One year ago Friday, on Dec. 14, 2011, the Riverhead community lost what many called one of its brightest lights.
In a tragedy that rocked the community, James Bissett III, 48, the founder and co-owner of Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center and the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Riverhead, which had recently opened, was found dead in his car in a Mattituck parking lot.
And one year later, those who loved him are still mourning his loss.
"He left a huge dream -- and a huge hole in our hearts," said Joseph Petrocelli, Bissett's business partner.
Petrocelli, speaking from his office on Monday at the Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center on East Main Street, said although the year without him has been painful, Bissett's dream lives on.
"It's a vision that we're continuing on with out here," he said. "Together, we accomplished and fulfilled everything we talked about. And we're going to continue on, and make him proud."
Thinking of his partner and friend, Petrocelli's voice filled with emotion. "We're reminded every day. I carry on as if he were right beside me."
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter remembered Bissett's impact on Riverhead. "He was a wonderful inspiration to us all," he said. "He gave us hope, when there wasn't a lot of hope on Main Street."
Bissett's vision, Walter said, allowed other people to come to Riverhead and plant deep roots in the downtown community.
Petrocelli, Walter added, has "done a fantastic job of keeping Jim's vision alive and strong."
The Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center, Walter said, "is a vibrant part of Main Street."
But, Walter added, the Town of Riverhead has to live up to its promise to Bissett. "They came here, expecting everything on Main Street to start to boom. It's booming, but not as fast as everyone would like. It's up to us to live up to that sort of legacy. We're working on it."
Aside from his public persona, Bissett was well-loved by the family and friends whose hearts still ache with grief.
"Most people know about the many wonderful things he did for our community, but those who were fortunate enough to know Jimmy, will also tell you what a kind, humble, and overall great man he was," Bissett's friend Donielle Cardinale said.
Bissett's family owned and operated Bissett Nurseries, with locations in Dix Hills and Holtsville.
In August, members of Bissett's family and others turned out at an event to celebrate his life.
The 2nd Annual Pink Penguin Bash, held on July 28 at the was hosted by the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund.
According to event organizers, Bissett was chosen to receive the honor because of the his "work in the Riverhead and surrounding communities and for his selfless dedication to helping others."
Reflecting on the loss before that event, Walter said, "Sometimes people's flames burn too bright and they burn themselves out."
Do you have memories of Jim Bissett to share? How has his loss impacted your life? How do you think he changed downtown Riverhead? Share your thoughts and memories in the comments section.