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Treasure Island commissioner Ellsworth dies at 66

TREASURE ISLAND — Commissioner Irving S. "Butch" Ellsworth loved his city and worked for many years to make it better.

His name appears on plaques affixed to buildings and structures throughout the city — including the Clock Tower, the Causeway bridge, the Sunset Beach Pavilion, the city's Trailhead Park, City Hall and the Community Center.

Ellsworth, 66, died Monday at Tampa General Hospital from complications following a massive heart attack in September.

City flags are flying at half-staff.

"He was part of the fabric of Treasure Island,'' Mayor Bob Minning said Tuesday. "We will deeply miss his insights and dedication to the betterment of our city."

Ellsworth is credited as a major driver in getting federal money for the city's new bridge connecting it to the mainland. He was a strong proponent of beach renourishment and insisted the beach should remain accessible to residents and visitors alike.

Most recently, Ellsworth worked hard to make sure a new bridge to the Isle of Palms, where he lived since 1959, would become a reality.

"He was a giant of a man. He was always helpful. He really loved Treasure Island and wanted to be involved," said Gino Centanni, a longtime friend. "He was passionate about the city and always had ideas."

Ellsworth was born in Winston Salem, N.C., and moved with his family to Treasure Island at age 5. He never left.

After he graduated from Boca Ciega High, he joined the U.S. Army to serve in Vietnam where he was a crew chief and a flight engineer on Chinook helicopters.

By the time he returned to the city in the late 1960s, he had earned a number of citations, an air medal with clusters, and a Bronze Star that he forever refused to talk about, even with family members.

"He was an island guy who woke up at the crack of dawn and did not stop moving until bedtime," his sister-in-law, Debbie Fedor, said.

Ellsworth worked for 19 years as manager of the John's Pass Marina, as well as executive vice president of the Treasure Island Yacht and Tennis Club.

Years ago, he ran Caddy's Waterfront restaurant and bar and managed marinas in Madeira Beach and St. Pete Beach.

He served as a president and CEO of the Treasure Island Chamber of Commerce and worked closely with Treasure Island Charities.

He lost races for mayor in 1989 and commission in 1994 and 1996. Undeterred, he won a commission seat in 1998 and served until 2003.

This spring, he sought to again serve the city and was elected to the commission in March.

Minning described Ellsworth as "fun-loving guy who made sure everybody else had fun."

His longtime boss, Sid Rice, said Ellsworth was "straight as an arrow" and could always be depended on.

Throughout his life he loved racing cars and boats and was a champion powerboat racer.

"Racing an air boat was on his bucket list, but he never got a chance to do that," Centanni said

Ellsworth is survived by his wife, Cherie. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Treasure Island commissioner Ellsworth dies at 66 10/13/12 [Last modified: Saturday, October 13, 2012 4:31am]
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