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Hillsborough notables pay tribute to their moms on Mother's Day

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, 45, on her mother, former USF president Betty Castor, 71:

Reflecting on my mother, it was just her positive attitude and going through the world in a proactive, positive manner. Whether it was a difference in the family or a difference in government, it was always, "How can we tackle this?" She went to the University Club when they didn't allow women. They asked her to leave and she didn't lose control. She went downstairs, bought a hot dog from the street vendor, and then she called her friend who was a Channel 13 reporter. She channeled outrage in a proper way. She was a positive example to all sorts of women facing challenges. It's fun now to go look at the wall of the presidents of the University Club and see women. The first woman member came just a few years after she (called Channel 13). Even when she was the president at the University of South Florida and she launched the football program, a lot of people criticized her and thought she shouldn't do it, but she remained positive. Now, I try to provide that same example to my daughters.

As told to Ernest Hooper, Times staff writer

Brenda Junco, 63, nurse manager for Tampa General Hospital's transplant unit, on her mother, Abilia Junco, who died in 2005:

The most important thing that she taught me was compassion and caring for human beings. She was in the medical field: She was a radiologist. She always talked about science and always inspired me to look toward the sciences.

My mother used to buy me these little Nurse Nancy books. That's who I wanted to be, from the age of 3.

My dad, on the other hand, was a CPA. He worked for the IRS and he was all a numbers kind of guy. He wanted me to follow in his footsteps. He was so displeased when I changed my major from being business to nursing — you would have thought that I just shot him. He kept telling my mother, "This is your fault!"

I saw my mother's compassion and her caring and her undying love for the human person. She would do anything for anyone. That's why I'm all about sharing and paying it forward.

I am the eyes, the ears and the touch of the surgeon, the doctor. I'm the sentinel at the bedside, the last line of defense, the person who advocates for the patient so they get what they want and don't suffer.

My dad, later on in life, he said, "I'm so glad you did this for yourself. You were right to listen to your heart — like Mom said. Your mom was right."

As told to Stephanie Wang, Times staff writer

Santiago Corrada, 48, city of Tampa chief of staff, on his mother, Scarlet Corrada, 72:

It was always to defend and support the underdog and the weak. If there was someone disenfranchised or someone on the street who needed help, I saw her intervene a number of times.

We lived in Paterson, N.J., in a tough neighborhood and we saw a lot of poverty, a lot of domestic abuse. Once, there was a man who was beating his wife out on the street and my mom ran out and took him on, gathered the woman and her child and brought them into our house until the police arrived. To this day, that's her.

I remember there was a mob of kids beating up another kid, and she rushed into the crowd and grabbed the one kid.

If we had a barbecue, it was a barbecue for everybody in the neighborhood. She passed food over the fence.

That stuck with me. When I was a high school principal, I was always in poverty-stricken areas, trying to help people who needed it most. It's why I'm drawn to public service.

She worked a lot of blue-collar jobs. When we moved to Miami when I was 14 (in 1977), she got a job at a Publix and Publix loved her. She played Mrs. Claus during the holidays. When managers left the store, they tried to take her with them.

She's a good lady. And she's tough, too.

As told to Ernest Hooper, Times staff writer

Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee, 53, on his mother, Lynda Gee, 74:

I was teaching a leadership class, and I told them, "Think of the best person you have ever worked for." Then I said, "Think of the person who treated you the worst." I said, "Your goal is not to become the best person, but to make sure you don't even come close to the worst person you ever worked for."

That comes from my mom. She always said, "Never become what you've always professed to hate." When I was coming up and gaining rank, she told me, "Now that you have the power and you have this position, don't become what you said you hated, because it's real easy for people in power to do that."

I think about that all the time. Sometimes people rub you the wrong way, and I could probably do or say something, but I think, "You know what, I always hated when people were like that with me. Nope, I'm not going to do it."

Her other favorite thing is, "To those whom much has been given, much is expected." If I complain about my schedule, she doesn't cut me any slack. She says that I wanted this status and now that I have it, people expect a lot from me and I have to deal with it.

As told to Times staff writer Ernest Hooper

The Frank sisters on their mother, Pat Frank, 83, Hillsborough Clerk of the Circuit Court:

Stacy Frank, 57: She gave us a sense of independence, perseverance and loyalty.

Hillary Frank Aubin, 55: She taught me to stand up for what is right, even if you have to stand alone.

Courtney Frank, 50: Mom showed me how to speak with honesty, think with sincerity and act with integrity. I've watched countless numbers of people who walk up to her whenever we are out together as they thank her with their individual stories about what she has done for them, their children, their parents or a friend during the course of her 30 years of public service. I'm proud to listen to their stories of appreciation because they are like windows into her life I'm being allowed to view.

