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Tampa businessman, philanthropist and civic force Vic Leavengood dies at 90

TAMPA — Victor Leavengood, who helped found or run numerous organizations throughout Tampa, from the Florida Aquarium to the Tampa History Museum, died Monday. He was 90.

Known to his family, friends and neighborhood kids as “Vic,” Leavengood died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.

A World War II veteran, Leavengood worked at the Ocala Star Banner before joining the executive staff of The Tampa Tribune in 1959. While at the Tribune he was elected president of the Florida Daily Newspaper Association. He moved to GTE of Florida in 1964 and retired as secretary and treasurer of General Telephone Company of Florida in 1987.

Leavengood was also director of Barnett Banks of Ocala and Tampa as well as a director of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida.

The Ocala native and Harvard grad served on numerous civic and community organizations, including the Tampa Economic Opportunity Council, Greater Tampa United Way and Girl Scouts. He was chair of the City of Tampa Commission on Art in Public Places; founder, director and treasurer of The Florida Aquarium; director of Lowry Park Zoo; chair of Tampa Bay International Super Task Force; and director and chair of the Merchants Association of Florida. He served on the boards of Chair of LifePath Hospice and the Tampa Museum of Art and was a founding member of Tampa Bay History Center.

Since the founding of the University of South Florida, Leavengood served as an advisor for various schools and foundations at the college, and USF’s Contemporary Art Museum has a gallery named the Lee and Victor Leavengood Gallery. He also made time to take adult education courses at the university in his retirement.

Vic was also a member of the Krewe of Gasparilla and a parade judge. His wife of 64 years, Lee Bird Leavengood, said he “was a good, hard-working pirate.”

Though it wasn’t love at first sight when Vic met Lee Bird Leavengood — he was the acting dean of women at USF and she was one of the first co-eds admitted to the university — she soon found that “when you meet him you become enthralled to his personality,” Lee Leavengood said.

Dena Leavengood, Vic and Lee’s daughter-in-law, remembers how when she was first getting to know her husband, she accompanied him to a party with his family at the Tampa Yacht and Country Club. Vic Leavengood welcomed her at the door looking “elegant, dapper and regal,” Dena said. He escorted her around the party and introduced her to all of his friends. Vic and Lee were “the most beautiful couple you’ve ever seen,” Dena said.

“I hadn’t stated dating (Hansel Leavengood) then, we barely even knew each other, but I thought, ‘Gee, I could marry a man like this,’” she said.

Vic Leavengood also had a sense of humor and his family still has a favorite picture: A promotional picture for the City of Tampa Commission on Art in Public Places of Vic, chair at the time, standing with his back to the camera in a trench coat “flashing” a statue. An inscription reads, “Expose yourself to art.” He loved it.

For many years, the Leavengood family answering machine featured Vic’s dead-pan message, “This is the residence of Lee Leavengood and her current husband,” and he got a kick out of letting his dog Darwin sit in a chair at the dining room table with the rest of the family.

“He was a colorful character and not just in a comic way,” Lee Leavengood said. “He had a rich, colorful personality.”

Leavengood is survived by his wife Lee, his daughter, Ann Leavengood Giles, her husband James and their children, Price Giles and Elizabeth Giles, and his son, Hansel Leavengood, and his wife Dena.

Vic Leavengood’s memorial service will be held at Hyde Park United Methodist Church on Thursday, April 16, at 4 p.m. For early arrivals there will be a slide show and organ recital at 3:30 p.m. Memorial gifts may be sent to LifePath Hospice, 3010 W. Azeele St., Tampa, FL 33609, or to the charity of your choice.

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