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Published Feb. 14, 2008

In 1994, Bill Starkey called it a career and retired from his post as head of GTE.

Then everyone else started calling on him.

Sure, Starkey found time for his family and passions like ice fishing. But retirement proved relative. He gave of himself to a number of boards and nonprofit efforts, driven to help the less fortunate and make the community better.

That selfless attitude and no-nonsense approach helped Starkey earn one of Tampa's highest honors Monday - the Tampa Metro Civitan Club's Outstanding Citizen of the Year Award. The club presents the award each year during the Governor's Day Luncheon at the Florida State Fair.

"We're the lucky people and we have to realize how much we've got and help other people," Starkey said. "If you teach the kids that, we'll have a great chance."

Starkey built a stellar reputation while at GTE, now Verizon. And in the years after he stepped down, Starkey served on boards for the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, the University of South Florida School of Engineering, Abe Brown Ministries, Bayfront Medical Center, the Florida Council of 100, the Tampa Bay Partnership and the Florida Orchestra, among others.

"I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Mr. Starkey, and I do call him Mr. Starkey," said Irene Guy, Verizon community affairs and public policy director. "Having worked for him and watched the impact he and his family have had on the community, I'm very proud to call him my friend.

"But I'll always call him Mr. Starkey."

Starkey's biggest call came in 2004 when Mayor Pam Iorio asked if he would be willing to step into the then-fractious atmosphere of the Tampa Port Authority and serve as its interim director. George Williamson had left the job to take a job in the private sector, and after his departure came a series of controversies.

"He was hesitant at first," Iorio said, with a laugh. "He said, 'Can you explain this again? You want me to do what?' But I told him, you may not have port experience, but you're a leader and that's what we need right now. I was totally confident he could step in and do it."

Starkey, who refused to be paid beyond expenses, calmed the waters during his five-month tenure. He identified problems and went about setting the table for the next director.

Most telling was that current port authority director Richard Wainio and assistant director Zelko Kirincich were among the first to congratulate Starkey for Monday's award.

"He's just a wonderful citizen/servant," Iorio said.

Starkey had no idea he was getting the award. As in past years, the winner was lured to the event under false pretenses, and Starkey's wife, sons and daughter-in-laws didn't appear until the announcement.

And don't think that the award signifies an end to Starkey's efforts. He currently chairs the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay board and shows no signs of slowing down.

That's all I'm saying.