Activist for disabled is dead at 59

John "Johnny" Long is remembered as a passionate man who "wasn't afraid to challenge the powers that be."

Published August 25, 2006

CLEARWATER - John "Johnny" Long, local businessman and activist and voice for the disadvantaged and disabled, died Saturday (Aug. 19, 2006) at home. He was 59.

"Johnny Long will be missed," said Ms. Isay Gulley, president and CEO of Clearwater Neighborly Housing Services. "He wasn't afraid to challenge the powers that be to get things done. He had a sense of bravery and perseverance different from all others."

Mr. Long came to Clearwater from his native Jersey City, N.J., where he married his wife of 40 years, Marion, and entered the Army the same year. He saw action in Vietnam, serving with the 1st Cavalry Division, and returned home two years later with thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition that affected the nerves in his arms and hands.

"Even with the disability, Dad still made things work," said his daughter, Dionna Reed of St. Petersburg. "He was never the type to just sit around the house."

In 1977, Mr. Long formed DML Consultants. The name was an acronym for his daughter, Dionna and wife, Marion. He was also involved with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Jersey City.

The Long family moved to Clearwater in 1984. Here, Mr. Long opened the New Fountain Restaurant and Lounge, but he also was soon looking for opportunities to help those less fortunate. He became associated with Clearwater Neighborhood Housing Services, where he worked with Gulley to find federal resources that would further the mission of the organization.

"He was a very well-educated and informed citizen," Gulley said. "He had extensive knowledge about federal regulations that guide funding. He was an ally for the community."

During this time, Mr. Long was also a member of the Greenwood Economic Task Force.

In 1991, Mr. Long suffered a paralyzing injury in an automobile accident. His legs were affected and he began using a wheelchair. The experience was an epiphany.

"Being disabled himself gave him a new perspective," Dionna Reed said. "He became a fighter for the rights of the disabled. He took on any business that didn't comply with disability laws."

In 2000, he took on Busch Gardens, filing a lawsuit to make sure the theme park complied with Title III provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Later, as chairman for the Clearwater Americans with Disabilities Act Advisory Committee, Mr. Long worked to change what many perceived to be unfair handicapped parking restrictions.

Mr. Long was a member of St. John's Episcopal Church in Clearwater and sang in the choir.

In addition to his work with and for the disabled, Mr. Long was an active member of the Belleair Rotary Club, a representative of the Paralyzed Veterans of America in Tampa, and a member of the Florida Building Commission in Tallahassee. He was a former member of the board of directors of the Long Center in Clearwater and volunteered as a mentor with Pinellas County schools.

"He was very passionate about everything he did, no matter how big or small," Dionna Reed said. "That's what people remember about him."

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Long is survived by a son, Tevin, of Jacksonville, three brothers, four sisters and a granddaughter, Ryleigh Long, of St. Petersburg.

A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at St. John's Episcopal Church, 1676 S Belcher Road, Clearwater.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions may be made to Clothes to Kids, 1059 N Hercules Ave., Clearwater, FL 33764, or the St. John's Episcopal Church Building Fund.