TAMPA - When it was time to breathe new life into Lowry Park Zoo, former Mayor Bob Martinez knew just the person to make it happen - Sally Lowry Baldwin.
Martinez was familiar with Baldwin and her husband, Walter Baldwin, who were regulars at his West Tampa restaurant.
"I had a lot of confidence in her because she was always successful in achieving her goals," Martinez said. "She put one heck of a board together, the first board for the nonprofit group, and the rest has been history."
Sara "Sally" Baldwin, the woman given a lion share of the credit for converting the Lowry Park Zoo from one of the worst zoos in the county into one of the best, died early Friday morning due to complications from Alzheimer's disease.
She was 81.
A funeral service will take place Monday at 11 a.m. at St. John's Episcopal Church, 906 South Orleans Ave. in Tampa.
The city of Tampa gave $8 million to revamp the zoo, while it was up to the new, nonprofit board to raise $10 million.
"It has been a very successful zoo," Martinez said Sunday as he recounted the story of closing down the zoo, named after Baldwin's grandfather, Dr. Sumter L. Lowry, in the mid-1980s and re-opening it with nonprofit leadership.
The concept of creating a nonprofit, led by community leaders, to operate the zoo turned out well, Martinez said.
"But I think a lot of credit goes to her that she put it together properly to start with," he said.
Her list of achievements was a long one. Baldwin, a third generation Tampan, managed commercial real estate, had private investments and was the first woman in Hillsborough County to be elected to the Board of Directors of a New York Stock Exchange-listed corporation, Tampa Electric Company. She served in that position for 27 years.
Additionally, Baldwin helped found the Woman's Utility Conference and was Chairwoman of the Board of the Lowry Park Zoo for just under 15 years, beginning in 1988.
In addition to putting together the zoo's first board of directors, Baldwin also founded the Zoo Endowment Foundation, as well as Karamu, an event held annually to raise funds for the zoo.
None of that was above her family.
"She was devoted to her family, first and foremost," said Robert Thomas, chairman of the Trustees of the Lowry Park Zoological Society of Tampa. "With all the other things she did, the most important thing to her was her family."
Baldwin was married to Walter Baldwin for 59 years and was the mother of four children, Bryan, Trey, Lowry and John.
A Plant High School graduate and former teacher, she enjoyed tennis, was an avid reader and was just as successful in the garden as she was in the community.
Craig Pugh, CEO and Executive Director of Lowry Park Zoo, said when he moved to Tampa in 1999, Baldwin was the first Tampa native to make him feel at home. That initial welcoming budded into a sharing of not only their love for the zoo, but also her love for books.
"The topics were a wide range of books she would share with me, either as gifts or loans form the library," Pugh said. "As far ranging as gardening to finance."
While leaving behind her own legacy of successful business ventures and philanthropic endeavors, Baldwin wanted others to gain recognition for their diligence.
"She had an enormous respect for others in the community," Pugh said. "She helped me to understand those whose contributions should be remembered and legacies that others left in the community before her.
"She was just adamant that people be recognized and appreciated for their contributions. Making sure that no one who contributed would be overlook."
Along her husband and children, Baldwin is survived by sister, Suzanne Lowry Botts, of Charlotte, N.C. and nine grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, family has asked for donations to be made to the Lowry Park Zoo Endowment Foundation.