Tony Garcia was Tampa's "Mr.
USO" for some 40 years, serving personnel from Tampa's
MacDill Air Force Base, Naval Reserve unit and military visitors
with all the comforts of home prior to leaving that post in
Nobody in Tampa knows more people or has more
connections around the country than Tony, always willing to call
in a favor to help a friend in need. Throughout his lifetime
he has been a walking employment agency, often called upon by
people, many of whom he had never met, seeking assistance with
getting jobs. Remembering his own experiences early on, he helped
thousands over the years obtain jobs in the local business community.
A native of Tampa, Garcia grew up during tough
times in West Tampa. He served in the military during World War
II and attended the University of Tampa, where he discovered
his love for promoting show business enterprises.
While at Tampa U., he introduced a couple
that would become an entertainment legend in the Tampa Bay area,
singers Jack and Sally Jenkins. Eventually, they performed on
the Ed Sullivan Show. He also pulled strings at UT for lots of
friends..to get them admitted and to make sure they got their
Mr. USO mastered the art of doing the impossible
in all things he took upon himself to execute. Tony originated
positive thinking and no matter what people have asked him to
do, he's always responded with "No Problem."
In the 50's, he assisted his good friend Bob
Florio with production of a weekly program, Radio Ranch, and
in the 60's helped run the Desert Ranch Hotel on St. Petersburg
Beach. He was later a partner with Florio in other successful
real estate ventures.
He affiliated with the United Service Organization
(USO) in the 50's and in 1967 opened a lounge for servicemen
in downtown Tampa's old Hillsborough Hotel.
During his career, he brought big name entertainers
to Tampa to perform for servicemen and for the Latin American
Fiesta, for which he served as executive director. Among those
he arranged to visit our city on behalf of both the USO and the
Latin Fiesta were: Bob Hope, Desi Arnaz, Jimmy Stewart, Ricardo
Montalban, Cesar Romero, America's Toastmaster General George
Jessel, Vicki Carr, Kirby Grant (Sky King), The Three Stooges,
Spanky MacFarland (of Little Rascals) and many others.
In 1983, Shirley Temple used her telephone
to search him out at all his Tampa hangouts to thank him for
a gift he had sent her. It wasn't unusual for legends like Jimmy
Stewart and Bob Hope to give him a call to chat.
He encouraged new entertainers and gave them
lots of work. During most of his USO career, he used the talents
of the Arena Twins, Jack Espinosa, the Frank Rey Dancers, and
hundreds of area newcomers who went on to make it big in the
business. His USO Christmas Shows were always sold out and often
broadcast live on local television stations.
Garcia has always
shunned publicity, preferring to "fly below radar" in
doing his good work for people. There are lots of "Tonys" around
but only one Tony Garcia and everybody knows when Tony Garcia
takes on a project it gets done right and right away.
Tony retired from the USO in the mid-80's
and concentrated on producing variety shows for various area
charities and taking care of his family. He lived in West Tampa
with his wife, Blanche, and was often seen sipping cafe con leche
at any one of his favorite coffee shops near his home of almost
a half century.
Tony passed away Sunday October 12th, 2003
at St Josephs Hospital after a long illness. His passing
marks the end of an era, an era that will never be matched in