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Area aviation businessman and community leader dies at 73

Ron Ciaravella left a mark on many in the Sarasota-Bradenton community.

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  • | 2:58 p.m. July 21, 2021
Courtesy. Ron and Shannon Ciaravella.
Courtesy. Ron and Shannon Ciaravella.
  • Manatee-Sarasota
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Ron Ciaravella was a man of the community. 

For some, he was a long-standing fixture in Sarasota’s aviation circles, known and respected by countless professionals. For others, he was a businessman of strong convictions who would never waver in doing what he felt was right. To a lucky few, he was a good friend and mentor. 

If nothing else, people knew who Ciaravella was. That’s just the kind of person he was around town.

Ciaravella died July 19. He was 73.

“He was this larger-than-life personality,” says David Cattin, president of Cirrus Aviation. “A once in a lifetime kind of guy.”

Ciaravella grew up and attended school in Tampa before becoming a flight instructor at the Dolphin Aviation commerce center at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, eventually buying the fixed-base operation in 1979 and running it himself.  What started as Ciaravella’s business overseeing several functions and services eventually transitioned into a mall-like business in which Ciaravella leased space for other air businesses in the Sarasota community.

Many members of Sarasota’s local flight community had some contact with Ciaravella — many others learned to fly at his center.  

Cattin met Ciravella 32 years ago as a flight student and eventually formed a friendship with the owner. He and Cirrus Aviation head of training Keith Taylor had considered Ciaravella a mentor in the business— he had a knack for reading people and a clarity in business the duo were happy to learn from, they say.

Area businessman and former Sarasota County Commissioner Paul Caragiulo met Ciaravella nearly 20 years ago while studying for his pilot’s license at Dolphin Aviation.

He says Ciaravella had a very keen sense of altruism and was happy to support local figures. While he had a large, animated personality that could turn heads, he rarely would let himself become the center of attention when it came to philanthropy. He provided scholarships to Sarasota college students each year not out of ego but to support future innovators and business leaders.

“He did not do things to attract attention to himself,” Caragiulo says. “His civic attention, his care and concern, and his constant interaction (with the community) was very important.”

Ciaravella served on the boards of the Mote Marine Aquarium and the Tiger Bay Club. He often hosted fundraisers at his aviation center for a number of organizations and figures including local politicians such as U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, and State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota. In 2020, when then Vice President Mike Pence came to town for a reception at Buchanan's Longboat Key home, Air Force 2 parked at Dolphin Aviation's facilities. Pence posed for photos with Sarasota Military Academy students there. 

Gruters, chair of the Republican Party of Florida, also remembers Ciaravella as a larger-than-life figure always ready to help political candidates, either with a contribution or providing his venue for an event. “He was an absolute superstar and will be sorely missed,” Gruters said. “The community has lost an incredible person.”

Ciaravella had strong opinions on several topics, too, and he wasn’t afraid to make them known if he trusted someone.

Medallion Home founder Carlos Beruff says he always liked Ciaravella's consistency of opinion. The duo would often meet for lunch and Ciaravella would tell him it wasn’t their responsibility to convince others of their values, but only to live by them. Ciaravella made sure to live by those principles and support the city he loved through his very last days. 

“He was a good guy who worked hard and made something of himself,” Beruff says. “I can't believe I'm not going to have lunch with him anymore."

Ciaravella is survived by his wife Shannon and children Chad and Lisa. Cattin says there are no current plans for a service.


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