BELLEAIR — Gary H. Katica, the longest-serving mayor in Belleair history, died Sunday, March 7, 2021, surrounded by loved ones at his home.
Katica was elected to the Belleair Town Commission in 2000 and elected mayor in 2007, a position he retained until his passing.
He announced he had Parkinson’s disease in January 2020. He attended some commission meetings remotely via Zoom after the outbreak of COVID-19 limited in-person participation, but had not participated remotely since October.
“I will miss him dearly,” Town Manager JP Murphy told Tampa Bay Newspapers. “My whole career here in Belleair (16 years) Gary was always on the commission. He always held a deep empathy for people and cared so much about this little town. He always knew how to let people know how important they were and that their happiness mattered to him. That's something I'll always take with me. That and, ‘Kid, life is a series of adjustments. You find a way to get through it.’
Katica, 87, was born in Newark, New Jersey, and raised in Queens, New York. From 1952 to 1956, he served in the United States Air Force as a control tower operator during the Korean War, and in 1957, he graduated from the Federal Air Traffic Academy in Oklahoma City and became an air traffic controller in the New York Center.
From 1957 to 1962, Katica attended C.W. Post College of Long Island University on a basketball scholarship.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Katica served as a member of the Planning and Zoning Board and the Parks Commission for Port Jefferson, New York, and was later also elected as a trustee and appointed police commissioner.
In 1979, Katica, his wife, Mary, and their two children Harry and Irene moved to Clearwater, and in 1984, to Belleair.
During his tenure, Katica led the town of Belleair through pivotal moments, such as the renovation of the historic Belleview Biltmore Hotel to the Belleview Inn, the retention of the Belleair Police Department, and the construction of the Dimmitt Community Center. He served on the Belleair Civic Association and the town's Finance and Planning and Zoning boards.
Katica was also well-known for his daily support of the Belleair community through his regular walks in Belleair, his continual advocacy for infrastructure improvements, his efforts to build partnerships and relationships with neighboring cities, his support of sports leagues and special events, his commitment to supporting town staff, and his long-standing role as Santa Claus each Christmas.
Katica's leadership inspired countless others to serve Belleair with diligence and compassion, which was memorialized on his birthday this year. On Jan. 28, dubbed "Mayor Gary H. Katica Day" by the Town Commission, the Belleair community came together for a special, socially distanced celebration. Staff, officials, and residents were provided commemorative T-shirts and asked to share their special memories and words of gratitude in what culminated in a YouTube video and a scrapbook for the mayor.
Mayor Katica will be remembered for his years of service but also for the kindness, compassion, and love he shared with the world, a press release from the town stated. He is survived by his wife, Mary, and son Harry, and was preceded by his daughter, Irene.
Funeral services are currently being arranged by the family. Additional information will be provided at www.hubbellfuneralhome.com/obituaries/obituary-listings as it becomes available.