During the 13 years that he led Tarpon Springs' Chamber of Commerce, Charlie Phillips never passed up a chance to promote the city he loved.
Whether making sure highway signs clearly pointed visitors to the fishing village, or casing the Sponge Docks to get opinions from local business owners, he was a consummate ambassador and man-about-town.
"He was one of the finest chamber directors that Tarpon Springs has ever had," said former Mayor Anita Protos. "His heart was in the community."
Mr. Phillips died at Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital on Sunday after a brief illness. He was 67.
Friends and family say Tarpon Springs won't be the same.
As one local told Mr. Phillips' wife, Pauline Phillips, at the hospital: "I cannot imagine a world without Charlie Phillips."
Though many around town felt like they'd known Mr. Phillips as long as they could remember, he was actually a Georgia native who relocated to Tarpon Springs in the 1970s.
A graduate of the University of Georgia, he came south for a job in Tampa. While he was looking for a home, a co-worker who lived in Tarpon Springs invited him over for dinner.
It was love at first sight.
"It's hard to explain why exactly" Mr. Phillips immediately fell for Tarpon Springs, said friend Jim Cantonis, president of Acme Sponge Co. "It's like explaining why you love your boyfriend or your husband. You just do."
Apparently, the feelings were reciprocated.
After just a few years in town, Mr. Phillips was elected to the City Commission in 1976. But he resigned a year into his term to move to Chicago.
He wasn't gone long, returning to Tarpon Springs a few years later and meeting Pauline Pavlis, who would become his second wife.
"He was the most logical person I had ever met," she said. "He was extremely level-headed."
That quality came in handy when he became executive director of the chamber in 1988. Mr. Phillips worked to build up the city and launch new initiatives, friends and family said.
"He was the kind of person you would want in town, publicizing your town," Pauline Phillips said.
He was a big man - "like a giant," according to his wife - but never loud or blustery. A Southern gentleman, he always managed to draw attention and loyalty with his understated charm, friends said.
While leading the chamber, he forged strong relationships with business owners throughout town, ran the annual arts and crafts show and "brought the chamber from a hole-in-the-wall office to the building it's in now," Pauline Phillips said.
His daughter Donna, an interior designer, helped redesign the interior and exterior of the chamber's present office on E Orange Street.
"I don't want people to forget all that Charlie did for this community," Pauline Phillips said.
Those who knew him say that would be impossible.
"When people die, everyone always says they will be missed," Protos said. "But this is one individual who truly will be missed."
Mr. Phillips is survived by his wife, Pauline Phillips; two daughters, Veda Baggio and Donna Childs, Douglasville, Ga.; and two sons, the Rev. Chuck Phillips of Cumming, Ga., and Chazz Nicholas Phillips of Tarpon Springs.
IF YOU GO
Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. today at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral. The Trisagion service will be at 7 p.m. The funeral is at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Cathedral with graveside services following.