A longtime Fort Lauderdale resident, Mr. Millsaps is most closely associated with Broward Navy Days, which organized the annual Fleet Week celebration that brings sailors and naval ships to Fort Lauderdale every spring. He helped found Broward Navy Days and served as president and chairman of the board.
After attending Sunday's Indy 500 race, he suffered a heart attack and collapsed while he and a friend were on a golf cart being taken to their car, said his daughter, April Halleran. He died at 6:47 p.m. in an Indianapolis hospital, according to a police report obtained by the Indianapolis Star.
Friends spent much of Memorial Day mourning his death.
"It's a tremendous loss to this community," Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler said. "He gave so much of his time, so much of his energy, so much of his talents. He just kept giving back to the community and made South Florida a better place."
In addition to his work with Navy Days, Mr. Millsaps worked with a number of other ventures, including the Winterfest Boat Parade and the Orange Bowl Committee. Professionally, he was a founding partner in the commercial real estate firm Rauch, Weaver, Millsaps & Co., now known as Rauch Weaver Norfleet Kurtz and Co. The firm started in 1967, according to its website. He stepped down as a partner in 1999 and devoted more time to Broward Navy Days.
He was born and raised in Knoxville, Tenn. and served in the U.S. Army as a commissioned lieutenant in the infantry. He discovered Fort Lauderdale during a Spring Break trip in the 1960s when he was a student at the University of Tennessee.
"He came down to Fort Lauderdale for Spring Break and never went home," Halleran said. "That's how much he loved Fort Lauderdale."
He became known as "Mr. Fort Lauderdale," because he served on so many boards. Among his positions over the years: chairman of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Association of REALTORS, chairman of Winterfest, chairman of the Broward Economic Council, a trustee for Nova Southeastern University and numerous positions with the Florida & National Association of REALTORS.
"Everywhere I go in Broward, when I tell them I'm Joe Millsaps' daughter, I'm immediately given the five-star treatment, because of some kind of favor my dad did for that person," Halleran said.
He is survived by three brothers and a sister, as well as four daughters: Cheryl Azrin, Debra LaCruz and Mary Kennedy, all of Birmingham, Ala.; and Halleran of Fort Lauderdale; and eight grandchildren.
Instead of flowers, the family is asking that contributions be made to Broward Navy Days, in care of Garry Murphy, 5300 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33308.
Joe will be missed by many. He has touched many lives and helped so many people. He had a love of life and always had a smile on his face.