As told to Ernest Hooper, Times staff writer

Bob Samuels, 73, retired banker, author and the founding chairman of the National Prostate Cancer Coalition and of the Florida Prostate Cancer Network, on his mom, Lorraine Bizzell Blue, 91:

My mother taught me to aim high, believe in yourself and never quit. She worked as a housekeeper to put a roof over our head, sacrificing to send me to Catholic school, which cost $15 a month, a huge sum back then in the 1940s and '50s, versus public school, which was free.

Society didn't have high expectations for a black child in the ghetto, but she was determined that I would not be a statistic, dead or in jail by the time I was a teenager. Her hopes and aspirations were invested in me . . . knowing that education was the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. She showed me that the only limits I had were the ones I placed on myself.

As told to Amy Scherzer, Times staff writer

Eric Darius, 29, jazz saxophonist and Blake High graduate, on his mother, Shirley Darius, 55:

My mom has always told me: Stay true to myself. Don't let anyone change who I am. Keep God first in all things I do, and he will direct my path.

The music business is a very, very tough business. Unfortunately, a lot of it isn't really about the music. It's about the business. I come in contact with people who don't always have the right intentions or integrity, so I always have to stay sharp and not put myself in any situation that would compromise who I am. There's definitely a lot of peer pressure.

But because of my morals, because of the way my mom raised me, it's never been an issue to me. My mom has definitely kept me strong. There are times when I do get discouraged or things don't necessarily go my way — but she always finds a way to get me back on the train and keep me focused.

As told to Stephanie Wang, Times staff writer

Shannan Aprile, 46, on her mother, former Hillsborough County commissioner and A Kid's Place founder, Dottie Berger MacKinnon, 70:

I wrote a word down and then asked my husband — without him knowing — what he thought my mom had taught me. Amazingly, we both said the same word: integrity!

I don't think my mom is capable of living any other way. I have never heard her be dishonest. If anyone is lucky enough to have her for a friend — and she really values her friends — they can trust that what they tell her in confidence stays with her. That has been a valuable lesson I have learned. She has said that you need to be honest but be kind at the same time.

She has met people who, one time, they've lied about something, and it just ruins their whole credibility. In her business, you have to be honest. Be transparent with finances. Be honest about what you're doing, what you're asking for, what you expect. She has just taught me to be honest. It doesn't sound real fancy but that would probably be the one thing that covers a lot of other things.

It seems every chance I get I am trying to dig for some more wisdom from her. She has set the standard high for all of us to follow. I can't tell you how absolutely blessed I am that she is my mom. I get a piece of her that perhaps no one else knows and gets — and I treasure that so much.

As told to Stephanie Wang, Times staff writer

Stacey Efaw, 40, executive director for ECHO Brandon (emergency assistance organization), on her mother, Kay Hardee, 68:

She taught me about helping others. In her career, in her life, she was also in social work.

I remember her first job: She was the director of an agency that helped mentally challenged children at school. She would have me and my brother come and help with the kids.

I think it instilled a sense of gratitude, even as a young child, to be thankful for what you have. You take a lot of things for granted, even mental or physical abilities that some people do not have.

I've always seen her helping people. It was just how I was raised, always being around it.

Since she has so much experience, she's been very helpful with advice in setting up ECHO's client center.

She works full time as a mental health counselor — she has her own practice in Valrico. I don't think she'll ever retire.

As told to Stephanie Wang, Times staff writer

Gillian Leytham, 25, on her mother, Beth Leytham, 49, owner of the Leytham Group public relations firm:

As I prepared for my graduation from the University of Florida Law School this weekend, I looked back and identified the myriad lessons that I've learned from my mother, most of which she taught me through example. These are best characterized as "Beth-isms."

• "Why? Because I'm the mom. Do what I say now, and I'll pay for your therapy later!"

• "The keys to being a successful, independent woman are a solid education, self-reliance, integrity and a killer work ethic."

• "Honesty is the No. 1 policy because your credibility is everything."

• "Getting a solid education is your No. 1 priority, kid. That is the key to broadening your choices in life, and to buying your mother a penthouse in Manhattan!"

• "Get a job!"

And, finally, a classic:

• "Buy it now, try it on later."

As told to Ernest Hooper, Times staff writer

Ericka Womack-Brown, 27, star of American Stage in the Park's Rocky Horror Show, on her mother, popular local singer Belinda Womack, 59:

My mother taught me about humility and to use the gifts God has given me selflessly.

As told to Ernest Hooper, Times staff writer

Academy of the Holy Names junior and Athena Society Young Woman of Promise Meagan Gonzalez, 17, on her mother Kim, 50:

The biggest thing I've learned from my mom is to keep an open mind and have fun with whatever you're doing. She showed me that through her actions by setting a really good example.

As told to Ernest Hooper, Times staff writer

Tom Pepin, 59, president and CEO Pepin Distributing Co., on his mother, Polly Pepin, 86:

It takes a lighthearted sense of humor to survive this world. This trait calms a tense situation, entertains at a party and is good medicine for the heart.

