Former Mayor Joe Terranova remembered for service and mentorship

Current commissioners say they will miss his wise counsel and humor

Sept. 2, 2023

By Anne Mooney

Winter Park lost a leader and a friend this week. Former Mayor Joe Terranova, who was known as a champion for the city’s charm and status as a “premier urban village” died Monday. He was 98.

Terranova, who served as mayor from 1997 to 2000, was also a driving force behind the Center for Independent Living, a Winter Park-based nonprofit that promotes inclusion and accessibility for people with disabilities and served on the committee that helped create the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, a cultural centerpiece of the city. 

“Joe was a valuable counselor to all of us who serve the city,” said Mayor Phil Anderson. “He had a zest for living that took him around the globe serving his country and brought him back to Winter Park to serve his community. I will remember Joe’s smile and his understanding that the government is there to serve its citizens.”

He was a past president of the University Club and chaired the ad hoc committee responsible for extensive renovations to the Club and was a member of the Winter Park Historical Association and the Winter Park Library Board of Trustees. 

Terranova was also an active member of St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church.

Commissioner Kris Cruzada recalled that he met the former mayor while he was campaigning for his own seat. 

“He was a very dynamic and accomplished individual,” Cruzada said. “He’s the one who introduced me to Winter Park’s vision of being the premier urban village for our region – a concept I always felt while growing up in Central Florida, but was never able to articulate until he mentioned it to me.”

Commissioner Todd Weaver also met Terranova while campaigning and said he possessed a rare combination listening skills and the ability to dole out sage advice.

“We became instant friends,” Weaver recalled. “I don’t know many people who are as wise as Joe, or who can deliver a short answer with such humor and friendliness.”

Terranova grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. After completing high school, he went into the Army during World War II. He was stationed in Europe, where he served in the 14th Armored Division, 25th Tank Battalion. 

He returned to Washington in 1948 and entered Benjamin Franklin University to study accounting. In order to take the CPA exam, however, he found it necessary to transfer to George Washington University where he studied economics and successfully completed the CPA exam. 

After graduation, Terranova worked at a couple of private CPA firms in D.C., but said he found the work dull. When the opportunity to join the Foreign Service presented itself, he jumped at it and thus began a distinguished career in the service of his country, according to his own account from a 1992 interview by the Winter Park History Museum.

His assignments took him all over the world. He went from Libera to Spain to Yugoslavia and back to Washington, D.C. The State Department had formed an audit team, and since Terranova was one of the few foreign service officers who was a CPA, he was asked to join.

After four years in D.C. he was back overseas, this time in Pakistan and from there to Paris. Asked during the museum’s interview what he liked best about Paris, Joe replied, “. . . I like to eat . . . and there is no greater place to be than Paris because that really is the capital of food as far as I’m concerned. There is no city or no country that has such an exquisite choice of food . . . and I took full advantage of it.” 

The year was 1965, so it was not long before Terranova had to abandon his beloved Paris for a post in the American Embassy in Vietnam. Of his tour in Vietnam, Joe remarked, “Well, it was a most unusual way to conduct a civilian operation . . . while you’re fighting a full-blown war.”

He returned to the states for a sabbatical at the Navy War College in Newport, R.I. Toward the end of his tour there, he received a call from a friend asking if he wanted to return to Paris. “Well, I thought about that for about one-tenth of a second,” said Joe, “and said Yes! Back to the food!”

Terranova’s last assignment before he retired was at the Foreign Service Institute, an in-house training department for the State Department. 

As he neared retirement, Joe and his wife decided they would like to end up in Florida. A close friend recommended Winter Park, and in 1981, the Terranovas came to Winter Park.

“Joe will be remembered for his service as mayor, his good humor, his willingness to listen, his time as a mentor and his warm and enduring smile,” said Vice Mayor Sheila DeCiccio. “He will be missed, but not forgotten.”

Special thanks to the Winter Park History Museum for access to the transcript of an oral interview with Joe Terranova from Sept. 27, 1992.

Questions or comments? Email the editor at WinterParkVoiceEditor@gmail.com

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    By: Beth Kassab

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