After those businesses migrated to the suburbs, the banker and real estate agent decided to do something about it.
Twenty-five years ago, DeLaVergne helped organize a group that became the Tampa Downtown Partnership to boost business in the metropolitan area east of the Hillsborough River and south of the interstate. The payoff was a resurgent downtown, with museums and parks, a sports arena and convention center, condominiums and skyscrapers.
The Tampa native died Friday, succumbing to lung cancer at age 68. He was diagnosed in February, said his wife of nearly 39 years, Robin Wright DeLaVergne.
“Growing up in Tampa, there was a very vibrant downtown,” she said. “He was very sorry when that kind of fell apart and moved to the suburbs. He felt very strongly that a strong downtown was important to a city.”
DeLaVergne spent all his life in Tampa, except when he was at Florida State University, where he earned a degree in psychology, and when he was in the U.S. Air Force, where he reached the rank of captain.
“He was born right here at Tampa General Hospital,” his wife said Sunday. “He lived in Tampa all of his life.”
DeLaVergne earned a master’s of business administration at the University of Tampa and worked for Tampa Electric before becoming a commercial banker and commercial real estate agent, his wife said.
“He was a very loving, giving man, very humble,” she said. “He liked to help people who needed help. He loved real estate.”
DeLaVergne held a real estate broker’s license for more than 30 years.
Fair deals for buyers and sellers was what he mostly sought to achieve — a “good and fair deal to both sides, no matter what,” DeLaVergne’s wife said. Sometimes, he worked without charging a fee.
For DeLaVergne, though, life was more than business.
DeLaVergne was an avid boater and even crewed on a racing sailboat at one time. He was commodore of the Tampa Yacht and Country Club and served as captain and king of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla.
“He just liked to get out on the water,” said his widow, who is the executive director of the Tampa General Hospital Foundation.
DeLaVergne was an Eagle Scout and graduate of H.B. Plant High School, where he was president of the senior class. At Florida State, he was president of the Kappa Alpha Order.
He was active in many civic organizations and served as president of the Exchange Club, the Merrymakers Club and the University Club.
For the past six years, DeLaVergne had worked with his son, John Thompson DeLaVergne, providing commercial real estate services at DeLaVergne and Company.
But DeLaVergne’s efforts to organize business and government leaders to promote downtown development likely will be remembered as his most significant contribution to his hometown.
“He was a fabulous storyteller, a good chronicler of growing up in Tampa,” said Christine Burdick, the president of the Tampa Downtown Partnership. “He told the funniest stories of being a boy and things they’d do and the way Tampa was.”
In the early 1980s, DeLaVergne sat on the governmental downtown development authority, which was eventually disbanded.
But business owners and other downtown boosters continued to push for an advocate and formed the Tampa Downtown Partnership in 1986, Burdick said.
DeLaVergne served on the search committee that hired Burdick and had stayed in touch, even though he was no longer an active member of the partnership.
“He was the consummate gentleman, and he loved jokes,” she said. “He had the brightest look of the world. He was tremendously respectful of people.”
A service is scheduled at 4 p.m. Tuesday at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 501 N. Marion St. The family will receive friends beginning at 3 p.m. in the parish hall.
©2012 the Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Fla.)
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