As told to Amy Scherzer, Times staff writer

Robert Weiner, 47, Plant High School varsity football coach, on his mom, Carol Weiner, 72:

My mom taught me to have unconditional love for the people I care about. And the importance of having a gentle heart to care for the people around you, particularly those in need, and how doing that often requires great courage.

As told to Sarah Whitman, Times staff writer

Zach Bonner, 14, student and founder of the Little Red Wagon Foundation, on his mother, Laurie Bonner:

I have learned so much from my mom. I guess the main thing is that I can do anything I set my mind to, to believe in myself, never quit and know that she will always be there for me when I need her most.

As told to Sarah Whitman, Times staff writer

Gary Wishnatzki, 56, strawberry entrepreneur and CEO of Wish Farms, on his mother, Anne Marie "Nancy" Wishnatzki, 91:

The most important things I learned from my mother were to keep a positive attitude and to treat people with respect and compassion. She had a very difficult childhood, yet she always remained positive. She did much charity work in the community and gave both financially and of herself.

She was always cheerful. She had a lot of funny little quirky sayings, like "Tomorrow is another day."

As told to Stephanie Wang, Times staff writer

Sue Creekmore, 66, fourth-grade teacher at Kingswood Elementary and finalist for Hillsborough Teacher of the Year 2012, on her mother, Anna May Hall, who died in 1997:

I could do anything I put my mind to. She taught me that by example, and she taught me that just by building that persistence that a person needs to be successful in life — that kind of determination of goal-setting and planning to reach the goal. And of course along the way, all the kindness and compassion and looking out for others plays into that as well.

My mom had high expectations of herself and high expectations of her children. It was never a question of whether or not I would go to college. That was a given. She recognized areas of strengths and built on those, knowing that everyone's not good at everything. She probably had to look quite a while to find something in me, unless a smart mouth counted.

My mother went back to college when she was in her 40s, and this was back in the early '60s. Women didn't do that in those days. When she went to get her cap and gown for the graduation ceremony, they looked and thought she must be a professor, because there were no older women doing that in those days. Yet she did, because she had a need for it for her family. That was a pretty awesome example for me to see that she was willing to work hard and go back to school at night and become a schoolteacher — which is what I do, too.

As told to Stephanie Wang, Times staff writer

Mordechai Schram, 46, cantor at Congregation Rodeph Sholom, on his mother, Peninnah Schram, 77:

I have received so much wisdom from my mom it's hard to narrow it down, which is amazing in and of itself.

But if I were to say the most important lesson I learned from my mother, it is the importance of having a good name.

There is a saying in Pirkei Avot, also known as the Ethics of Our Fathers (a compilation of Jewish teachings): "There are three crowns. The crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship. But the crown of a good name is greater than them all."

To me having a good name means treating people kindly and fairly, doing the right thing and being an active role model in the community. This is one of the most important lessons that I learned from my mother, and which she also learned from her mother, and I am very grateful.

As told to Sarah Whitman, Times staff writer

Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan, 44, on his mother, Bonna, 67:

I cannot imagine a more supportive mother. In fact, I cannot ever remember her saying that I could not accomplish anything — even things I knew myself would be impossible to achieve. There was, though, always one caveat, one condition on whatever encouragement my mom gave me. It was always "God willing." To this day, she has instilled that level of faith in me, and it is always something that I reflect on when I reach for my goals.

As told to Ernest Hooper, Times staff writer

Integrys Transportation Fuels manager and former USF basketball player Anddrikk Frazier, 35, on his mother, Sharon Frazier, 57:

I was in middle school, and it was on a Friday or Saturday at 1 in the morning. Someone was frantically ringing the doorbell and I went to the door and looked through the peephole and it was a guy covered in blood. Remember, this was in Clair-Mel. My dad said, "I'm not opening the door." My mom was a medical assistant, so she opened the door. He had been carjacked. Of course, my dad thought she was absolutely nuts. We were like the 10th house he had come to, and no one had opened the door for him. He came by the next day and thanked her. I learned that no matter what the circumstances, you always have to help somebody in need and you always have to do the right thing.

As told to Ernest Hooper, Times staff writer

Singer, model and television host Ann Poonkasem, 35, on her mother, Gina, 64:

I have learned a lot of things from my mother. She has taught me to believe in myself, to be financially independent, and that money doesn't always buy happiness. The most important thing I've learned from my mother is that life is short, so it's very important to not take anything for granted. She taught me to balance both the material world and the spiritual world and not get caught up in all the materialistic things in life — they can blindside you. She always says make prayer and meditation a top priority, and eat healthy. I'm a grown woman, yet I still learn something from my mom every day.

As told to Ernest Hooper, Times staff writer

Hillsborough notables pay tribute to their moms on Mother's Day 05/11/12 [Last modified: Friday, May 11, 2012 7:30pm]
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