BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Family and friends are mourning the loss of a man who left an indelible mark on the tourism industry in South Mississippi. Biloxi businessman John Mladinich passed away Thursday. He was 85. Friends shared memories of a man known as a mentor and a tourism visionary.
"He loved Biloxi. I've never seen anyone who loved Biloxi so much in my life," said Robert "Bones" Barq.
The passion for Biloxi defines so much how John Mladinich lived and his drive to make his beloved city even better.
"The guy amazed me and everything he touched was successful. I mean Gold Finger has nothing on him," said Barq. "A great guy, a generous guy, a lot of stuff he did for people that no one knows about. He had a big heart."
Barq said many people remember Mr. Mladinich as the owner of restaurants like the "Sea and Sirloin" and the "Fiesta Club," and businesses like the "Le Chateaux Apartments." He was also a powerful force behind other tourism-related projects.
"He helped legalize whiskey. He helped build the first coliseum," said Barq.
John Mladinich was also instrumental in pushing to get dockside gambling passed in South Mississippi. Beverly Martin, former Executive Director of the Mississippi Casino Operators Association, calls him her friend and mentor.
"He also taught me to stand up for what you believed in and even though it may be controversial, as was the gaming campaign at the time, do what's best for the community and the coast, which he always put first," said Martin.
Mr. Mladinich continued working up until his recent illness. His latest project was the revival of the landmark White Pillars Restaurant on Highway 90.
"It's hard to go anywhere in Biloxi or on the Coast without seeing something that John touched or somebody," said Martin. "John was, I guess, a tourism guru, a man of vision, and ahead of his time."
For his numerous contributions to the tourism industry, Mr. Mladinich was honored late last year with the "Don Jacobs Lifetime Achievement Award."
"He always had a saying, 'Biloxi's bulletproof. You can't kill Biloxi,'" said Barq. "He's a dear friend of mine and I'm going to miss him."
A graveside service for John Mladinich will be held Monday at 2:00 p.m. It will take place at Southern Memorial Park in Biloxi at the North Chapel Mausoleum.
John Mladinich served in the U.S. Army from 1952-1954. During his military service, he became friends with General Omar Bradley. The general gave Mladinich a collection of original WWII combat photographs of the European theatre. Those pictures were published in a book entitled "The Greatest American Who Ever Lived."