Boca Grande bridge tender and toll worker Bill Pavia led quite an interesting life before deciding to make the move from Massachusetts to Florida four years ago.
He grew up in Milford, Mass. with three brothers and three sisters. Attending parochial school in an Italian Catholic neighborhood, he recalls that everyone seemed to know everyone in the town.
His parents had a cottage in Cape Cod, and the family would spend the summer weekends there.
After graduating from high school, he majored in business at Burdette College in Boston. After he finished school, he served in the Army National Guard for more than seven years and then became a police officer in Bellingham, Mass., where he worked for nearly 20 years.
“Honestly, the state police academy training was harder than the military training,” Bill said. “We had physical drills at 7 a.m. and classes at 7 p.m. every night. We lived on the campus Monday through Friday for 12 weeks.”
He said the worst kinds of calls he took as a police officer were the domestic disturbances.
“Those were always the biggest challenges, because you never knew what you were going to be walking into,” he said. “And the fatalities were always hard to deal with, because you never forget them.”
While working as a police officer, he met his first wife, Gillian, who was from Nottingham, England.
“One morning I was working and I pulled my police cruiser in front of a garage, and this cute redhead pulled up in a convertible and told me to move my bloody cruiser,” Bill recalled with a laugh. “That shocked me and I was hooked.”
Bill and Gillian were married for 37 years. “She had a tough battle with Alzheimer’s, and it progressed very fast, and unfortunately she died five years ago,” Bill said.
Bill has a son, Keith William, 43, who lives in Massachusetts. He also has two daughters: Gillian, 41, and Debra, 50. Gillian lives up north and Debra lives in El Jobean. Bill has seven grandchildren. His mother, Dora, will be turning 93 in September. “She doesn’t stop. She is still sharp as a tack. She does puzzles every single day, and last year she made all the raviolis for our big Easter family dinner. I’m going up to Virginia to celebrate her birthday next month,” Bill said.
After retiring from the police force, Bill started up a sign company.
“We made everything from neon to awnings and commercial signs. We had about 20 employees. We worked with companies from all around the country. We did really well,” he said.
He sold that business when he was 62 so he could stay home and care for Gillian.
Bill met his current wife, Dianne, in Massachusetts. They were both members of the Elks Club, and they’d been friends for years.
“After Gillian died, Dianne and I stayed friends and a while later we started dating. We’ve been married for a year-and-a-half. We get along great. She’s a real sweetheart, and she takes good care of me,” Bill said.
Bill and Dianne came to Florida a few years ago to visit her twin sister, Donna, who also lives in Rotonda. They really liked the area and decided to move here permanently three years ago.
“I never thought I would leave Massachusetts, and then when I was here I realized I really didn’t want to be up there in the cold anymore,” Bill said. Dianne works at Hudson’s Grocery on the island. Donna works there as well.
Bill and Dianne enjoy an active social life, and they keep very busy with the Moose and Elks clubs. Dianne is an officer at The Women of the Moose in Gulf Cove. Bill was treasurer for the past two years. He has also cooked for more than 200 people at a fundraiser that the organization hosted.
They recently went on a bus tour to visit the Moose Lodge in Anna Maria Island.
“That was a beautiful place. It’s just a few steps from the beach,” he said. They enjoy traveling together and have been on three cruises in the past four years.
They live in Rotonda with their two little Maltese dogs, Violet and Vickie.
“We brought Violet with us when we moved here, and then we bought Vickie to keep Violet company when we’re not home. They stay with each other every minute; they don’t leave each other’s side,” Bill said.
When Bill first moved to the area he worked at Sun Fresh retail produce market. He worked there for about a year and then took time off when he had a hip replacement.
Then Dianne told him about a position opening at the Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority.
“I put an application in, and about a month later I received a call from the executive director. One week later I was hired,” Bill said. He has been working at GIBA for one year. He refers to his position as a “floater,” because he works in the toll plaza as well as being the bridge tender when needed.
He said he enjoys his job because the people he works with are great, and he likes speaking with regular visitors, who often bring him cookies, snacks and even ice cream. “I love to socialize and get to know people,” he said. In return, Bill is very popular with the dogs that visit Boca Grande. “We keep dog biscuits in the toll booths, and the dogs know when they get close to the bridge. They get ready to stick their heads out the window to get that biscuit,” Bill said.
Bill said he doesn’t mind working different shifts, because he is used to working midnights for many years. He said he has never held a job that he didn’t truly enjoy. “If you’re not happy doing your job, then do something else.”
When Bill is not working, he enjoys playing golf, riding his motorcycle and going out on his boat to fish.
“It doesn’t even matter if I catch 0anything. It’s just so nice and relaxing to be out on the water floating around,” he said. He said he enjoys watching the lightning storms from the hurricane- resistant bridge operations building.
“This new building is great; the old one used to sway a little bit in the high winds,” he said. He has also taken some wonderful video of dolphins playing in the water below.
Bill and Dianne plan on spending some time in Key West in September. He said his favorite beach on the island is the Range Light beach. He has no desire to go back up to Massachusetts, unless it is for special occasions or to visit family members.
Bill said the person he admires most in this world is his mother, Dora. “She’s a saint. She’s had seven children and no matter what, she always seems to have energy. She’s 93 and she’s always going.”
Look for Bill’s friendly face the next time you are headed onto the island. He works in the toll booths on a variety of days each week.