Vivian Hawker, 76, Gulfport’s Gecko Queen from 2015-2016, died Sunday, October 27 in Hospice care.
“’Vivacious Vivian’ is the way I will remember her,” said Jon Ziegler of Gulfport. “It’s also what she called herself.”
Ziegler was the first person to befriend her when she arrived in Gulfport nearly 20 years ago, said her daughter Monica Warner. Hawker was a native of Columbus, Ohio.
Locally, she worked as a regional manager from Port Charlotte to Tampa for American Greetings, a corporation known for gift cards, giftwrap and party supplies, said Warner.
“When I was working at the Casino and we started doing the Argentine Tango on Tuesdays, Vivian would arrive early to tutor the dance instructor’s daughter in her school work,” said Ziegler. “Vivian always came up to the bar and order a pinot grigio. And we would sit and chat. I asked myself, ‘Who is this eccentric red-headed woman?!’
“We hit it off so well and I started introducing her around.”
The two shared passions for ballroom dancing, clothing and costume design, sewing, celebrating life with frivolity and serving as Gecko Queen, which is a gender-neutral volunteer position awarded to one applicant each year to serve as the honorary ambassador representing Gulfport – with flair. Ziegler served as Gecko Queen from 2018-2019.
The first year Hawker attended the Gecko Ball, she won third place dressed as a munchkin, said Ziegler. During her second year attending the ball, she won first place as Cher.
She originally came to Gulfport “because she liked the price point of housing and the quaint brick roads behind Stetson University,” said Warner. “She was also very involved with ballroom dancing in the area” and that’s how she found the Gulfport Casino. When she sold her home in north Gulfport, she rented in the downtown area.
“She was super attracted to the local eclectic art environment,” said Warner. “She was the most art deco, funky, obnoxious-get-attention-looking kind of artsy person there was, including her hair color that was flaming artificial red, pink or any spectrum of red. Mom was intelligent, fun, flamboyant and a very vain woman: She loved being in the spotlight and the center of attention.
“She also had a real connection through life with the gay community: She was adored by them. She was never judge-y. She liked the free-living feeling of Gulfport.”
In fact, “one of her very good friends through her corporate life was a gay man who befriended her as his straight mother,” said Warner.
Hawker was also known for her Santa Claus collection that she proudly displayed year-round throughout her home, including during her annual Christmas party, said Ziegler.
“She was a really sweet, kind-hearted woman – someone you could talk to,” said Wesley Ray of Gulfport, Gecko Queen from 2014-2015. “I will remember her smile and how she lit up a room when she came in.”
Hawker is survived by a son, Rick Warner and his wife Stacy of Bradenton; three daughters: Lori Warner of Lee, Massachusetts, Angie Hildebrand of Venice, Florida and Monica Warner, of Sarasota; a brother Pat of Ohio; and three sisters: Donna and Michelle, of Columbus, Ohio, and Felicia of Safety Harbor.
The family said Hawker didn’t want a funeral service but wanted people to celebrate her life by having a drink at Pia’s Trattoria, 3054 Beach Boulevard, then take a walk down the sidewalks of Beach Boulevard to the Casino. Family members will announce a celebration of life date in early 2020.
Family and local friends of Hawker also ask that memorial donations be made to the Art Jones group of Gulfport.
“Vivian was over the top in many ways,” said Stacy Warner, her daughter-in-law. And, Vivian’s daughter Monica agreed.