Under Feaster, Largo became city
By ERIC STIRGUS
© St. Petersburg Times,
LARGO -- Thomas "Thom" Feaster's sheer drive and passion all but forced Largo to abandon its rural, small-town roots and become a city now celebrated for its festivals, library and park.
And he seemed to relish this. He recently joked about donning a Davy Crockett hat for the city's centennial celebration in 2005. But that changed Friday (Sept. 14, 2001) when Mr. Feaster, who over two stints as mayor became the city's most powerful figure, died at his home. He was 54.
Mr. Feaster was diagnosed in February with lung cancer when doctors discovered a tumor on one of his lungs, said his brother, George Feaster. Doctors tried to remove it, but surgeons discovered it had grown into the lining of the lung and couldn't be removed. Ever the fighter, Mr. Feaster had taken radiation and chemotherapy.
"It's a loss for the community. It's a loss to the city and its employees," Mr. Feaster's successor, Bob Jackson, said Friday. "To lose a person at such a young age like this is a tragedy."
Born and raised in New Brunswick, N.J., Mr. Feaster moved to Largo in 1965 to join his brother in the funeral home business. As general manager of Moss Feaster Funeral Homes Serenity Gardens Chapel, the company grew to six funeral homes in Largo, Clearwater, Dunedin, Pinellas Park and Palm Harbor.
Mr. Feaster loomed over Largo politics for more than two decades. In 1974, he was elected as a city commissioner. Five years later, at 32, Mr. Feaster became the youngest mayor in the city's history, a remarkable achievement in a city with such a high concentration of seniors.
With sideburns that stretched to his earlobes, the fresh-faced Feaster pledged to bring a "common-sense" approach to city government. A fiscal conservative, Mr. Feaster prided himself for overseeing a population spurt while maintaining quality services for residents.
He decided he needed a break from politics so he opted not to run for re-election in 1982. He returned in 1993 when voters elected him to finish out the term of another mayor who resigned. He left office in April 2000.
"I was elected to do a job," Mr. Feaster said in an emotional 15-minute speech during his last city commission meeting. "And I have done it. I regret nothing and I wouldn't change a single vote."
It was during much of the 1990s, under Feaster's reign, that the city created Largo Central Park, dubbed by some as the playground of Pinellas. The Largo Cultural Center, a local home for the arts, was built. Mr. Feaster led the charge to move its City Hall and police headquarters to the Aegon complex on Highland Avenue, freeing up land that will be used to redevelop downtown.
"He just gradually fit right into the community and became a leader and brought Largo to what it is today," said Mary Heaston, a former Greater Largo Chamber of Commerce official.
His support for aggressive annexation -- despite contentious battles with Pinellas Park and county government -- led to millions in additional property tax money going to the city.
"He was such a neutralizer," said Pinellas Park Mayor Bill Mischler, who went to the same high school as Mr. Feaster in New Jersey. "He wanted it settled and it was admirable how he approached this thing.
"He was a true leader," Mischler said. "He represented the city of Largo admirably."
With a husky voice and stern commitment to his core beliefs, Mr. Feaster could be quite imposing. He defended his fellow commissioners when he believed they were being unfairly criticized. He wouldn't budge when people wanted him to end an annual government-sponsored Mayor's Prayer Breakfast.
City Commissioner Pat Burke remembered how Mr. Feaster pushed her to run for the city commission in 1996. She didn't want to.
"I'm sorry. I'm not going to take that," Mr. Feaster told her.
She ran and she won.
Underneath the political toughness, Mr. Feaster's caring side shined brightly, friends said. On his last day as mayor, he gave his secretary seven yellow roses -- one for each year of his second term as mayor. Heaston said Mr. Feaster was especially tender when his path crossed those of grieving families, regardless of their station in life.
Charles "Chuck" Harper, chair of the city's Finance Advisory Board, said Mr. Feaster's concern for others was displayed when they coached Little League baseball. Mr. Feaster, he said, stressed playing by the rules, wanted every child to play and was as gracious in victory as he was in defeat.
"He always held his head high," said Harper.
City Manager, Steven Stanton, may have summed it up best when he broke the news of Mr. Feaster's death in a memo to city leaders.
"Not only have many of us lost a close friend, the community has lost a great leader. We will feel this loss for a long time to come."
Mr. Feaster is survived by his wife of 32 years, Kathy, son, Chris, daughter, Rebecca, daughter-in-law, Beth, and granddaughter, Jesikah. He is also survived by his brother, George, and sister, Linda Schmidt.
A viewing has been scheduled for Monday from noon-9 p.m. at the Moss Feaster Funeral Homes Serenity Gardens Chapel, 13401 Indian Rocks Road. His funeral has been scheduled on Tuesday at 2 p.m. at Anona United Methodist Church, 13233 Indian Rocks Road.
Thomas Feaster's career highlights
Served as mayor from 1979-1982 and 1993-2000.
Was a city commissioner from 1974-1979.
Named Citizen of the Year by the Greater Largo Chamber of Commerce in 1982.
As a sergeant in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, was awarded a Purple Heart during his service in Vietnam.
President of the Greater Largo Chamber of Commerce in 1984.
Co-authored Largo, then til . . ., which chronicled the city's history.
Member, Largo Area Historical Society.
Former Boy Scouts of America advisory board member.
Board of Trustees, Largo Medical Center.
Ensured that the annual Mayor's Prayer Breakfast became a major city event.
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