SOUTH PASADENA — Like his father, who founded the Crabby Bill's seafood restaurant chain, John Loder Sr. had a larger-than-life personality.
That was one reason he dived into the real estate business, becoming a well-known, if at times controversial Pinellas County developer.
"He was definitely his own man; he was stepping out of the shadow of his dad though they were incredibly close," said Debra Faust, Loder's longtime partner.
They died close together, too. Just a month after the death of his 86-year-old father, Loder passed away in his sleep Sunday at 51. Though he had been sober for most of 20 years, "he ran hard at an early age and that may have had a toll on his heart,'' Faust said. "He liked to eat and was not in marathon-runner shape, as he would acknowledge."
Loder broke away from the family restaurant business in the booming early 2000s and started Sun Vista Development Group with partners. They bought four large properties with the intent of turning them into high-end condos.
But two of the projects — Bay Pines Mobile Home Park in Seminole and the Snell Isle Club Apartments in St. Petersburg — never got off the ground. In 2010, Loder and three other men were indicted on federal criminal charges of flouting environmental laws relating to asbestos removal at projects in Indian Shores and South Pasadena.
A jury acquitted Loder of three charges, and two others were dismissed.
That ended Loder's high-flying development days. He turned his attention to Crystal River after Faust first "dragged him up there" on his birthday four or five years ago.
"John would say his blood pressure dropped 20 points as soon we drove into that county," she said. "It's old Florida and we fell in love with it. If people knew John, they be surprised because he's more of a metropolitan, cosmopolitan type of guy."
Loder ,who was planning to develop some property with Faust, had ideas for revitalizing blighted areas of the city.
"He could have been a big shot in the arm,'' City Manger Dave Burnell told the Citrus Chronicle after his death.
Over the years Loder had a "few slips" in sobriety, Faust says, but remained a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and started two treatment and recovery centers.
"He was an advocate for people who were suffering from drug and alcohol addiction," Faust said. "He would go to great lengths to try to assist anybody, whether homeless or well-known people."
Loder, whose son had Tourette's syndrome, also became actively involved with other families struggling with the neurological condition that causes unwanted sounds and tics. Along with Ross Preville, then president of the Florida chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Association, he helped launch a weekend event for families held every February in Brandon.
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"We did it for years and John provided all the food," said Preville, a Raymond James executive whose son also had Tourette's.
Loder never entirely left the food business. Three years ago in Treasure Island, he and Faust opened Captain Bill's Beach Kitchen — the name of the first restaurant his father started after the family moved from New Jersey in the 1960s.
And former Tampa Bay Times reporter Scott Barancik, who once covered Loder's troubles as a developer, was surprised to find him in the kitchen at St. Petersburg's Temple Beth-el a few years ago helping him and other men do the cooking for an event.
"With all that restaurant experience, he could not have been nicer or more humble,'' said Barancik, who also remembers Loder as unfailingly polite even when asked tough questions.
Loder didn't know he had Jewish roots until he discovered that his maternal grandparents had changed their name from Rubenstein to Rubinski after fleeing persecution in Poland. He and Faust, who is Jewish, began going to Temple Beth-el, where he joined the fund-raising Boyz in the Hood culinary group.
"Johnny could handle anything you threw at him and brought a sense of fun and great humor every time he was in the kitchen," said Lewis Kroll, who was in the restaurant supply business when he first met Loder through Crabby Bill's. "He had the ability all his life to make you smile."
Contact Susan Taylor Martin firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate