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Rain can't mar fete for departing mayor


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2001

Most hosts would consider rain a disaster for a party. They are not David Fischer.

"Look what I did for you," he told a delegation from Tampa Bay Water on Thursday night, as they joined the throng that poured into the Renaissance Vinoy Palm Court Ballroom while rain poured down outside.

Fischer, who yields the mayor's office today at noon to Rick Baker, greeted 800 well-wishers who braved the storm at a sold-out fundraiser celebrating his decade at the city's helm. He was delighted with the rain, a good omen during the long drought, and nothing, not even soggy suits and shoes, could dampen the upbeat mood of his friends.

The evening was full of gestures from those who have known him best. The Parks Department rimmed the ballroom with potted live oaks and crepe myrtles, a homage to Fischer's city beautification program, which will be planted in parks in his honor. Al Karnavicius and Sally Wallace had spent the day putting together a photo display called the Dave Fischer Years. Police Chief Goliath Davis and fire Chief Jim Callahan made a special request to present him with a public safety award.

"I'm crazy about Dave," said Mel Sembler, BayWalk developer and one of the keynote speakers. "I'm proud of his accomplishments."

Bill Hough, another speaker, hired Fischer when he first came to St. Petersburg in the 1960s and later co-founded a company with him. "He stayed with me for 13 years, longer than he has with anyone else," Hough said. "Don't you think I should make something of that?"

The most important people in attendance were clearly his family. Margo Fischer, his wife, reminded me that "he's already retired three times, so you never know what he's going to do."

Fischer had said earlier: "I think it would be really neat to be a foreign correspondent. Wouldn't it be something to be in Macedonia right now?"

Sons David Fischer Jr. and Jimmy Fischer and his wife Allison, joined their sister, Susan McGarry, her husband Mark, and mother-in-law Norma Jean McGarry. Susan McGarry said her father was to spend the whole of Saturday with his grandson, Patrick, 6, a rarity during his years as mayor. The two planned to attend the antique auto show, part of the Festival of States, which Fischer has long supported. After all, even though public office ends, a sense of civic duty never dies.

If you know anything about the "color is destiny" philosophy of clothing selection, you understand the horror of a Deep Autumn or Light Summer wearing yellow. Or is it Warm Spring and Clear Winter?

Tell that to the Suncoasters.

Regardless of their individual coloring, and it runs the rainbow, yellow is their color. The Suncoasters are the civic group of several hundred men and women who produce the Festival of States each year, and they haul out their yellow sports coats for command appearances such as the Festival's kickoff cocktail party at Northern Trust on Tuesday. Even though it was 7 p.m. when I arrived, I wished for sunglasses, so resplendent were they in their yellow jackets.

But oops: Not in regulation light blue oxford shirts were Joel Momberg (second year in a row) and Cary Putrino, who said he had only a dark blue shirt, which would have made him look more like Regis or a Soprano than a Suncoaster so he erred on the side of white broadcloth.

Totally out of uniform were David Pilkington, who wore a dark suit because he lives in Clearwater and didn't have time to go home and change, and Carlen Maddux, also dark-suited, who said, "I don't do yellow sports coats."

Even discounting color coding, these outfits were clearly designed with men in mind, though Fay Baynard gamely wore her official threads and looked very preppy in them. Heretically garbed in a dress was Betsy Owens, who redeemed herself with the news to Doug Linder (properly attired) that her Downtown Rotary Club will be giving $30,000 to the new St. Petersburg Family YMCA, of which he is executive director.

New Suncoaster Sharon Clayton Keller was probably put on double-secret probation for wearing a cream and peach pants outfit, but I can't imagine her wearing one of those coats when she has a store full of fashionable clothing at her eponymous shop in the Courtyard.

I thought I had Bill Hough nailed since he wore a blue jacket, but he explained that all Mr. Suns wore them instead of yellow. "So," I asked nearby Peter Armacost (yellow coat), "is Mary Linda (his wife) a Mr. Sun since she's wearing a blue jacket?"

"No, but she's my sun," he gallantly replied.

The party was a jolly respite from the hard work these folks do as volunteers to produce the festival. The food from Orange Blossom suited the mood: martini glasses filled with candy and big chocolate chip cookies. Reigning Mr. Sun Toby Krayer, correct in blue, wants to remind all of you readers that the illuminated night parade is Monday this year, not Tuesday. Suncoaster president Jim Newman added the news that this year's festival has raised a bit more than last year's. Here's a blast from the past: Five St. Petersburg High School classes, 1957 through 1961, are getting together April 21 for a one-night reunion party. Casual dinner and dancing at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort, 501 Fourth Ave. N. Very casual or '50s dress code. 5 p.m. $50. 894-9394.

Looking ahead





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