TAMPA, Fla. -- A prominent Tampa Bay philanthropist has died at the age of 77.
David Straz died in his sleep after a recent fishing trip with close friends. Several people who knew him described him as kind, calm, approachable and generous.
Tampa City Council Member Charlie Miranda said he knew Straz for more than 20 years.
"He had a very big heart and he tried to help people when they needed help," said Miranda.
Many buildings have been named after Straz, including The Straz Center for the Performing Arts.
Straz also financially supported ZooTampa. The zoo's Manatee Critical Care Center is named after Straz. It has allowed the zoo to treat more than 400 manatees later returning most of them to the wild.
"I could call David to have lunch with him and get together with him -- in some way, in many ways -- just to see his guidance, his wisdom. He was an excellent mentor and a good friend," said Joe Couceiro, president and CEO of ZooTampa at Lowry Park.
"David is a good friend not just to the zoo, but I considered him a good friend, personally," added Couceiro.
Couceiro also sent us the following statement regarding Straz's passing:
“On behalf of the board and staff at ZooTampa we extend our heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of David A . Straz Jr. David was a beloved friend of our Zoo family, a dedicated partner in Florida species conservation, and someone I personally respected and admired. His legacy and passion for wildlife will continue to be a pillar for the work we do every day at our David A Straz Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center. We will miss him but always be grateful for David's support and inspiration.”
Miranda said Straz was very approachable and had a big heart.
"If you have a big heart and a big wallet and you want to help the people out then that’s when you become the difference between a regular individual and a great individual," said Miranda.
"It's a loss for the family, number one, and an equal loss for the city of Tampa," added Miranda.