At Sarasota’s downtown Memorial Day Parade, scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday, May 28, this year’s theme is “All Gave Some. Some Gave All.” Tom Bria, president of Just/Because, is proud that he did his part: He served in the Army for 11 years, then 22 more years in the Connecticut National Guard.
“For me, Memorial Day reminds me that I’m thankful for all the privileges I have,” he says. “All the guys who came in uniform before me made it all possible.”
Bria enlisted in 1958, and over the next 11 years, he did two tours of Europe. It was the experience of a lifetime.
“Being in the military opens your eyes,” he says. “It’s like going off to college, you receive a great education for free, learning about different people and different cultures. You’re constantly learning. The variety of people I met and worked alongside with for so many years, you can’t beat it.
“I’ll never forget when I was 19, we had gone into this town in Germany that was rebuilt, except they left one whole block of rubble to remind people of what had happened in World War II. Four years later, I went back to that town and that block of rubble had been cleared, and buildings were put up. People had changed. They had forgotten. I never want to forget.”
Bria left the Army in 1969 and joined the National Guard, and also worked for the town of Greenwich, Conn., for many years.
In his early 60s, he decided he wanted to work for himself and started a home-repair business. After a while, though, Connecticut had become too expensive for his liking, so he set his sights on Florida, where his daughters, Barbara Bria Pugliese and Marie Bria Cohen, had opened Just/Because on historic St. Armands Circle in Sarasota.
“If you had told me five years ago that I would be moving to Florida, I’d say ‘you’re putting your money on the wrong horse,’ ” he says. “But the Sarasota area is probably one of the nicest areas in all of Florida. It has great entertainment, it’s just a very well-balanced city. You might not like everything about it, but that’s a part of life everywhere.”
He’s enjoying what he calls “semi-retirement,” and loves to help around at Just/Because.
“I like to call myself the delivery boy and handyman,” he says, with a laugh.
One thing’s for certain, if he finds out you’re a veteran, he’ll go the extra mile for you.
“Anytime I can do anything for anyone who has ever worn a uniform, I’ll do it.”
Sarasota’s Memorial Day Parade
Parade begins downtown at 10 a.m. Monday (May 28) and travels down Main Street starting at Osprey Avenue, followed by a 10:45 a.m. post-parade ceremony at J.D. Hamel Park on Gulf Stream Avenue.