City Commission again in 2006, befriending the eventual winner, Julie Ward Bujalski, now the city's vice mayor.
"Always very outspoken, always very courageous," she said. "He never worried about hurting anyone's feelings at all. He just worried about what was right for the citizens."
And what was right often involved finding ways to save money.
Born in 1923 in Newark, N.J., Mr. Osborne learned the value of saving a buck in childhood. When he was 15, his parents were divorced and the teenage Tom went to work. During that time, Mr. Osborne, his brother Fred and his mother, Erna, toughed it out in a cold-water flat in Newark.
The late Erna Osborne was a housekeeper. Mr. Osborne delivered newspapers, served as a city lifeguard for two summers while in high school and worked at a Newark insurance company at age 18.
Soon he was in World War II as a member of the Naval Reserve. He participated in every major campaign in the South Pacific, he said.
After the war ended, Mr. Osborne earned business and law degrees from Rutgers University. He served as a judge advocate and then a first lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve during the Korean War.
By the mid 1950s, Mr. Osborne had married, practiced law, and served on the Roseland Borough Council in Roseland, N.J. The marriage produced three children, but ended in divorce.
After he retired in 1983, he and his wife, the late Edwina Osborne, moved to Clearwater, then to Dunedin in 1988. They chose Dunedin, Mr. Osborne said, because it "combined boating and golf at a reasonable price."
Anderson said Mr. Osborne was sometimes called "Mr. 4 to 1" because often he was the only one in favor of one of his own ideas. But Anderson appreciates "out of the box" approaches.
"It's important to have someone on a committee who's thinking differently," he said, "or you may as well have one person instead of a committee."
The Osbornes were longtime members of the Dunedin Country Club and Bujalski said Mr. Osborne sailed a boat that he kept at the Dunedin city marina for years, even though he complained about how much the marina costs the city.
Since Mrs. Osborne's death in 2006, Bujalski said she often met Mr. Osborne, a mentor, for lunch or happy hour.
"Whenever we went to lunch," she said. "He could name every female waitress in the place."
He attended most City Commission meetings, and she said he was known for wearing colorful outfits and Prada sunglasses as he took the commission to task.
"And it was okay," she said. "It was just Tom."
Dunedin Mayor Bob Hackworth appreciated the close attention Mr. Osborne gave to city government and respected his opinions. And he appreciated that Mr. Osborne had a good sense of humor and was not offended if his ideas were not adopted.
"I always went out of my way to indicate that I appreciated his comments — good or bad," Hackworth said.
Bujalski said she was with Mr. Osborne at the hospital Wednesday and he was in good spirits. He couldn't talk, but they managed to joke around and he laughed and squeezed her hand. She's not looking forward to the city's budget workshops next week sans his scrutiny.
"It's going to be very odd not getting his feedback," she said, "when he would have liked to be bringing the hammer down on something."
Mr. Osborne is survived by three children: Noreen Catarino of Kenilworth, N.J.; Thomas J. Osborne III of Neptune, N.J.; and Meredith McNamara of Spring Lake, N.J.; and his brother Fred Osborne of Essex Fells, N.J.
There will be no funeral, at the request of Mr. Osborne, but arrangements for his cremation and interment next to his late wife are being handled by Moss Feaster Funeral Home in Dunedin.
Theresa Blackwell can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4170.