TAMPA — Colleen Bevis, who spent more than six decades as a leading children’s advocate from the local Parent Teacher Association to the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, died Friday at her South Tampa home.
The Tampa native was 97. She had been recovering from a fall and a mild heart attack.
“She made such a difference,” said Jan Platt, a former Hillsborough County commissioner who worked with Bevis to create the Children’s Board. “She was a citizen out there who saw a need and came forward and presented a solution. Fortunately, the politicians listened to her. She was a special lady and she made a huge difference in our community for our children.”
Colleen Lunsford Bevis graduated from Brandon High School and attended the University of Tampa.
She joined her local Parent Teacher Association in 1951, eventually becoming local, county and state president and serving on the national PTA board. Over several decades, she served on dozens of local boards and councils, chiefly surrounding children’s and mental health issues, and earned numerous awards.
A major accomplishment was persuading the Hillsborough County Board to study children’s issues in the late 1980s and then to support a referendum to create an agency with taxing authority to support children’s programs. In 1988, Hillsborough voters agreed to tax themselves to support the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County and the programs it now funds.
Kelley Parris is the current director of the Children’s Board, having served in the position for four months.
“I can tell you her reputation in the field of child social services is unmatched,” Parris said. “Everyone in Florida and in Hillsborough County should be grateful for the sacrifices she made for children.”
Jack Levine, a longtime statewide child advocate and founder of 4Generations Institute in Tallahassee, was a friend, ally and admirer.
“What I remember about Colleen is that she knew there was federal policy that needed to be effective, and she knew there was state policy in Tallahassee, but bottom line, she really focused on Tampa and the region. In her heart of hearts, she wanted to see the fruit of her labors,” said Levine.
“The picture I have of Colleen was walking into a room and she had this amazing peripheral vision,” he said. “She could look from far left to far right, not only literally, but politically. She cared little about the usual trappings of partisanship when it came to politics. She had one focus, which was, ‘I don’t care what your affiliation is, what your age is, what your ethnicity is — can you make a difference for kids?’ ”
Bevis was married to the late H. Wayne Bevis, a longtime executive with Eastern Airlines in Tampa. She is survived by daughters Judith Bevis Langevin and Beverly Bevis, and was predeceased by stepdaughter Dorothy Ann Ward. She is survived by a number of grandchildren and a great grandchild.
A memorial is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Colleen L. Bevis Elementary School, 5720 Osprey Ridge Drive in Lithia. The school was named for the longtime children’s advocate, as was the Colleen Bevis School of the Florida Institute for Mental Health at the University of South Florida.