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Lee County mourns loss of Commissioner Larry Kiker

By Staff | Apr 23, 2019

Passionate. Resolute. Focused. And a man who accomplished much for the community he loved. Fort Myers Beach remembered one of its own Tuesday as word of the death of Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker, former town mayor, spread through the community.

Kiker was 67. He passed at Hope Hospice Tuesday morning following a series of treatments for cancer.

His roots on the Beach run deep.

Kiker, who earned an MBA from Northeastern University in Boston, left the corporate world to move to Fort Myers Beach where he operated a charter service for 10 years as a licensed U.S. Coast Guard captain and dive master.

In that role, he rapidly became immersed in the town.

“I guess I feel like those of us who live on the Beach knew Larry in a very personal way. He was a fishing captain and most of us got to know him from his column in your paper,” said Fort Myers Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda when contacted by phone Tuesday. “And he loved it. It was a passion for him. But I think that every endeavor Larry had was a passion. He was strong willed and determined and razor focused when he had a project at hand.”

Those attributes brought to first the Fort Myers Beach Town Council, and then the Lee County Board of County Commissioners, benefited Beach residents greatly, she said.

“For Fort Myers Beach residents, that was a tremendous benefit because his work for us on the Beach and at the county level will be a tremendous legacy,” Cereceda said. “I don’t think I’ll ever drive down Estero Boulevard again without being grateful he was able to move it to a point of actual reality.

“It was talked about and talked about for many, many years and it was actually Larry that made it happen. I am sure there are too many projects to list, but those of us that had the opportunity to work with him know that he was a force to be reckoned with.”

She paused.

“I’ll miss him, everyone will miss him,” she said, breaking into tears. “I hope that he knew the impact that he had, I really do.”

Kiker served two terms as a member of the Fort Myers Town Council, resigning in 2012 to run for the District 3 County Commission seat.

He was elected to the Fort Myers Beach Town Council in 2007, after serving one year on the Local Planning Agency. He served on Council for six years, five of them as mayor.

Accomplishments he listed when he announced his County Commission bid included completion of, or progress on, the North Estero Boulevard Drainage Improvement Project; getting the five-year plan for Estero Boulevard in the Lee County Capital Improvement Plan; Crescent Beach Family Park; modified approach to dunes and vegetation after Beach re-nourishment; the Town sign ordinance; deciding whether to build a Town Hall; the Beach water system; codification of Town ordinances; storm water system; Mound House; Newton Park; Bay Oaks acquisition; and the hiring a new town manager.

Kiker announced his intention to run for County Commission at his 60th birthday party at Junkanoo on the Beach.

He then ran on a campaign that called for balancing the county budget, investing in economic development and allowing local businesses to thrive while getting tourism back to basics, defeating incumbent Ray Judah in the Republican primary and well-known Beach activist Charlie Whitehead in the General Election.

Kiker secured a second term in 2016.

He served as chair of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners twice, first in 2014 and again beginning in November 2018.

“Under his leadership, he restructured the county’s budget process and began holding twice-a-month workshops to discuss and develop policy on important issues facing the people of Lee County,” the release from the county states in listing his accomplishments.

Kiker also received credit for one of Fort Myers Beach’s largest public infrastructure projects.

“Kiker also spearheaded the effort to reconstruct the entire length of Estero Boulevard on Fort Myers Beach,” the release states.

Although Kiker and his wife of 14 years, Paula, had moved off island to Fort Myers, they remained an integral part of the Beach business community as owners of Lahaina Realty.

Among his commendations, the county lists the Outstanding Citizen Award from the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce in 2009 and the Florida Association of Counties’ Presidential Advocacy Award in 2014.

“He will be remembered for seeking innovative and meaningful solutions to the challenges his community faced, working to make the quality of life better for the people he served,” the county release states.

Regarding his passing, each Lee County Commissioner issued a short prepared statement Tuesday.

Like Cereceda, Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass remarked on Kiker’s passion.

“Larry was passionate about serving his community and devoted his heart and soul to the county commission,” Pendergrass said. “But above all he was a great friend and I am honored to have had the opportunity to serve with him over the last seven years. He will truly be missed, but never forgotten.”

Vice Chairman Brian Hamman continued that theme.

“It’s rare in the world of politics to find a friend like Larry Kiker,” Hamman said. “On top of his passionate service for Lee County, he had an amazing sense of humor and always delivered the right quip with the perfect timing. We will miss our Chairman and will work to honor his legacy.”

Under it all was a sense of dedication, Commissioner John Manning said.

“What I will always remember about Larry was his compassion and caring about all of the issues we face on an almost daily basis,” he said. “His constituents were well served by him and were well represented. I will miss his analytical style of looking for answers.”

Commissioner Frank Mann marked his strong will and his enjoyment of a battle engaged.

“I never met a public official who seemed to enjoy the political arena more than Larry,” Mann said. “And he played skillfully in that arena. He was a strong and effective advocate for whatever battle he was fighting. I will miss him on the commission.”

Cape Coral officials offered condolences to his family.

“It is with great sadness I learned of my friend Commissioner Larry Kiker’s death this morning,” said Cape Coral Councilmember David Stokes. “Commissioner Kiker loved Lee County and worked very hard for years in local government to improve Lee County. I will always remember Commissioner Kiker’s sense of humor and enjoyed spending time with him at different events. My thoughts and prayers are with the Kiker family this morning.”

The Town of Fort Myers Beach issued a formal statement for Kiker, “Commissioner, Mayor, Captain, Friend.”

“Larry Kiker was many things to many people but to the Town of Fort Myers Beach he will always be remembered as a fearless leader, an innovative thinker and someone who left his mark on every project he was involved with. He was a force to be reckoned with,” Cereceda said in the official statement.

“Commissioner Kiker leaves an enormous hole in the political world of Lee County and in the lives of those of us who called him a friend. Our thoughts and prayers are with his beloved wife, Paula. His footprints are on the main street of our Town and in our hearts forever.”

Service information was pending at press time.

Because Kiker had filled more than half of his current term, a special election to fill the now-vacant seat is not an option.

The Lee County Attorney’s Office will notify the Governor’s Office by letter and Gov. Ron DeSantis will appoint a successor to fill the remainder of Kiker’s term.

The appointed replacement need not live in District 3 but, should he or she seek to be elected when the term is up in 2020, that person would be required to reside in the district to run.

In the past, the Governor’s Office has accepted applications when a vacancy occurs. There is no statutory timeline for filling the seat.

Editor’s note: The Breeze has two sister papers on Fort Myers Beach – the Fort Myers Beach Observer and the Beach Bulletin. It was for these papers that Mr. Kiker previously provided a column.