Robert Austin Bergs – Commander, United States Navy

SARASOTA, FLORIDA – Intellectual curiosity helped Bob Bergs overcome the hardship of growing up during the Depression to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy, command a submarine and pursue a career as a lawyer.

Shortly after moving to St. Armands Key in 1965 upon retiring from the Navy as a Commander, Bergs began a 37-year legal career, helped establish the St. Armands Key Lutheran Church and narrowly lost a bid to serve on Sarasota's City Commission in his only run for public office.

“He was very curious about the world. He loved learning,” said his son, Robert L. Bergs of Sarasota.

The elder Bergs, who was in declining health for the past year, died February 27, 2007, in Sarasota, Florida. He was 82.

Born March 19, 1924, in St. Louis, Robert Austin Bergs was raised by his mother during the Depression. His father had died before Bergs was born.

An academic standout, Bergs was accepted into the Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1942, and by 1945 began a 20-year naval career that included working with Rear Admiral Richard Byrd in the Antarctic, for which Bergs received a Polar Exploration Medal.

He later served on several submarines, including the Key West-based USS Sea Cat, which he commanded in 1961 to protect U.S. interests in the Caribbean.

Bergs was chosen to attend George Washington University's law school during his military service and graduated with high honors in 1955. Before retiring from the military, he worked on legislative affairs in the Pentagon for the Secretary of the Navy.

Drawn to Sarasota by its weather and upscale charm, Bergs set up a solo family law practice on St. Armands Key and became active in civic affairs.

In addition to cofounding the St. Armands Key Lutheran Church in the mid-1960s, he served as president of the St. Armands Residents Association and was a cofounder and past president of the Keys Sertoma Club.

He ran for the Sarasota City Commission in 1969 and lost by fewer than 10 votes to Tony Saprito. The acrimony of the race discouraged him from seeking public office again, his son said.

“He had a moral certitude about him. He saw things in black and white,” Robert Bergs said.

Although exacting and feisty at times, Bergs also was a biblical scholar who enjoyed poetry, supported humanitarian and environmental causes, and collected and restored antique woodworking tools.

The twice-widowed Bergs is survived by his third wife, Carol, and his son.

A memorial service was held this week. He will be buried with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Memorial donations may be made to the Nature Conservancy, 4245 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 100, Arlington, VA 22203-1606.

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