Sunday, June 24, 2018
Education

A mother's gift to her late daughter and for women in the legal profession: an endowed scholarship at PHCC

BROOKSVILLE

One spring day in 1983, Linda Bishop walked across a stage at the Hernando High School football stadium and accepted her diploma.

Then she grabbed another one.

In the stands, Gerrie Bishop beamed as the audience applauded. Her daughter, school officials said, was the first Hernando High student to earn her high school diploma and her associate's degree at the same time. Back then, the dual enrollment program that allowed students to attend high school and Pasco-Hernando Community College simultaneously was still in its infancy.

Later in life, Gerrie Bishop started thinking about leaving money to PHCC to start a scholarship fund in her name. She had earned her associate's degree from the college, too, in 1981.

Now 71 and the general magistrate for Hernando County, Bishop never thought she would find herself in a position to donate an endowment in her daughter's name. But she did.

"This way," she said, "Linda won't be forgotten."

• • •

Linda walked across the stage that day envisioning a career as a veterinarian.

A shy, heavyset girl who played the flute in the school band and peered at the world through large, round glasses, Linda lived to love animals. The family had a menagerie of cats, dogs, horses, chickens, even guinea hens.

"I think we had a neon sign in front of the house that said 'strays come here,' " Bishop said.

Linda earned a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of South Florida. While there, she worked as a veterinarian technician, but would soon realize the long odds of landing a spot at the University of Florida veterinary school. She considered her options.

Gerrie Bishop had worked as a legal secretary before the family moved to Florida, and her husband, Clarence, suggested she go back to school.

She got past the fear and found herself surrounded by classmates young enough to be her children. In an era of new math, she wondered what was wrong with the old math. Biology worried her.

"DNA wasn't even being taught when I was in high school," she recalled with a smile.

But at 40, Bishop earned her associate's degree from PHCC. She would go on to earn a bachelor's from USF — she graduated within days of her daughter's double matriculation — and a law degree from UF.

She was working as a law clerk for Judge L.R. Huffstetler in the Hernando courthouse at the time her daughter started to ponder alternatives to vet school. The supervisor of the probation program told Bishop she needed good people, so Linda applied to be a probation officer.

Bishop supported the decision, but worried. How would the girl who tenderly cared for vulnerable creatures fare at keeping tabs on convicted felons?

Linda attended several weeks of training before starting the job. About a month later, Bishop ran into her daughter's supervisor, who asked if Bishop had any more kids just like her.

"I knew then that everything would be okay," Bishop said.

Maybe the job made Linda assertive, or forced it from inside her, but she didn't back down when a man came at her with a billy club and threatened to kill her. She told him to get his act together.

She would work full days, then get up in the middle of night to track down one elusive probationer or make sure another was obeying curfew. She dealt with testy relatives and charging pit bulls. She loved it.

After eight or nine years in Hernando, she spent another decade or so working for Pasco County. In more recent years, she held a dual role, supervising felony drug offenders and advising a judge in court.

Linda kept meticulous records and boasted an encyclopedic knowledge of drugs and their effects, said Leona Crumbley, a correctional probation senior supervisor in Pasco. She never said no to anyone who needed help.

As a probation officer, Crumbley said, Linda struck an admirable balance between toughness and compassion. She told her charges up front that she wanted to help them get off drugs but would work to put them behind bars if she needed to. She never had kids, but she took a particular interest in women with children.

"It was rare that someone would try to run a game on her, because they respected her," Crumbley said.

Last fall, Linda came down with pneumonia and a viral infection. On the morning of Nov. 5, her husband of 20 years, Donald Tew, found her dead in the bedroom of the couple's Brooksville home.

Doctors suspect the illness starved her system of oxygen and she had a heart attack, her mother said. She was 46.

Told of her death, some of Linda's probationers shed tears. Several showed up at her funeral to pay their respects and share how Linda had put them on the right path.

Some said she was the first person who ever really cared about them.

• • •

In mid December, Gerrie Bishop drove to Brooksville Cemetery, where some of her daughter's ashes are buried next to her father, who died in 2002.

Bishop shared with her daughter her decision to establish the Linda Bishop Tew Scholarship endowment for PHCC students studying in the college's legal programs — aspiring paralegals, lawyers, cops and corrections officers.

It felt like the thing to do.

"She enjoyed the time she had at PHCC, and she enjoyed working in the legal field," Bishop said.

She donated $10,000, which in a couple years will earn enough interest to provide a student with a $1,000 scholarship each year for decades to come. She gave an additional $2,000 to provide the scholarships in the next two years while the endowment earns interest.

The average student pays about $1,100 each semester for a full load of 12 credits, and need for financial aid always outpaces available scholarship money, said Maria Hixon, the college's director of development.

"So $500 a semester is a huge dent," Hixon said. "That amount of money goes a long way here."

Gerrie Bishop said she still intends to designate in her will some money for the college to start a scholarship for students of nontraditional age, as she was. How much, she quips, depends on how much she spends before she goes.

As general magistrate, Bishop hears all types of cases, civil and criminal, and makes recommendations to judges. The toughest part is deciding whether parents struggling with drug addiction are fit to keep their kids.

She sees a lot of lives teetering on the rails. She encourages them to go back to school.

"The community college is the perfect way to make that happen," she said. "Hopefully, this will inspire some of them."

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]

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