It's the question I get asked the most in terms of my writing career.
“When will you be done writing Dick Greco's biography?”
And my answer remains the same today as it has for years, “Some day.”
We have a draft completed. At this point, it is just a matter of making the time to clean it up and then find a publisher. The former duty is the hard part. Despite turning 85 years old this weekend, Greco is as busy today as when he was mayor. He never sits still. Trying to find the time to edit the book is difficult for him.
And his friends are getting antsy.
“Finish the book already,” they say to me. “We want to know what makes Dick Greco tick.”
Well, you don't need to read the entire book to learn the answer to that.
In honor of Greco's 85th birthday, following is an excerpt from the biography that may never be completed.
“Everything in life was about me from the day I was born. My parents wanted me to have everything and be happy. They spent their entire life catering to anything I might need and want. They made sure I got everything they never had.” — Dick Greco
Sept. 14, 1933
A woman's screams echo throughout the quiet suburban Tampa community known as Seminole Heights. Neighbors sit stoically on the porches of their brick homes as the screams blow past them, unnerving the wildlife living on the acres of open land located just beyond the suburb.
As though responding to the shriek, a fish leaps from a small pond in the backyard of the home from which the screams emanate, 937 Shadowlawn Ave.
A handsome Italian man, three inches shy of six feet, nervously limps back and forth in the sun room of the three-bedroom home. He runs his right hand through his thick blond hair and then rubs his blue eyes. When he opens them again, he sighs and stares at his left hand and leg, both of which are plagued with birth defects. His left leg is shorter than his right, which causes the limp, and his left hand is permanently curled up like a claw due to slight paralysis in that arm.
He has never allowed these physical shortcomings to keep him from achieving his goals. Instead, they have inspired him, made him determined to become successful so that no one ever looked at him with pity. He owns a prosperous hardware store in Tampa's immigrant community of Ybor City and became one of the first immigrants who could afford to leave that section of Tampa to purchase a home in the largely white community of Seminole Heights.
Heck, he hasn't even allowed his paralysis to keep him from a lifelong passion for hunting. Instead, he designed a gun that worked around his handicap by allowing him to pump the shotgun by simply yanking his arm back, thanks to a metal strap attached to the gun and his wrist.
Still, he fears his first child will inherit his defects. His sleep has been plagued by nightmares in which he excitedly rushes to meet his newborn, only to see the baby's left arm dangling from paralysis. As his wife screams in pain, pushing their first child from her womb, his nightmare could soon become a reality.
His wife's shrieks cease, and moments later are replaced by the cries of a baby. The midwife opens the door to the sun room and invites him to meet the newborn in the bedroom. His head spins, the walls close in around him, and his legs feel like he is wearing concrete shoes as he limps down the long hallway. When he enters, he keeps his eyes fixed firmly on the floor for 30 seconds or so, too afraid to look up. Gathering his courage, he slowly raises his eyes but quickly bypasses the baby, instead choosing to look first at his wife. Her eyes are wide open, dancing with happiness, and her smile is as bright as a Florida day. The baby is fine.
He looks at his newborn son and takes a deep breath in relief as he sees both arms and legs waving wildly about. Holding back his tears, the only thing he can think to say is, “He is perfect.”
Hours later, as Domenico “Dick” Greco sits on his porch and shakes the hands of neighbors who stop by to congratulate him, he decides that his first child will also be his last. His son, Dick Greco, was indeed perfect in his eyes, born without the physical limitations that plagued his own life, and he didn't want to tempt fate with a second child. When he tells his wife, Evelyn, of his decision the morning after the baby's birth, she agrees. They then both decided to give their perfect newborn son the perfect life.
Dick Greco was indeed provided with all the comforts he could want. His blue-collar parents worked hard to provide him with clothes, toys, opportunities and, most importantly, with love. His dozen or so aunts were always at his house, cooing over him, kissing him, telling him how perfect he was. His grandparents on his mother's side lived around the corner, and his grandfather on his father's side lived with him, and they all spoiled him with attention as only grandparents can.
And as he grew older, displays of affection became as natural to Greco as breathing. He greeted everyone — family and friends — with hugs and kisses, and he seemed to possess a never-ending supply of love, joy and excitement for life to share with the world, the main attributes that enabled him to accomplish his feats as mayor of Tampa.
Paul Guzzo is a freelance journalist who specializes in Tampa history. He wrote the documentary on Tampa gangster Charlie Wall and the book “The Dark Side of Sunshine,” which chronicles some of the city's most infamous people and events of the past century.