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Saying goodbye to Jan Kaminis Platt, 1936-2017

By Christopher OíDonnell, Times Staff Writer
Mourners pack St. John's Episcopal Church for the funeral service for former Tampa City Council member and Hillsborough County Commissioner Jan Platt in Tampa on Friday. [WILL VRAGOVIC | Times]

TAMPA ó Since her death, the late Jan Kaminis Platt had been heralded as an often courageous voice in local government, a rock solid woman who never wavered in her ethics or support of the environment.

On Friday, a family emissary revealed her softer side.

Mrs. Platt was so afraid of heights that she stayed off the mountain and skied in the hotel parking lot on a ski trip, daughter-in-law Michelle Platt told a packed church. She pursued and got the autograph of tennis legend Billie Jean King and thought Oct. 15, the start of stone-crab season, should be a national holiday.

About 300 friends, family and community leaders gathered at St. Johnís Episcopal Church in Hyde Park to remember Mrs. Platt, who died Nov. 3 at 81. It followed a private burial Friday morning.

The church service was not somber. At times, people laughed as they learned about Jan Platt the wife, mother, grandmother and friend. The woman who met her husband of 55 years on a blind date and who doted on her granddaughter. The passionate angler who would be the last to take her rod out of the water.

"She came across as sweet and unassuming," Michele Platt said, "but let me tell you she was a force."

Mrs. Platt drew some of her strongest traits from her parents, Adele and Peter Kaminis, the daughter-in-law said.

Long hours of fishing with her father and netting stone crabs made the future commissioner protective of nature. Mrs. Platt was often known as "Commissioner No" for voting against development she found to be poorly planned or harmful.

"From him she gained a love of the environment that would never leave her," said Michele Platt.

Determination and perseverance came from Adele Kaminis and carried over into Mrs. Plattís family life. She would call the same person five times a day and ask the same question until she got the answer she wanted.

A pivotal point in her life came when her sister, Bobby Lou Kaminis, passed away in 1973.

"She took this sadness and turned it into a mission to make a difference with her life," Michele Platt said. "She became determined to use her gifts and talents to serve others."

Mrs. Platt was born Sept. 27, 1936, in St. Petersburg, and lived in or near Tampa most of her life.

She served as both a Tampa City Council member and a Hillsborough County commissioner and was known as a voice for honest, open government.

A Democrat, she led the effort to create a county preservation program that manages more than 61,000 acres of environmentally sensitive lands. She successfully fought for more funding for libraries and against a power plant at Cockroach Bay.

Had Mrs. Platt looked out at the crowd that gathered Friday, she would have seen many leaders, particularly women, who made their way in Tampa Bay politics at the same time she did or followed a trailed she blazed.

Those present included U.S. Congresswoman Kathy Castor, former Tampa mayors Sandy Freedman and Pam Iorio, past Hillsborough County commissioners Kevin Beckner, Betty Castor, Ed Turanchik and Tom Scott, current commissioner Pat Kemp and Tampa City Council member Harry Cohen.

After the service, Kathy Castor said Mrs. Platt did more than protect the environment. She set an example for the ethical standards commissioners should follow and also championed Head Start, a child development program for low-income families.

"She didnít put on airs; she didnít kowtow," said Kathy Castor. "She just loved people and she loved Tampa Bay."

Iorio said she was struck by the Winston Churchill quote to "never, never, never give up" that was inscribed on a piece of jewelry Mrs. Platt wore.

"People should take heart in the fact that she never, never, never gave up," Iorio said.

The Rev. John R. Peterson knew Mrs. Platt for about 40 years. For a time, they were neighbors. She worshipped at his church, St. Johnís.

At her swearing-in ceremonies, other commissioners would ask him what she was really like.

"What you see is what you get," he told them. "She was solid as the Rock of Gibraltar."

Contact Christopher OíDonnell at [email protected] or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.