The last time Dennis Alfonso attended a Pasco County School Board meeting, he wasn’t in great shape.
Battling cancer that had resurfaced after nine years in remission, the board’s lawyer since the late 1990s sported a shaved head, a raspy voice and a tired expression. But ask him if he was OK, and he offered cheer and positivity.
“He would never ever let you know how bad he might have been feeling,” said friend and former board member Allen Altman. “He approached his battle with tremendous dignity, always looking at the brighter side.”
Alfonso was doing well with his treatments until a couple of weeks ago, his wife, Nancy, said. Then he took a turn for the worse.
He died Saturday, May 13, 2023, at age 59. He is survived by his wife, children Alex and India, and brothers Cesar (Julie) and Robert (Clara). Services are scheduled for 10 a.m. May 27 at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Dade City.
Alfonso was born in Tampa, where he attended Jesuit High School and later the University of South Florida and Stetson University College of Law. He started his practice in Tampa, focusing on family law.
He arrived in Pasco County in the mid-1990s, to live in his wife’s hometown. It was a move that surprised some friends, but he quickly adapted to the new lifestyle.
He shifted his work to government law, representing the clerk of court starting around 1995 and taking on the school district as a client around 1999.
“He loved the law,” Nancy Alfonso said. “He just loved everything about it.”
He represented the George W. Bush campaign in Pasco County during its 2000 recount effort. He served on the Florida Board of Bar Examiners. And he became a leading voice among Florida school board attorneys, adding the Hernando County board to his client list in 2011.
“He gave very wise counsel,” Pasco board chairperson Megan Harding said. “He was always there to ensure that my questions were answered and that we were following the law.”
Not that his advice always won unanimous praise. He came under intense fire from some community members who argued he gave poor guidance to the board over attendance boundary revisions, among other hot button issues.
“He didn’t take it personally,” Nancy Alfonso said. “He was always even-keeled and kind and respectful to everybody.”
Longtime friends recalled him as somebody who didn’t get drawn into arguments, and who was always positive.
“I don’t know of anyone who could be more honest than Dennis,” said Leroy Hauff, a family friend of more than 25 years who attended church with Alfonso.
Kenneth Turkel, a friend since high school, said he couldn’t remember ever fighting with Alfonso — even after being in a band together — except maybe to say he was getting tired of Alfonso’s obsession with listening to Santana. Alfonso played the guitar and sang, with “Europa,” a favorite.
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As a fellow lawyer, Turkel said he also always turned to Alfonso for input on all things Pasco County, where over time Alfonso had become a go-to guy.
“If Dennis was around, things were just more happy and more positive,” Turkel said, recalling a list of gigs they played (first song was a Cars cover), concerts they attended (including a must-see Joe Jackson show), and other good times. “The world just gets worse when a guy like him leaves it.”
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