TARPON SPRINGS — During a state marker dedication in downtown Tarpon Springs on June 2, Charles Dudley Salley began his ceremony-closing speech with an anecdote about nearby Cycadia Cemetery.

Salley, a descendant of one of Tarpon’s founding families who went by Dudley, told a story about former City Commissioner George Bobotas, who before moving to New York reportedly used to complain about the lawnmowers chipping the monuments at the historic cemetery on the corner of U.S. 19 and Tarpon Avenue.

“Before he left, George said, ‘I look forward to the day when I return to Tarpon Springs, and the mowers will be chipping at my monument in the cemetery,’” Salley recalled, adding, “I’ll never forget that.”

Unfortunately, one month later, Salley would be laid to rest in his family’s plot at Cycadia, as the former city commissioner and local historian died unexpectedly on July 3, 2021, at the age of 79.

Salley, a doctor and professor and world traveler who achieved a master’s degree in Economics and a Ph.D. in Monetary and Economic History, worked on missile assembly programs for Honeywell and served as an Army artillery lieutenant with the 8th Infantry in Germany.

He was also a member of one of Tarpon’s oldest and most influential families. His grandmother, Amelia Petzold Meres, or Mother Meres, founded the community garden, and his father, Col. Henry McGee Salley, was an engineer and former city manager. Indeed, Salley’s family was responsible for creating or supporting some of the city’s most iconic industries and facilities, including sponge diving and the Sponge Exchange, the Garden Club and the local hospital.

On July 17, dozens of city residents and officials, and out-of-town friends and family, gathered by his graveside for his memorial service.

“It’s a sad day, but because with so many people gathered here it makes it less sad for us that you all are here as a tribute to Dudley,” Salley’s brother, Maj. Hammond Salley of Anaheim, California, said to the sizable crowd that included Mayor Chris Alahouzos and Commissioner Costa Vatikiotis, Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jean Hungiville, former commissioner Robin Saenger and former mayor Anita Protos.

“On the other hand, based on Dudley’s spiritual inclination, he was preparing for this day his entire life.”

Following a brief ceremony that included prayers, salutes and the playing of taps, Hammond Salley invited everyone to the Historic Train Depot Museum downtown, where Dudley spent his Saturday afternoons informing visitors about Tarpon’s history in his new role as president of the historical society.

“My husband went to high school with Dudley, and he always said he was the smartest guy he went to school with,” said Gail Gallagher, an adjunct professor at SPC-Tarpon Springs and longtime friend of Salley’s. “Dudley was fun, and a lot of people didn’t see that side of him. He had a droll sense of humor that not everyone got. I remember asking him, ‘Do people appreciate your sense of humor?’ and he’d say, ‘Only the smart ones!’”

Mayor Alahouzos said Salley served as an excellent ambassador for the city. “On behalf of the people of Tarpon Springs I’d like to express my condolences to the family of Dr. Salley and to the historical society and to all his friends,” he said. “We are very, very grateful for the services Dr. Salley provided to the people of Tarpon Springs.”

Joan Jennings, president of the Public Art Committee and former historical society board member, noted Salley “enjoyed his martinis and he loved to do long distance driving,” often making the trip from Georgia, where he worked for many decades, to and back. “But it was his overwhelming love and knowledge of local history that led him to come to the Train Depot every Saturday,” she said.

Ed Hoffman, a local architect who recently served as the society’s interim president, said Dudley had “a wonderful sense of humor, a quick wit and made a much better president than me! Unfortunately, he just didn’t have much time. But he has deep roots here and hit the ground running; he embraced it and he did a great job. We lost a great and decent man.”

As the crowd began to exit, Maj. Salley led a group of family members to the front of the museum for a group photo in the space that served as Dudley’s weekly classroom right up until his death.

Afterward, he commented on the turnout and how much it meant to the family.

“It’s been fabulous, everybody commenting on how much they loved Dudley and what he did for everybody,” Maj. Salley said, adding it was obvious his brother “meant a lot to this town.”

Steve Johnson, Dudley’s longtime friend who drove down from Georgia, said, “I never heard anyone say they disliked him in the 51 years I knew him. That’s the kind of guy he was.”