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Civic & Community Corner: North Fort Myers icon remembered at ‘happening’

By Staff | Mar 7, 2018

Tom Cronin’s wake was truly a “happening.” It was scheduled to start at 5:30 and I told my friends who were going with me to The Barrel Room in downtown Fort Myers starting at 7 to hear the greatest jazz in town, that we’d leave The Shell Factory after an hour. But once we entered the big tent and saw the thousands of people gathered there, and saw the “production” underway, with videographers galore, a full orchestra, bagpipers, the Lee County Color Guard, the buffet tables with shepherd’s pie and corned beef and cabbage, and more, and the hundreds of people on line for the food, the bars lined with thirsty people, and saw the printed program, I knew that we wouldn’t be out by 6:30. I think that this terrific sendoff had to have cost a hundred grand minimum.

I met Tom about three years ago and knew him as the philanthropic savant who turned a broken-down assembly of buildings into the number one attraction in southwest Florida. He has been a member of the NFM Civic Association for at least 10 years and he not only made a number of suggestions and observations, but he hosted our Renaissance Campaign luncheon, spear-headed our NFM Promotional Brochure and suggested the Civic Association Membership Social held at the Dolphin Room at The Shell Factory, and in each case he “put his money where his mouth was,” pretty much paying for everything at those events.

Before the program began I sought out his beloved wife Pam, thinking that with all the cards and letters she must have received, she probably hadn’t had time to read my letter in which I proposed that the Civic Association conduct an annual search to present “The Tom Cronin Civic Achievement Award” to that NFM resident who has best exemplified Tom’s qualities of public concern, superior effort and civic accomplishments. As I began to express my sympathies Pam interrupted me and said that not only did she love the idea of the annual award, she wanted to help fund it! Naturally, I passed that information onto incoming Civic Association President Doug Dailey, who said that they would do something on an even grander scale than I had proposed.

But I knew nothing about Tom’s “first life” when he lived in Fort Myers, ran for mayor, founded a bank, and a slew of other accomplishments. Nor did I know that he was such a fun-loving prankster, so I was fascinated after a dozen or so of his closest lifelong buddies “roasted “him and told hilarious tales of his exploits. Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman read a Proclamation passed by the Board of County Commissioners in honor of “Tommy,” as his friends called him. And I was particularly touched by the comments of former county commissioner Tammy Hall who described him as her mentor. Never once had modest Tom ever boasted of even knowing her! I met Tammy several times and knew that she was instrumental in creating the North Fort Myers Community Planning Panel and North Fort Myers Design Review Panel, typing some of the creation documents overnight. Of all the public officials I have ever known, Tammy was the best-informed and hardest working. We were about an hour late in getting to our jazz fest because of the length of the program, but none of us cared, being impressed by the grandeur and scope of the wake.

I am pleased to remind all of you that the annual Town Hall Meeting sponsored by the North Fort Myers Community Planning Panel will take place tonight, March 7, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Rooms 102 A and B, NFM Rec Center and will feature Commissioner Brian Hamman; Rachel Busch, the Strategic Projects guru who is at the heart of all of the County’s efforts to revitalize NFM; a presentation by Dennis J. Fullenkamp, local Realtor and developer and Attorney Chuck Bassinait on behalf of “Paradise Isles,” the largest and most expensive development ever proposed in the history of North Fort Myers. They are using the same architects from Sarasota that designed Tarpon Point in Cape Coral and are hoping to develop what used to be Lochmoor Estates and Marina at the western edge of NFM and their plans are to widen Orange Grove Boulevard with two rotaries to handle the traffic. Their grandiose vision is to create a “destination” with a first-class hotel, high rises, condos, restaurants, shops, and single-family residences, while improving the marina and refurbishing the golf course. We sure hope they succeed and we wish them well.

The program will end with an open meeting of the “Communities” of NFM featuring leaders of some of the 55 communities and neighborhoods that we have identified in NFM discussing some common problems, solutions and ideas. In all, it should be an interesting and informative evening and we hope to see you there.

And it is with heavy heart that I announce that I will be moving back to my old stomping grounds in Atlantic City, New Jersey by the end of March. Yes, I know that it is cold and bleak there, and I will miss the beautiful climate and foliage that you enjoy here, the majestic river and its three lighted bridges and the many friends and contacts with whom I have associated over these past 17 years in North Fort Myers, but my wife’s health makes it imperative that I utilize the support network waiting for me there consisting of my three wonderful and caring kids and my four grown grandchildren.

I wish this town well it has a tremendous potential and many wonderful attributes and is truly “the opportunity side of the river.”

And finally, I thank Valarie Harring, editor of The Neighbor for giving me the opportunity to write this column for the last four years and its ace reporter, Chuck Ballaro, for steadfastly covering the major civic happenings in town, and quoting me on those rare occasions when I said anything worth repeating. Each of them has contributed in a major way towards the development of NFM and I will miss them both.

Farewell, bon chance, best of health to all of you, and please do as much as you can to make North Fort Myers a better place in which to live, work and play. My heart and my mind remain here, it is just my body that is leaving, reluctantly.