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"Farewell dear friend, you will be missed'

Published Oct. 8, 2005

The line of cars in the funeral procession stretched almost 50 long.

It crawled around the bayous, past historic Craig Park and down Tarpon Avenue, the city's main thoroughfare. At intersection after intersection, it virtually forced a busy community to stop and pay respect.

It was on its way to Cycadia Cemetery, where a man who some called the father of Tarpon Springs would be laid to rest.

That final ride through town seemed a fitting tribute to former Mayor Thomas M. Craig, who died Thursday at the age of 92.

Family members, old friends and a smattering of politicians, including U.S. Rep. Michael Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, turned out Monday afternoon for Mr. Craig's funeral. The blue Rolls Royce of banker Al Ellis was one of the leading cars as the procession pulled away from the First Baptist Church of Tarpon Springs on Gulf Road.

Ed Dorsett, the namesake of another city park, was also on hand for the funeral of his longtime friend. Dorsett, now 81, was about 14 years old when he first got to know Mr. Craig. He'd gone to work pressing clothes for Mr. Craig at his dry-cleaning shop.

It was the start of a friendship that witnessed Mr. Craig's stint as both commissioner and mayor and then as a man who remained active in city business long after his days as an elected official had ended.

"We need more Tom Craigs," Dorsett said. "How many people do you find who are willing to work for the betterment of the community just for the betterment? He didn't want praise, he just wanted to get the job done."

But praise is exactly what Mr. Craig got Monday.

More than 150 mourners turned out to hear Mr. Craig's eulogy by his longtime friend Louis Smitzes, who remembered Mr. Craig as being a friend to all and a man bound by his word.

"Farewell dear friend, you will be sorely missed, but you will not be forgotten," Smitzes said, his voice cracking with emotion.

Mayor Anita Protos presented Mr. Craig's family with a resolution, honoring a man who helped to mold Tarpon Springs into the city it is today.

Mr. Craig moved to Tarpon Springs in 1907. He remained active in city life until just a few months ago, serving most recently on a committee to review the city's charter. Last year, he also made an impassioned plea for the city to move the library rather than expand it in Craig Park, which was named for him.

He inspired those around him, including his 22-year-old grandson Timothy Craig of Palm Harbor.

"He lived by "do as I say and do as I do,' " the younger Craig said of his grandfather. "He's the greatest man I have ever known."

Just like the piece of history he is, Mr. Craig was laid to rest in a family plot in historic Cycadia Cemetery, one of the oldest in the county and burial place of several community founders. He is once again beside his wife Frances.

With his casket in the background, stories about Mr. Craig flowed freely Monday under the blaze of the afternoon sun.

It was quite a change, because it always had been Mr. Craig who was known for his stories about Tarpon Springs. Everyone knew that when you needed a nugget of history about Tarpon Springs, you could turn to Mr. Craig.

Nick Kavouklis, 75, has known Mr. Craig all his life, and he has plenty of stories to tell.

Kavouklis said he remembers during the Depression when Mr. Craig would lend out clothes from his dry cleaners to the town's men, who wanted to get dressed up for a date but couldn't afford new clothes.

As long as they returned the coats, pants and ties, Kavouklis said Mr. Craig didn't mind making the loan.

"He loved people," Kavouklis said.

But it may have been Mr. Craig's pastor, Noy Sparks, who best summed up the day's sentiment during a graveside prayer.

"We thank you once again for Tom Craig," Sparks said. "We commit him to you."