Robert Paul “Bob” Bartz, president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce since 1982, died Sunday. He was 65.
His wife Vicki and son Jason were at his side at a local hospital when he passed away. Even though he had some health issues, Mr. Bartz’s death came as a shock.
Friend and colleagues struggled Monday with their loss.
“He was compassionate, committed, a consensus builder, selfless, and he always gave 110 percent,” said Jacki Dezelski, the Chamber’s executive vice president. “He so believed in the mission of the Chamber and what the Chamber through the members could accomplish. He was such a good man.”
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Grief counselors from the Manatee School District were at the Chamber office on Monday to assist staff members and others who were trying to process the loss. Mr. Bartz helped build the Chamber membership to 2,100 members, the largest in the region. Under his leadership, the Manatee Chamber was named Florida Chamber of the Year four times, and in 2007 was named national Chamber of Commerce.
“It is shocking. It is so unexpected,” Dezelski said.
Mac Carraway, a former chairman of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce board, called Mr. Bartz one of Manatee County’s great leaders.
“It’s hard to imagine life without him,” Carraway said. “Above all else, Bob was a real gentleman, one of the true gentlemen that I’ve known, a true statesman. He was always positive and always constructive. His long tenure is an incredible legacy.”
Bob Turner, president and publisher of the Bradenton Herald, was a long-time friend of Mr. Bartz.
“The thing about Bob is that he did everything so well,” Turner said. “He was always so positive and had good things to say about everyone.
“Bob was really the trifecta: a terrific businessman, a community supporter, and the consummate family man. He was a great friend to so many people in the community. It is a huge loss for his family and the community.”
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, issued a statement on Mr. Bartz’s death on Monday.
“Bob’s leadership and positive contributions to our community span decades. In that time, he made Manatee County a better place for business, for residents and for visitors. Bob exemplified the spirit of public service and will be missed,” Buchanan said.
Tom Danahy, who served as chairman of the Chamber board in 2007 when Manatee was named national chamber of the year, said he was shocked and saddened to hear the news of Mr. Bartz’s passing.
“He was an incredibly great guy. I very much appreciated the opportunity to work closely with him for a few years,” Danahy said. “The community is not going to be the same without him. He had a great way of pulling people together.”
During his 35-year tenure at the Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Bartz spearheaded creation of the Manatee Leadership program, and he helped guide 25 chamber committees and hundreds of volunteers working on a variety of community issues.
“If not the Manatee Chamber, who?” Mr. Bartz would ask about who could — and would — address a variety of community needs.
The State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota community issued a statement Monday on the passing of Mr. Bartz: “As president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, Bob was an advocate for education and a strong supporter of the college. He made immeasurable contributions to our region and his leadership and friendship will be greatly missed. At this time our thoughts and prayers go to his family.”
Bradenton attorney Cliff Walters had known Mr. Bartz since the 1980s, when he moved to Manatee County, and said there is a reason that educators had so much respect for the Chamber leader.
“Without an educated workforce and a clean environment, he recognized a strong business community could not be sustained,” Walters said. “He worked with people so that the community developed a vision for the betterment of everyone. He was everyone’s friend. He sincerely cared for his community, his family and his friends. It’s a dark day in Bradenton with the loss of Bob Bartz.”
John Rice, who served as chairman of the Chamber board in 2008, said Mr. Bartz was always on the side of right, and that he was a Rock of Gibraltar for Manatee County.
“He was a constant advocate for business. He was working on some issue 24/7 to help the community and other people. From an ethical standpoint, he was impeccable,” Rice said. “I used him as a sounding board on many occasions. He was just an incredible individual and very much a mentor.”
In a statement to its members, the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance said, “Our region lost a gifted leader yesterday – Bob Bartz, president of the Manatee Chamber. Bob was a steadfast leader of the Chamber for 35 years and was a true champion of Manatee County and the businesses within it. We are deeply saddened by this news and our hearts go out to his family and the Manatee Chamber board and staff.”
Mr. Bartz worked right up to the end and was in the office Friday. His final Focus on Manatee column appeared in Monday’s Bradenton Herald.
Mr. Bartz was born Aug. 13, 1951, in Council Bluffs, Iowa. He was a lifelong baseball fan and played the sport in high school. He attended the University of South Dakota, graduating in 1971 with a double major in communications and public relations.
He started his career with the S.S. Kresge Co. and later moved to the Kmart Division.
His first chamber of commerce job was as president in Grinell, Iowa. A couple of years later, he became vice president and general manager of a chamber of commerce in Hollywood, Fla. He moved to Bradenton when he was named Chamber president in 1982.
“He has had several opportunities to go elsewhere but just loved it here so much,” Vicki Bartz said of her husband’s long tenure in Manatee County. “It’s just a special community.”
Bob Bartz is survived by his wife Vicki, son Jason, daughter-in-law Catherine, granddaughters Julianna, Adelyn and Jocelyn, and a sister, Barbara Nowling of Muscastine, Iowa.
He enjoyed youth sports, as well as high school, college, and Rays and Pirates baseball, and USF Bulls football. He was a doting grandfather to his granddaughters, who called him “Opa.” He loved kayaking and spending time in the mountains of Franklin, N.C. Mr. Bartz was a member of the Bradenton Kiwanis Club since 1982 and served on many local boards.
Visitation will be 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday at Brown & Sons Funeral Home, 604 43rd St. W.
Funeral service will be 1 p.m. Friday at Saints Peter & Paul the Apostles Catholic Church, 2850 75th St. W., Bradenton, followed by a celebration of life at 2:30 p.m. at Bradenton Country Club, 4646 9th Ave. W.