Gary Tibbetts, longtime congressional staffer, passes away after battle with COVID-19, Buchanan says

The man who worked closely with U.S. Representative Vern Buchanan has passed away after contracting COVID-19.

Gary Tibbets died at the age of 66 early Friday morning at Manatee Memorial Hospital, where he was being treted for the coronavirus, Buchanan announces on social media. 

"Gary was the consummate professional and a true public servant in every sense of the word," Buchanan wrote. "He touched so many lives and was loved and respected by those who knew him. I will never forget his uplifting spirit, sense of humor and sheer joy at helping others. Sandy and I offer our deepest sympathies to his wife, Valerie and family. He will be missed greatly."

Tibbetts has worked with Buchanan since 2011, and joined his legislative team in 2016. An outpouring of support followed after his death was made public.

Bill Galvano, Florida Senate President, said Tibbetts was "loved by so many in our community." 

The Parrish Fire District said the agency was mourning the loss of Tibbetts, who was a retired law enforcement officer and "dear friend" of the Parrish community.

The Bradenton Police Department also expressed their sadness over Tibbetts' passing, saying he was a great supporter of not just their agency, but "all of law enforcement."

Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan said Tibbetts official title was "law enforcement liaison", but explained that the former police sergeant was so much more. "What a larger than life person,” she recalled. “If there was any event or law enforcement need, and I am sure I speak for all of Manatee County, Gary Tibbetts was right there.” 

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said, “Everybody is devastated in the community. He loved his life with his wife. I performed their wedding on a beach on Anna Maria Island. It was perfect." She added, "This totally caught everybody off guard caught him off guard. It just started out, he thought he had the flu and just didn't feel good."

Commissioner Whitmore hopes Gary Tibbetts death serves as a wake-up call for a community struggling to get COVID-19 under control. "If you care about your fellow friends, family, co-workers or anybody, wear a mask. Do what the CDC recommends so we don't have more deaths that we have to talk about in the future," she said.