Retired federal judge William J. Castagna dies at 96

Castagna was appointed to the federal bench by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. His son called him both a great judge and great role model.
Judge William J. Castagna, 89, left, shares a bit of history about his former courtroom with then-Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
Judge William J. Castagna, 89, left, shares a bit of history about his former courtroom with then-Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
Published Dec. 21, 2020|Updated Dec. 24, 2020

There’s no question that William J. “Bill” Castagna lived a complete life, his son said Saturday.

Born in Philadelphia to Italian immigrants, Mr. Castagna moved to Clearwater in the 1940s. It was in the Sunshine State that he’d go on to graduate from law school at the University of Florida, start his own practice and then serve as a Senior United States District Judge for 13 years.

Mr. Castagna became a Senior Judge in 1992 and continued to serve on the Federal bench for 28 years.

But it wasn’t just his professional success that Mr. Castagna will be remembered for, said his 64-year-old son Charles Castagna. It was also his dedication to family, from his wife of 59 years, Carolyn, to his 10 grandchildren and 6-month-old great-grandson, Warren.

Mr. Castagna passed away from natural causes while surrounded by his family on Friday. He was 96 years old.

“He was a model husband and parent in every way,” said Charles. “Even with a busy professional life, we never got anything but his love and attention.”

Charles said he and his brother, Will, would often take their 20-foot boat out to ski with their dad, and to fish in the Gulf of Mexico for trout and grouper.

One of Charles’ fondest memories of his father was from when he was a teenager, on that same boat. When he and Will were around 13 or 14, they were trusted to stay overnight at a marina on Tampa Bay. There was one rule: Don’t take the boat out, or else you won’t be staying again.

“Of course we took it out right away,” said Charles, laughing. “And then here we came back at midnight, three hours later, and the first thing we see is dad’s headlights beaming at the boat.”

There were no more campouts for at least a year, Charles joked.

Lisa Griffith, one of Mr. Castagna’s two daughters, said Monday that her father could be counted on to be at everything.

“He attended countless gymnastics competitions, baseballs games, swim meets, and soccer games and never missed a graduation ceremony,” she said.

Charles also commended his father for his ability to balance work and life at home. From hosting holidays to birthdays, to helping with junior high student government campaigns, he was never too busy for family, said Charles. And as far as careers go, Mr. Castagna had an extensive one.

The first line of Mr. Castagna’s resume on the U.S. Courts’ official website: United States Army, Air Corps, 1943-1945.

While Mr. Castagna enlisted during the heart of World War II, he never saw action, despite being trained as a bombardier. But he sure did get close, Charles said.

“The word that’s been passed down the family was that he was taxiing on a runway, about to head into action whenever the news came that the Germans had surrendered,” he said. “Then he just headed home, but he was that close.”

After serving, Mr. Castagna went to law school and had four children: Charles, Will, Lisa and Catherine. He also began his own private practice, which he’d run until 1979.

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That’s when Mr. Castagna was called upon by President Jimmy Carter to serve on the federal bench for the Middle District of Florida. He would hold that position until 1992, when he assumed senior status.

Even into his final years, Mr. Castagna didn’t slow down much.

He learned how to snow ski at age 70 and played tennis into his early 90s. He also continued fishing and water skiing, an annual birthday and Father’s Day tradition until he turned 93.

“He truly lived a complete and fulfilled life,” said Charles. Griffith added: “My memories of him could fill a book, but I guess I would just end here by saying that, despite the grief, we are all filled with gratitude for having him in our lives.”

William J. Castagna

Born June 25, 1924. Died Dec. 18, 2020. Survived by his four children — Charles N. Castagna, William D. Castagna, Lisa A. Griffith and Catherine A. Abood — and 10 grandchildren. Predeceased by his parents Charles and Ninetta Castagna, his brother Edward, and his wife Carolyn.