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Former Tampa councilwoman, restaurateur Chavez dies


Published:   |   Updated: August 4, 2014 at 03:10 PM

— Former Tampa City Councilwoman Helen Chavez was as hard-working as she was personable, friends said.

A well-known restaurateur, champion of women’s rights and critic of shirtless men at Buccaneers’ games, Chavez died Saturday at 89.

She was preceded in death by husband George and son Timothy Chavez. She is survived by daughters Mary Chavez, Michele Harris and Denise Chavez. With Denise, she ran a gourmet restaurant and catering service.

“She was an incredibl;e person,” said Denis Chavez, who ran a gourmet restaurant and catering service with her mother. “She loved life and was very adventuresome. She stuffed her day with doing things and was a great role model of what women can accomplish.”

Sandy Freedman served with Chavez on the council in the 1970s and during Freedman’s first term as Tampa’s first female mayor.

“If she believed in something, she was a strong and forceful advocate,” Freedman said. “We might have disagreed on some things, and she was a Republican, and I was a Democrat, but we got along. Politics then is very different from what it is now.”

Chavez served on the city council 1979 to 1987.

One topic the women differed on was Chavez’s opinion that men attending Bucs games must always wear a shirt.

“Helen was really vocal ... but it wasn’t one of my hot topics,” Freedman said. “I just thought there were more important things to talk about. A lot of people agreed with her ...”

A child of Greek immigrants, Chavez was raised in Kansas City, Missouri, where her father worked in the restaurant industry, ashe told WUSF 89.7 radio. She and her husband moved to Tampa in 1960.

Inspired by her father, Chavez and daughter Denise owned and operated Chavez at Home, where well-known dishes included creamy seafood casserole, wasabi-encrusted salmon, caramelized French toast and huevos rancheros.

The restaurant on South Howard Avenue is closed, but the catering service continues.

Former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco said Chavez was the hardest-working person he knew.

“I’m sure she was busy until her last days,” Greco said. “She was never idle and always had something going. She loved her city and loved the people.

City Councilman Charlie Miranda agreed.

“Whatever she did, she did it 110 percent,” he said. “There was no, ‘Whatever happens, happens.’ She was very charming, sort of an electrifying personality.”

Freedman called Chavez a strong advocate for women and a proud Republican.

“She was always supportive of women getting out there and doing their thing,” she said. “In politics and business, and every other way.”

Visitation is scheduled 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Blount & Curry Funeral Home on South MacDill Avenue. The funeral is there at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story had the wrong day for the funeral of Helen Chavez.

gfox@tampatrib.com

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