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Community says goodbye to missing boater

Church packed for 57-year-old who made impact in Atlantic Beach

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – It's a day many in the Atlantic Beach community hoped would never come -- one in which they said goodbye to a friend they hoped would be found safe and alive.

Peter Rodrigues, 57, has been missing for nearly three weeks after his fishing boat washed ashore with no one on board and the engines still running.

Family and friends joined the Coast Guard search for him but found no trace.

Those who knew Rodrigues said farewell Thursday at a memorial service at St. Paul's Catholic Church. The church was full, and a line of people wanting to attend waited outside to pay their respects.

People who spoke said it's just a testament to the life Rodrigues lived and the lives he touched.

"I think it's hard because I think now we kind of have to be more kind of resolved to the fact that maybe he's not going to come home or we're not going to bring him home alive," neighbor Eddie Hilliard said.

Hilliard was one of many of Rodrigues' family and friends who desperately searched for him in the weeks after he disappeared during a boating trip. They kept searching even after the Coast Guard stopped.

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Rodrigues' family thanked Hilliard at the service, and he and others focused on their good memories of Rodrigues, listening to and sharing stories about his optimism, thoughtfulness and willingness to help anyone.

"Everybody's got a good story about him because he was there for you, and people who didn't know him got to know him really quick because he with that guy," Hilliard said.

Rodrigues' sons, girlfriend, best friend and business partners all opened up about the man who served in the Navy, then eventually started his own contracting company, RPC.

From his work to build the Miller Ale House restaurants to the Atlantic Beach Country Club, those working with him honored his passion and determination.

"One of the things I learned is, just drive and never give up, just go, go, go," said Rob Northrop, who worked with Rodrigues. "And there's always a way to do something you want to do. So if you have an idea and you have an a passion for it, you can make it happen."

Rodrigues leaves behind a legacy of lessons and love, one that people who knew him said will stay with them no matter where he may be.

"He just wasn't a neighbor, he wasn't somebody who lived in Atlantic Beach. Basically, he's the kind of people who made what it is today," Hilliard said.

During the service, some of Rodrigues' family and friends wore yellow, a symbol of hope, and they handed out yellow ribbons.

They said "Pete strong," because that's what he would have wanted -- for them to stay strong.