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Friday, Aug 29, 2014
Obituaries

Former Tampa Mayor Bill Poe dead at 82

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Published:   |   Updated: May 2, 2014 at 07:50 PM

— Former Tampa Mayor William F. Poe Sr., who led the effort to create the Tampa Riverwalk and later fought plans to build Raymond James Stadium, died at his home on Davis Islands late Thursday.

Poe was 82.

He had spent the last few days of his life under hospice care, said his son Bill F. Poe Jr.

“He died peacefully,” his son said.

This summer he would have marked his 60th wedding anniversary. He is survived by his wife, Betty.

Poe is also survived by his five children, Bill Poe Jr., Keren Smith, Marylyn Lunskis, Janice Mitchell and Charles E. Poe. He had 16 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren with a fourth on the way, his eldest son said.

The family has scheduled visitation from 4 to 7 p.m. Monday at Blount & Curry’s MacDill Chapel, 605 S. MacDill Ave.

A public graveside funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Myrtle Hills Cemetery at Martin Luther King Jr. and East Lake avenues. The formal funeral service is set for 3 p.m. at Bayshore Baptist Church, Bill Poe Jr. said.

William F. Poe was born July 22, 1931. He graduated from Hillsborough High School where he was class president, and graduated from the University of Florida.

Over the course of his life, he served as mayor from 1974-79, owned the state’s largest insurance company, served as mayor and later financed an unsuccessful campaign to block the use of public funds to build Raymond James Stadium.

“He was an outstanding guy. He helped me be the kind of guy I am today,” said Tampa City Councilman Charlie Miranda, who was elected to the council the same year Poe was elected mayor.

“He was a visionary, thinking not for today but for tomorrow,” Miranda said.

Former Mayor Pam Iorio said Poe’s death marked the passing of a great civic leader.

“His vision was to make his hometown of Tampa into a first-class city, and his life’s work helped make that happen,” Iorio said. “He will be greatly missed. His love for Tampa has made our city a better place.”

As mayor, Poe assembled land along South Franklin Street into the “Quad Block,” a project that enabled the construction of One Tampa City Center, home to what is now the Hilton Tampa Downtown Hotel. The pedestrian plaza running through the block bears Poe’s name.

In 1976, Poe laid the first planks of the future Riverwalk. He was the first mayor to promote the idea of making the Hillsborough River the center of downtown Tampa, said former Mayor Sandy Freedman

“On that project, I think he was a visionary,” Freedman said.

Nearly 40 years after Poe started it, the Riverwalk will be largely finished this fall after being handed down from mayor to mayor for decades.

Freedman said current Mayor Bob Buckhorn has made Poe’s vision for the river his own.

Buckhorn invited Poe to speak at a ceremony last summer announcing the start of the last major segment of the Riverwalk between Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and MacDill Park.

“I tried to do it 40 years ago. I think I put about 10 planks in — and I had to buy the planks,” Poe quipped at the time.

Poe’s vision for the river is at the center of current Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s plans for downtown.

Buckhorn said Poe’s actions “ushered in the city we know today.”

“Each mayor in their own way left a lasting legacy on this city,” Buckhorn said. “I only wish he would be able to stand with us this fall to see the Tampa Riverwalk come to fruition 40 years after he initiated the project.”

After leaving public office, Poe spent the following dozen years building Poe & Associates, the insurance company he started in 1956, into the largest insurer in the state. Eventually, it merged with the next-largest insurer, Brown & Brown, to become Poe & Brown with Poe as chairman.

He retired in 1994 and sold nearly all his stock in the company, 1.6 million shares, for what he estimated a few years after as between $35 million and $40 million.

He passed some of that windfall to his children. In 1996, he created a new company run by his children, Southern Family Insurance Co., which bought up to 90,000 insurance polices from failed Florida Residential Property and Casualty Joint Underwriting Association. The association was created in the wake of Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

A decade later, the Poe Financial Group operated three insurance companies — Southern Family Insurance, Atlantic Preferred and Florida Preferred Insurance — with about 283,000 policy holders across the state. Bill Poe Jr. said four hurricanes that criss-crossed the state in 2004 proved too more than the company could afford.

In 2005, the company told state regulators is was in “an impaired financial condition.” State officials ordered the companies to stop issuing policies and began the process of liquidating them and moving their customers to other insurers. By late 2012, the companies had been dissolved completely.

Despite his legacy as mayor and his success in business, William Poe will be remembered by many people in the Tampa area as the man who fought the construction of Raymond James Stadium.

After 17 years out of the public eye, Poe returned in the mid-1990s when he sued to block the use of public money — a voter-approved half-cent sales tax hike — to fund the construction of a $190 million new home for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Poe poured hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money into the fight, which went all the way to the Florida Supreme Court. Poe’s stance earned him the Moral Courage Award from the Hillsborough County Commission in 1999.

The nine-month-long fight, which Poe ultimately lost, put him at odds with his long-time friend, then-Mayor Dick Greco. The two men grew up together in Seminole Heights.

Greco said the fight showed Poe’s love for his hometown. He said the two men remained friends even as Poe tried to dismantle something Greco had worked to build.

“We were always friends before and after,” Greco said. “We laughed about that. We loved each other.”

kwiatrowski@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7871

Twitter: @kwiatrowskiTBO

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