A memorial service for Rhea Chiles, the wife of former Gov. Lawton Chiles, will be held Monday, Nov. 16, at 11 a.m. at Faith Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee.
Chiles died at her home in Anna Maria Island, Florida, on Nov. 8, of natural causes. She was 84.
Photo: In a 1992 photo, Gov. Lawton Chiles' daughter Rhea MacKinnon leans against him with her new baby boy as husband Alex and mother Rhea Chiles look on. Credit: Tampa Bay Times Jim Demaske.
Here is the family's obituary:
Rhea Grafton Chiles, wife of the late Florida Governor Lawton Chiles, and beloved mother of Tandy Chiles, Lawton (“Bud”) Chiles III, Ed Chiles, and Rhea Gay Chiles, died at her home in Anna Maria Island, Florida, on November 8, 2015, of natural causes, at the age of 84.
Rhea Grafton was born on December 1, 1930, to Philip and May Grafton of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. After her family moved to Florida, Rhea attended schools in Dade County.
She attended the University of Florida, where she served on the staff of the student newspaper, The Alligator, and was president of Alpha Delta Pi Sorority. At the University of Florida, in 1948, she met Lawton Chiles.
Rhea Grafton and Lawton Chiles were married in Lakeland, Florida, on January 25, 1951. The two shared a partnership in life and politics for more than 47 years, until his death on December 12, 1998.
She supported Lawton Chiles through his many political campaigns, from the Florida House of Representatives, to the Florida Senate, to the United States Senate, and to the Governor’s Office. He called her “the best political sounding board that I have.” Governor Chiles often talked of his “inner voices” that helped guide him through his most important decisions.Rhea was the most important of those voices.
It was Rhea who had the idea for Lawton, then a state senator from Lakeland, to walk from Jay, Florida, to Key West as he sought a seat in the United States Senate in 1970. It earned him the nickname “Walkin’ Lawton” and the Senate seat.
In their first year living in Washington, Rhea noticed a dilapidated but historic row house on Capitol Hill. She arranged for its purchase, rehabilitated it, and founded within its walls “Florida House,” the only state “embassy” in the Nation’s Capital. Florida House annually hosts 10,000 visitors to Washington.
As Florida’s First Lady from 1991-1998, Rhea Chiles championed many notable causes. She upgraded the technological resources of the Governor’s Office and made the first inventory of the Governor’s Mansion possessions and furnishings. In 1997, she envisioned, edited, and oversaw the production of "700 North Adams Street," an illustrated history of Florida’s two Governor’s Mansions and the families who occupied them.
Among her most significant contributions, and one of which she was most proud, was her vision that students should be consulted in designing the anti-tobacco youth program that resulted from Governor Chiles’ historic tobacco settlement. Her vision ultimately became the “Truth” anti-tobacco campaign, which has been highly successful in curbing youth smoking and has become a model for the nation.
An accomplished artist, Rhea’s painting of the Florida’s Myakka River, “Heartland,” was awarded as the “Heartland Award” by Governor Chiles to Floridians who exemplified long-term commitment and service to their communities. Her watercolor, "Window to Washington," which depicts the view of the Capitol from the upstairs window of Florida House on Capitol Hill, is considered the "artistic signature" of the important gathering place that she founded. Most recently, she founded The Studio at Gulf and Pine, a community cultural center near her home in Anna Maria, Florida.
Rhea Chiles was preceded in death by her parents, her brother, Ed Grafton, and her husband, Lawton Chiles.
She is survived by her four children, grandchildren Joe Lawton Barrett, Tandy Bondi, Lawton Chiles IV, Katie ChilesOttenweller, Geoffrey Chiles, Ashley Chiles, Cristin Chiles, Lexi McKinnon Zuo, Mack McKinnon, Ansley McKinnon and three great-grandchildren.
A celebration of her life will be held on Monday, Nov. 16th at 11:00am, Faith Presbyterian Church, Tallahassee, Fl. In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to the Children’s Home Society (CHSFL.org) or the Lawton Chiles Foundation (
). Please send any correspondence to 12008 Miccosukee Road, Tallahassee, Fl. 32309.