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IN MEMORIAM | Bob Bartz 1951-2017

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  • | 11:00 a.m. March 3, 2017
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At semi-regular Wednesday breakfast sessions, filled with new and established Manatee County businesspeople, one thing stood out about Bob Bartz.

The longtime leader of the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce, Bartz mostly wanted to talk about anyone but himself, says breakfast attendee Mac Carraway. “He would tell stories,” says Carraway, a Bradenton area agricultural, public policy and business consultant, “but mostly he would listen and ask how you were doing.”

Bartz died Feb. 26 with his wife and son at his side, say chamber officials. He was taken to an area hospital after feeling ill; an official cause of death has not been released. Bartz was 65.

Bartz's unexpected death stunned the chamber and others in the Sarasota-Manatee business community. “We have lost a dear friend, valued colleague and selfless leader,” the chamber says in a statement. “Our grief and confusion at this time are coupled with the deepest sympathy we have for what Bob's family must be feeling.”

Chamber Executive Vice President Jacki Dezelski saw Bartz the day before he died, when she stopped by his house to pick up tickets to an event. Dezelski worked with Bartz for 20 years, and echoing the thoughts of many who knew him, says he was a true gentleman who “lived the mission of a chamber. He was such a good man.”

An Iowa native, Bartz spent roughly four decades working in chambers. He was named president of the Manatee Chamber in 1982, and oversaw the organization during significant growth years. That includes the last decade, where population and the business community shifted from central Bradenton out east, particularly to Lakewood Ranch.

That conflict, between what Manatee County was and its future, was where Bartz shined as a leader, Carraway says. Carraway, chairman of the Manatee Chamber board in 2009, when he was an executive with Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, says Bartz had a unique ability to see both sides and build consensus.

That skill, adds Dezelski, stems from Bartz's passion for a chamber of commerce to be both a resource for business owners and a platform for community conversations. Bartz's favorite quote, according to his chamber bio, is “if not the Chamber, then who?”

Bartz was also well-known within chambers statewide. He's a past winner of the Florida Chamber Professional of the Year Award, and the Manatee Chamber was named Florida Chamber of the Year four times under his watch.

But even as the Manatee Chamber grew in size and prominence, Bartz, says Carraway, never wavered from his belief that a chamber has to be a welcoming home for members. “Any of the good things that have happened to me in Manatee County flow a large extent from the chamber,” says Caraway, who moved to the area in 1992. “And that would not have happened without Bob Bartz.”

Bartz was a devoted sports fan and rooted for the Tampa Rays, Lightning and USF Bulls. He was also devoted to his church, his wife, Vicki, his son Jason, his daughter-in-law Catherine and three grandchildren, say several friends. He had great pride in his grandpa moniker: Opa.

A funeral and celebration of life ceremony was scheduled for March 3.


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