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Tampa legend Al Austin remembered in Saturday memorial service

TAMPA — It might have reminded Al Austin of a political convention had he been alive to witness it. Governors and mayors and politicians of every stripe gathered under one roof, even a Democrat or two.

This was Austin's kind of crowd.

Several hundred people gathered at a memorial service Saturday at the Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church in South Tampa to mark the passing of Austin, a Tampa developer and civic leader who died May 22 in his sleep of an apparent heart attack. He was 85.

The service was a reminder, if anyone needed one, that Austin was far more than the GOP fundraiser who was instrumental in bringing the 2012 Republican National Convention to Tampa and shaping both Tampa's politics and business life.

He was remembered as a good father, a good husband and a good friend with a passion for life.

"You have set such a wonderful example of what it means to be a husband and a father," said Austin's daughter, Amy Austin Guagliardo, reading a letter to her father. "You have provided us with so many incredible memories … You had so much passion for everything you did… .

"You will always be my Mr. Everything. I love you forever and ever."

Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi paid their respects to Austin's wife, Beverly, and her family. The crowd included Scott's likely opponent in the gubernatorial race, Democrat Charlie Crist, and his wife, Carole.

Also attending the service were: Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Dennis Ross; former Florida Republican Party chairman Al Cardenas; Republican National Committee co-chairwoman Sharon Day; former Gov. Jeb Bush's ex-chief of staff Kathleen Shanahan; former Attorney General Bill McCollum; and former Gov. Bob Martinez, among others.

Martinez, recounting his memories of Austin during the service, said he had been Austin's tennis opponent for many years. He remembered how Austin talked nonstop politics on the 15-minute ride to the tennis court. And he laughed at the memory of how the ride back would be filled with talk of either tennis or politics, depending on who had won the match.

Martinez said the culmination of Austin's political career was landing the GOP convention for the city he helped build.

"Al, you did it all," Martinez said. "You spell success, family, work, politics and, yes, tennis."

Former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco said he had knew Austin when both were younger men. "It's hard for me to believe he's gone," he said.

Greco recounted the work Austin had done for his community, his state and his country.

"Why was he so committed?" Greco said. "I found a (Bible) verse that told me why and describes him … 'Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord.' "

Austin's life touched much of Tampa Bay during a 60-year career that included a stint as finance chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. He was an icon in Tampa's business community who began erecting office buildings off West Shore Boulevard in what had been orange groves and cow pastures.

Today, West Shore is Tampa's highest-cachet corporate enclave and the largest office market in Tampa.

Austin also worked to keep MacDill Air Force Base open in a time of defense cutbacks that killed other military installations, and he served as the head of the board that operates Tampa International Airport. He also led the University of Tampa board for a time and helped the school raise money.

Earlier in the week, Tampa City Council Charlie Miranda dubbed Austin "Mr. Everything," a theme picked up at the memorial service.

"Rest in peace, dad," said Austin's daughter, Ann Austin Tatomir. "You really were Mr. Everything."

Times staff writer Adam C. Smith contributed to this report. William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@tampabay.com.

Tampa legend Al Austin remembered in Saturday memorial service 05/31/14 [Last modified: Saturday, May 31, 2014 11:29pm]
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