NEW PORT RICHEY - The cross section of men and women sitting inside the First Baptist Church sanctuary Monday morning allowed a glimpse into Mike Olson's popularity in Pasco County.
Some of the mourners wore jeans, others in suits; some wore dress shoes while others were in boots.
Olsen, who held the position of Pasco County tax collector for 32 years, died Wednesday after suffering a stroke days before. He was 68.
"Mike also had the unique quality to be able to walk with guys at the hunting camp and presidents, literally, both," said former Commissioner Michael Cox, who knew Olson nearly three decades. "He had that unique ability and I sort of think that's a dying ability. That certainly goes to rest with him."
Olson is survived by his wife of 49 years, Mary, daughters Mary Beth (and David) Grodszinsky and Kelly (and Bill) Rutherford; seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Grodszinsky told about 300 mourners about her father and his love for fishing. Before returning to her seat, gripped with emotion, she added: "I just want to thank my daddy for being who he was."
Who he was seemed to fit into a lot of categories: an outdoorsman, a former band member at Gulf High School, in addition to a man who served his county in the public sector. Prior to his life as an elected official, Olson, a Democrat who won his most recent election in November by collecting 68 percent of the vote, served as an executive at Exchange National and Mid-County Commercial banks.
He could also be described as very thorough.
Diane Nelson, the Pinellas County tax collector, said after she was elected to the position in 2000, she would often speak to Olson. Whether it was to get a piece of advice or listen to him work out an issue, she knew she had to listen well.
"One day when he had an issue, he called - because I was his neighboring county - and I think we all know Mike," Nelson said with a smile. "When he's passionate about something you better be prepared to sit down for about an hour as he goes through, and he goes over it, and he goes over it, and he goes over it because he's going to get his point across."
A chuckle rose from the crowd as Nelson told the story.
That was the man Cox knew and consulted before making any major decisions.
"People will say he was a great public servant, and he was, but he had this way to look at an issue from about 12 different view points and he could stress test whatever it was and figure out what the right decision was," said Cox whose nickname, given by Olson was "Dean," while Cox called Olson "Mo."
Olson, a native of New Port Richey, served on the county commission from 1974-1980. He was elected to his first term as the county's tax collector in 1981.
"You can tell by the many friends that attended and the comments made by both his family and his friends that he was loved by not only his family, but by Pasco County," state Rep. Mike Fasano said following the service. "He grew up here. He was Pasco County. . No one, and I really mean this, no one served the public better as a public servant than he did. We can all take a lesson from him in how to be a good public servant."
Near the end of the funeral service, the church's pastor, Dr. Guy Sanders, told those in attendance three words were appropriate for the day: Faith, hope and love. He remarked that Olson embodied all three.
"No one expected that we would be here on this day for this purpose," Sanders said. "I've learned over the years, and so have you, that death is an absolutely certain experience. . Not one of us knows when, therefore it's very important that we allow Mike's passing to be a very important part of our lives as we consider where we are going."