MANATEE -- Manatee County has lost one of its top-echelon community leaders.
Rick Fawley, a co-founder and partner in the Lakewood Ranch-based architecture firm Fawley Bryant-Architecture, Interiors and Design, was found dead at his home Wednesday, said his business partner Mike Bryant. He was 65.
Bryant said Mr. Fawley had been ill the past couple days and, when attempts to reach him were unsuccessful, the firm sent someone to check on his well-being.
The cause of his death was unknown, Bryant said.
"Rick was a big face of this community. He was everybody's friend," Bryant said. "He loved this area and he worked very hard to improve it. I don't think I've ever seen anybody work so hard for a place that he really loved."
According to Bradenton Herald archives, Mr. Fawley moved from Vermont to Bradenton in 1983 to openan architectural firm. Over a beer at the Lost Kangaroo Pub on Old Main Street, he and Bryant decided to establish one together.
The firm celebrated its 20th anniversary in the community in 2014.
Mr. Fawley served as president of the firm behind some of the area's most iconic buildings, including the Manatee County Judicial Center in Bradenton, Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine School of Dental Medicine in Lakewood Ranch and the redesign and renovation of McKechnie Field.
A graduate of the Leadership Manatee Program, Mr. Fawley sat on numerous committees and boards in the community, including Goodwill Industries and the Manatee Education Foundation. He was also a member of Leadership Florida's Class XXVI.
Just last year, Mr. Fawley received the Kent C. Schulz Distinguished Alumni Award, which is Leadership Manatee's top alumni recognition.
This past February, Mr. Fawley lost his wife of nearly 20 years, Coni Fawley. They married Sept. 28, 1995, on Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park.
"I don't think I've ever seen anybody take care and love someone like he loved his wife," Bryant said, his voice breaking. "He was a remarkable man. ... a remarkable man."
John Barnott, director of building and development services for Manatee County, said Mr. Fawley was a brilliant architect. The men were friends and colleagues, having worked together for at least a decade.
"I think one of the biggest things that I always took away from Rick is that he was one of the biggest stewards of the community that we had," Barnott said. "He gave so much to this town and this county. People don't realize how much he did."
Barnott said he last saw Mr. Fawley last Friday at a presentation by the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. Mr. Fawley sat beside Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston having a good time, Barnott recalled.
"He looked OK to me on Friday," Barnott said. "This is a major loss to our community. ... and a major loss of a very dear friend of mine."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.