News Herald tells story of Ward 1 Councilman Paul Casto
Casto moves from city employee to city official
Ward 1 Councilman Paul Casto helps 16-month-old Atlas Eubanks learn how to kick as his mother, Heather, looks on.
Panama City Beach’s pristine waters represent home, serenity and a lifestyle for new Ward 1 Councilman Paul Casto.
“We used to come down here in the late ’60s and ’70s for vacation,” he said. “My dad and I loved to fish. We came down here on vacation and just fell in love with it. Dad decided to move us down here.”
In 1973, the Little Rock, Ark., native made the Beach his home, where he surfed, swam and fished.
On any given day, you might catch Casto doing laps around a pool at the Aquatic Center at Frank Brown Park. He said he usually goes swimming or fishing after work or in the evening. His love for the water came from his mother.
The masters swimmer competes in triathlons and once swam where some wouldn’t dare wade: off Alcatraz Island. About five years ago he plunged into the icy California waters, where he competed in “Escape from Alcatraz,” a grueling swim that is attempted by thousands each year.
“The water was extremely cold, and they have a lot of sharks. Sharks aren’t usually a problem,” he said. “The currents are strong. That was something I did that a lot of people can’t believe I did.”
Casto said he made the swim from Alcatraz Island to the San Francisco Bay Bridge, leaving behind half of the other elite swimmers for rescue teams.
“I had a full wetsuit on, and I still got vertigo when I finished. I probably won’t do a swim like that again ever in my life,” he said, though he added, “I probably could do it again today.”
Forty years ago, the councilman was in high school when he took on the job of a lifeguard for the city of Panama City Beach. That job led him to hold positions in the Water and Wastewater Department, leading to his last title as the Public Works director.
“Back then the city had like 30 employees in all departments,” he said. “Now we have close to 300.”
After high school, Casto got a job with the Beach’s Water and Wastewater Department — for five years, while he attended night school at then-Gulf Coast Community College. He went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree from the University of West Florida.
In 1983, he was named the Public Works director, a title he held for 35 years until he was sworn into office last week. At an April 12 council meeting, Casto was honored for his 40 years of service to the city.
Kelly Jenkins, interim Public Works Director, spent over 15 years working alongside Casto. She said he has a great sense of humor and is quite calm.
“Sometimes I’ll leave a meeting, and he’d be like: ‘Boy, that bothered me.’ I’d be like, ‘You were mad?’ If he’s mad, which isn’t often, you’ll never know it.”
Cathi Casto is very familiar with her husband’s love for the high tides. She met him when they were students at Bay High School.
“I thought he was cool because he was a surfer,” she said.
The couple will be married for 40 years upon their wedding anniversary in September.
He always says half of [the years] have been happy,” she joked.
The couple have three children: John, Kaylyn and Jordan. They also have two grandchildren: Ella, 9, and Cayman, 6, who Casto said he loves to take fishing, swimming, to ball games, Shell Island and other outings.
“He’s a really good dad. He thinks about them all the time,” Cathi Casto said.
In fact, Casto’s family took to the water just as he did. Casto taught all of his children and grandchildren how to swim.
“My grandson was a natural,” he said. “My granddaughter was a little harder to teach, but she’s just as comfortable as him.”
Casto has dedicated much of his life to ensure his family members aren’t the only avid swimmers in the area.
“I’m a masters swimmer, but I like to volunteer as a swim instructor for children and adults,” he said.
Jenkins said Casto even taught some of her neighbors to swim.
“He helps different families and people through swimming and different programs,” she said. “Everyone I run into on the Beach knows Paul.”
The councilman always has been helpful and a people person.
“He’s good at meeting people and putting them at ease. Our kids do it, too. They meet people in elevators and find out all about them,” Cathi Casto joked. “He’s always treated everybody nice. He’s the kind of person who says ‘hi’ to the mailman. He was like that in high school.”
Casto said she’s gotten to do a lot of things and meet a lot of people that she might not have met without the aid of her husband’s friendliness.
If someone is stranded on the side of a road, Casto is usually the person who comes to help, Cathi Casto said.
“He’s also the man who helps the ladies cross the street,” she said. “He likes people and he’s the happiest when he’s around people.”
During a crisis, people can still count on Casto and his affable nature.
When Hurricane Opal struck Panama City Beach in 1995, Casto was there supplying the needs of residents.
“I got my windshield blown out of the vehicle I was driving on Front Beach Road,” he said. “For the next two weeks I drove that vehicle without a windshield in it because we were so busy fixing everything after the storm.”
Last year, Casto received his captain’s license, with the idea of ensuring others reap the benefits of his new certification.
“I can take people charter fishing, sight-seeing or out on the water,” he said.
Casto said she’s proud of everything her husband has accomplished.
“He’s very loyal to people, as far as the city,” she said. “He just likes people. He’s real encouraging to people."