On Feb. 22, Bill Justice sat in the back of a crowded auditorium at Clearwater High School. Alumni of all ages had come to commemorate the school’s plan to undergo renovations in 2021.
Though there were nearly a thousand people sitting in the auditorium, they all knew the name Bill Justice.
When the speaker told the crowd Mr. Justice was in the room, he tried to push himself out of his walker to stand, but couldn’t. He waved instead.
The crowd gave him a standing ovation.
Mr. Justice’s legacy as a leader and public servant seems to have touched every corner of Clearwater. He held dozens of roles: football coach, math teacher, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent, and city commissioner, to name a few. And that was all before 1990.
“Anybody that’s been around here for any length of time knows who Bill Justice was,” said City Council member Hoyt Hamilton, a longtime family friend.
Mr. Justice passed away in his sleep on June 25, one month after the death of his wife, Marian. He was 98.
Before coming to Clearwater, Mr. Justice served in the US Marine Corps during World War II, where he received a Purple Heart. He moved to Clearwater in 1947 with his wife and four-month-old son, Garry, to teach math and coach football.
For the next three years, the football team excelled.
“When he came to Clearwater and started winning so many football games, he was a town hero,” said David Allbritton, one of Mr. Justice’s closest friends. “He’d always say, ‘It’s not that I’m a great coach. I’ve just got a good group of guys.‘”
The team called themselves “Bill’s Boys.”
Over his next three decades in the Pinellas school system, parents, children and their children were influenced by Mr. Justice’s leadership.
“He touched so many lives, so many generations,” said Hamilton.
At school and at home, Mr. Justice was “firm but fair,” said his son.
“He didn’t raise his voice,” Garry Justice said. “He wouldn’t get all upset. He’d just say: you messed up. Here’s what we’re going to do about it.”
Aside from his talents as a coach and educator, Mr. Justice was known for his skills on the harmonica. A self-taught musician, he would frequently play the harmonica at student assemblies.
Sometimes, he even used the harmonica to wake up his children.
“He thought that was funny,” said his daughter, Julie Justice Griffith. “Anytime anybody gave him an opportunity, he would play his harmonica.”
After his retirement in 1981, Mr. Justice ramped up his civic involvement. He served as city commissioner from 1983 to 1985, but quit in part because he didn’t have enough time for his volunteer activities.
Mr. Justice was a Salvation Army board member, a deacon and elder at Trinity Presbyterian Church, an active member of the Clearwater Historical Society, and volunteered for Clothes to Kids and Military Order of World Wars, among numerous other organizations.
His daughter even recalled that, during his morning walks, “he knew there were widows who lived alone in the neighborhood, and he would always put their papers on their front doorstep for them.”
The Greater Clearwater Chamber of Commerce named him Mr. Clearwater in 1990.
“Everyone loved him,” said Allbritton. “He was one of the biggest-hearted guys there was.”
Despite local fame, Mr. Justice remained selfless through his final days.
“When someone asked him how he was doing, he would always answer, “better than I deserve, but I’ll take it anyways,‘” his son recalled.
After the Clearwater Historical Society posted Mr. Justice’s obituary on Facebook, Clearwater residents flooded the comments to offer their condolences.
One comment dubbed Mr. Justice “Clearwater royalty.”
“In a lot of ways, Clearwater’s still a small town,” said Hamilton. “Bill Justice was intricately woven into its fabric.”
• • •
William “Bill” G. Justice
Born: Oct. 25, 1921
Died: June 24, 2020
Survivors: son Garry, daughter Julie Griffith, and grandchildren Molly Wainscott and Boyce Griffith.
Services: Arrangements are being handled by Moss Feaster Funeral Home. A celebration of life for the Justices will take place at a later date due to COVID-19.