BRADENTON -- If your life was displayed in pictures on a 50-foot dome, with all your friends able to see them as they sit together sipping wine in a theater, that could be considered the absolute best, creative, unique finish.
That's exactly how Rick Fawley's life was remembered as nearly 300 of his friends and family attended a celebration -- he would have called it a party, his friends said -- in his honor at the South Florida Museum Sunday.
The party included a slide show from his young adulthood onward projected on the Bishop Planetarium dome by the museum's Howard Hochhalter and Jeff Rodgers.
Someone wisely put two boxes of tissues at the door to the planetarium.
Later, in the courtyard, many of Mr. Fawley's friends and families gave two-minute talks about his life.
The event was a who's who of Manatee County and attendees included plant man Darrell Turner, newspaper publisher Bob Turner, former Manatee County Commissioner Pat Glass, former school board member Harry Kinnan and his wife, Sue, former Manatee Chamber of Commerce leader Neil Spirtas and his wife, counselor Robyn Spirtas, Johnette Isham of Realize Bradenton, present school board members Karen Carpenter and Dave Miner, Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore.
Then there was farmer Mac Carraway, Susie Walters, Dave Wilcox, David Klement...
"You can just say everyone is here," said Marie Pender, who was the unofficial hostess of the event. "Literally, everyone."
Richard Wesley "Rick" Fawley of Bradenton's Fawley Bryant Architects somehow found the time to get to know all these people and hundreds more and still accomplished some remarkable architecture like the new Manatee Technical College building on State Road 70 before he passed away peacefully at his Bradenton home on Sept. 2.
Mr. Fawley's business partner, Mike Bryant, spoke first as the crowd made their way into the courtyard.
"You look around and these are all Rick's friends," Bryant said. "Can you imagine having this many friends? I think that was Rick. That's why everyone is here tonight.
"It is hard to say goodbye to Rick but as difficult as it is, when you talk to people like we have this last hour and all the great stories and the kindness and generosity and the smile and everything people say it makes the night a little easier," Bryant added. "So, this is a celebration of a great guy, a marvelous architect, a great business partner, a selfless servant to this community and he loved and believed in everybody."
Many had heartfelt words prior to the start of the event.
"Rick was one of those people who was easy to get to know," said Mike Pender, Marie's husband and one of Mr. Fawley's best friends. "He was an incredible individual and a great community leader. He had great compassion for people, for our community. We will miss him very much. I miss him every day."
"My dad very much believed in community," said Zach Fawley, Fawley's son. "He built his business, his reputation, his legacy on the idea that all of us were smarter than some of us and that we should have a place to grow and work toward our own goals and all of us can be successful even if we are working on different things."
"Dad was very focused and very driven," Zach Fawley added. "He loved projects. I grew up in lots of houses that we would renovate. He was always passionate that each project was competed as perfectly as possible then we would move on to the next project."
"Rick was supportive of everything for children," Harry Kinnan said. "I will remember him as someone who cared about the community and cared about education, youth and will be long remembered."
"I remember all those paper napkins we would write plans on," Pat Glass said. "We would get together for lunch and dream our dreams."
"Rick was one of my favorite people in the world, said Mary Glass, executive director of the Manatee Education Foundation. "He was the one who hired me for the Manatee Education Foundation and he always laughed that he had to call in from Colorado for the interview.
Said Carol Whitmore: "Rick was a team player. We loved all the great projects he brought to the county. He was always part of it. He wasn't someone who sat back."
"He would in awe of this," Neil Spirtas said. "He would have the biggest smile of anyone here. He would be very moved by all his dear friends here. It's emotional talking about Rick and he'll be missed."
Many at the celebration spoke of the dedication Mr. Fawley had to his wife, Coni, who died on Feb. 6. Mr. Fawley was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1949 and grew up in Englewood, Ohio. He earned a Bachelor's degree from the College of Design Art and Architecture at the University of Cincinnati.
"Rick hated convention," Bryant said of his partner. "He hated rules and he loved sticking his spoon in the pot and stirring things around to ask 'What if?.' He honestly believed that the places he designed, and the service he provided to all of boards and committees her served could make the world better. He was right."
"A memorial in the name of Rick and Coni Fawley has been established through Goodwill Manasota and Fawley Bryant will pledge $50,000 to this fund and the good it will perpetually due in their name," Bryant said. "We invite everyone to participate."
Bryant's admiration for his partner grew much deeper as he watched Fawley care for his wife, who had cancer.
"For over two years, Rick cared for Coni who suffered from cancer and helped her through that end journey of life," Bryant said. "He never left her side. He made sure she had the best care and he spent whatever it took. We were in the conference room together one day and he began to cry and asked, 'What else can I do for her.' I told him he was doing all he could and should be proud of that love. Rick showed us how to really love someone."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.