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Tarpon Springs' George Billiris dies at 89

TARPON SPRINGS — George Michael Billiris loved this city more than anything. It was his passion, and he spent most his life trying to make others fall in love with it too.

Mr. Billiris died this week. He was 89.

A Greek man, he was heavily involved in the historic sponging industry. He produced more than 40 documentaries about it, and years ago even brought spongers from Greece to Tarpon to teach Americans the ropes.

"He knew that people came here for the history, not for something we could make up," said his wife and former Mayor Beverly Billiris. "He knew that shouldn't change."

She said although her husband had no interest in running for local public office, he served on the county tourism board to "make sure Tarpon's tourism wasn't forgotten."

"Tarpon was his heart and his soul. He lived and breathed the sponge industry," she said. "Not only I will miss him -- he impacted this whole community."

Viewing: Monday from 6-8 p.m. at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral

Service: Tuesday at noon at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral