Safety Harbor 'legend' dies after decades of service

Published May 10, 2007

SAFETY HARBOR - Former constable, chief of police, city commissioner and two-term mayor Homer Claude Rigsby died Tuesday night May 8, 2007 at Hospice House Woodside in Pinellas Park.

He was 82.

With him to the very end of his battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia was his twin brother, Herman Clyde Rigsby.

"We stuck together through everything, " Clyde Rigsby said Wednesday. "When he got in a fight, I would get right in there with him."

In more than half a century of public service, Mr. Rigsby left his mark all over town - so much so that authorities will close downtown streets Monday so that a procession can carry his casket past City Hall and the Rigsby Recreation Center.

"He was a legend, " Mayor Andy Steingold said. "He was all heart. He was the most civic-minded citizen in Safety Harbor. Here he was last week on his deathbed and he picked up the phone to call me to talk about politics."

Claude and Clyde Rigsby were born an hour apart on March 6, 1925 in a house at 43 Seventh Ave. N, which still stands today.

Clyde Rigsby said the two went to elementary school barefoot. When the 18-year-old twins graduated from Clearwater High School in 1942, they joined the Navy and served in a dive bomber squadron during World War II.

He said the Navy didn't want them to fight together and eventually split them up.

They were deployed to the Pacific where Mr. Rigsby served in an amphibious unit that landed in Japan after the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Both made it home unhurt.

"We were just lucky, " Clyde Rigsby said.

When he came back, Mr. Rigsby played professional baseball for the Orlando Senators and Emporia Virginia teams.

Though he later had a career in police work, one of Mr. Rigsby's first contacts with the law came in 1946, when he was arrested after a scuffle at a restaurant.

He worked for the Clearwater Police Department and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department checking schools for vandals at night.

"He didn't arrest many people, " Clyde Rigsby said. "When the young people would have too much to drink, he would take them home or call their wives, not give them a ticket or anything. He looked after them."

Mr. Rigsby served on the City Commission for 10 years and as mayor for eight years throughout the 1970s and early 1980s.

In 2006, he was appointed interim commissioner, filling in for an elected official who had to leave her post for family reasons.

He stepped down for the last time on March 20.

"Claude goes down as the greatest mayor Safety Harbor ever had, " said former City Commissioner Neil Brickfield. "Everything we enjoy in Safety Harbor today is due to the decisions Claude and his fellow commissioners made in the 1970s and 1980s."

He said in the early days Mr. Rigsby fought off an attempt by the city of Clearwater to annex Safety Harbor. Later he oversaw the construction of City Hall.

Mr. Rigsby was as famous in town for his hot political battles as he was for his garden filled with pink azaleas.

"They were gorgeous, " said his niece Julie Hoyt, 52.

She said Mr. Rigsby also enjoyed attending family reunions at his vacation house in Tennessee.

In addition to this twin brother, Mr. Rigsby is survived by his wife of 56 years, Joanne Rigsby, of Safety Harbor, a son, James Rigsby of Elfers, two daughters, Linda Schroeder of Safety Harbor and Diane Fowler of Brooksville, eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. Sylvan Abbey Memorial Park and Funeral Home is handling arrangements.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or schulte@sptimes.com.

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Funeral arrangements

A funeral for Claude Rigsby will be at 1 p.m. Monday at First Baptist Church of Safety Harbor, 525 14th Ave. S. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, contributions should go toward the Safety Harbor Library expansion fund, 101 Second St. N. For information, call (727) 724-1525.