Anthony “Captain Tony” Tarracino, former mayor and “Mayor Emeritus” of the city of Key West, a former charter boat captain, saloon owner and still a visionary character who for years brought world attention to Key West, died peacefully Saturday, Nov. 1, 2008, at the age of 92.
Earlier this year, Mayor Morgan McPherson formally proclaimed Aug. 10 “Captain Tony Day” in Key West, recognizing Tarracino’s contributions to the island city over much of the last half of the 20th century and up to the present.
Tony, who at one time formally was designated the island’s “Sidewalk Mayor,” became the real mayor of the city of Key West, from 1989 to 1991. He later formally was designated as “Mayor Emeritus.”
On July 20, 2003, Capt. Tony Tarracino was awarded the Mel Fisher Lifetime Achievement Award for both his personal lifetime achievements and also for his many years of friendship with, and support of, the late Mel Fisher in his quest for the richest-ever sunken Spanish galleon, the Atocha.
“The Captain,” fishing captain and gritty-action guy, compassionate barkeeper and politician, true romantic, and a salty philosopher, spent hours Saturday with his wife, Marty, and many children when he passed at the intensive care unit of Lower Keys Medical Center.
The son of Italian immigrants, Tony was born Aug. 10, 1916, in Elizabeth, N.J., one of four brothers. An observant Catholic priest there told a very young Anthony that he would one day “belong to the world,” but the growing up was hard.
On the run after being beaten and left for dead in New Jersey, Tony arrived permanently in Key West in 1946 at the age of 30, hitching a ride on a milk truck into history.
For the next 62 years, the island of Key West was Capt. Tony’s “utopia,” the place where he earned his way on the sea and ashore as an icon of the 20th century. He was a friend of the mighty, the needy, and the creative, and was equally drawn to beautiful women and the other men of action whose adventures he sometimes joined.
Tony earned his captain’s hat operating out of the charter fishing docks of Key West, and on dangerous journeys to places as far away as Cuba and Haiti.
Tony’s charter boats over the years were called “Greyhound,” and he loved the action at the local greyhound dog racing track when he couldn’t make it to Hialeah horse racing, or to Las Vegas, Haiti or the Bahamas on gambling trips.
The boy who had paper in the soles of his ill-fitting shoes grew up to treasure his hand-sewn leather ones bought in Las Vegas — along with a new silk suit. He smoked Lucky Strikes until he had to quit.
Tony owned his own saloon on Greene Street for about 25 years until selling it in 1989. Even until recent times, when health allowed, Tarracino still would visit the bar to greet many customers who came back to see him as well as new ones.
Movies were made using Tony’s bar as a setting, and parts of his life as action-based themes. He even played several small or walk-on movie roles.
Always in touch with the younger generations, Tony made “living history” tapes years ago for Florida International University, and more recently with students at Key West High School. He made guest appearances on fishing history at Florida Keys Community College and on local television.
A young musician whom he once encouraged, Jimmy Buffett, remembered his old friend over the years, and aided his successful mayoral campaign in 1989. Later, one of his famous songs would capture the man to whom there was “still so much to be done.”
In recent years, Tony also made medical history, surviving time and again after health challenges including his heart and lungs. Just last week, Tony was able to spend an afternoon in the hospital boardroom signing copies of a new book memorializing his “Life Lessons.” Until he was last hospitalized, Tony had been making notes at home for his own autobiography and remaining under guard of the family dog, Bootsie.
Anthony “Capt. Tony” Tarracino is survived by his wife, Marty, and many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his parents, Luigi and Henrietta, his three brothers, Louis, Sal and Joe, former wives Mimi, Mae and Shirley LeClair and one son, Anthony (Shirley).
Surviving children of Tony with his wife Marty are Josephine M. (Josie) Tarracino of Ashburn, Va., and Tony W. (T.J.) Tarracino Jr., of Key West and new Symrna Beach, Fla.
Other surviving children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are: daughter, Alicia Oropeza (mother Shirley LeClair) and her husband, Todd Oropeza, grandchildren Brooke and Blake Oropeza, all of Key West; daughter, Coral Tarracino (mother Mae Tarracino) of Key West; daughter Toni (“Little Toni”) Tarracino (mother Mae) of Key West, granddaughter Samantha Tarracino of Key West; and two great-grandchildren, Tommy and Alexis Corpion, both of Key West; granddaughter, Alexandra Naranjo of Mesa, Ariz.; son, Louis “Louie” Tarracino (mother, Mimi) of Key West and his wife, Peggy, grandson, Keith Tarracino of Cranford, N.J., great-grandsons James and Joseph Tarracino, both of Cranford, N.J., granddaughter Tonia Knoll and great-grandson Joseph of Caristadt, N.J., son Louis Tarracino Jr. of Key West; daughter Tonia Fulginiti (mother Mimi), of Toms River, N.J., grandchildren John and Michael Fulginiti, also of Toms River; son Richard Tarracino (mother Mimi) of Fort
Lauderdale, Fla., and his wife Connie, grandson Anthony of Miami; son Keith Famie, of Novi, Mich., and grandchildren Alicia and Josh Famie, also of Novi; also surviving, a daughter JoJo, daughter of Naomi, and a son, Larry.
Viewing will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 7, 2008, at the Dean Lopez Funeral Home. A funeral Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 8, 2008, at St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Catholic Church, with Father Baker and Father Tony Mullane officiating. A cremation will follow.
The Dean Lopez Funeral Home is in charge of all arrangements. In lieu of flowers, assistance with family medical and financial expenses can be contributed to “Capt. Tony’s Legend Fund” at Wachovia Bank or to the care of the Tarracino Family, 120 Golf Club Drive, Key West, FL 33040.