PORT ORCHARD — However you want to define Bryan Petro, he never was a shy, retiring kind of guy.
Petro, who died Dec. 14 of an apparent heart attack, left a legacy of civic involvement in South Kitsap and Port Orchard, punctuated by passion and enthusiasm. For his grieving friends, Petro was anything but boring company.
Don Manning of Port Orchard, a fellow real estate agent who knew Petro for at least 30 years, said his friend with the unmistakable personality will be missed.
“Bryan was a hell of a guy and I’m going to miss him,” he said. “He had that unmistakable laugh, I guess you could call it the Petro guffaw.”
The pair became friends during their early days working in the auto sales business. They also shared a love of the arts. Petro had an interest in acting and appearing on stage — he headlined a number of local stage productions years ago.
If a man was created for the stage, it was Petro.
“I wrote a script for a film short that we made in Port Orchard a couple of years ago,” Manning recalled.
“Bryan played a bartender in the first few minutes of the thing and was having the time of his life. (Acting) was right up his alley. I’m glad I was able to do that with him.”
Not surprisingly, Manning said he and his friend shared a love of nostalgia and memorabilia. Somewhere in eastern Washington, he believes, Petro has a collection of neon signs stored away.
Some years ago, when Manning heard about an auto dealership in Bremerton that was getting rid of its neon sign, Bryan’s interest percolated.
“He said, ‘What are they going to do with it?’ I said they were going to take it down in a day or two, and it was probably going to the scrap yard. Then Bryan replied, ‘I’ve got to have that.’”
Manning told his friend that it would take a flatbed truck and a forklift to carry the sign away. Assuming he dropped his plans, Manning was shocked to see his friend with a flatbed carrying away the sign.
“It must have weighed half a ton and was about the size of a Volkswagen. Bryan said he was going to restore it. I suspect it’s somewhere in a warehouse in eastern Washington,” Manning said.
A shared experience one night in Pioneer Square many years ago sparked an amused laugh from Manning, who said it demonstrated the character Petro possessed:
“At that time, Pioneer Square was a place you could go to listen to all kinds of music. We ended up at Larry’s Greenfront and ended up crashing a party of some gals. One of the women, who said her name was Peaches, got Bryan out on the dance floor. In between dances, Bryan, of course, entertained the table.
“He was a big old boy with rosy cheeks and had worked up a sweat. After another round of dancing, Peaches told Bryan that, ‘You’re fixing to blow up!’ So, we had this running gag that, every time I’d see him, I’d say, ‘Peaches called, and she wants to go dancing.’”
The last time the friends spoke was this summer at the waterfront. Bryan, who had battled the weight scales all his life, had recently dropped some pounds.
“He had looked good. But this time, he just didn’t look healthy,” Manning said.
“He usually had those rosy cheeks like Santa Claus, but he wasn’t his upbeat self.”
Petro earlier confided that he had seen a doctor for pulmonary issues, and Manning suspects it may have been related to his passing.
“I had been out of town for two months and was on a layover in L.A.,” Manning noted. “That’s when I got word that he’d died ,,,”
The friend’s voice trailed off, caught in emotion.
“God, I’m going to miss him. Bryan was a hell of a good guy. That’s just the guy he was. He was a gentle soul.”
Bob Smith is editor of the Port Orchard Independent. He can be reached at email@example.com.