TAMPA — Braulio Alonso left a legacy that touched not only the children he taught, but the families he met and the relatives he mentored.
"Words to express my feelings about your father can best be put as a man who started out as a family elder that shaped my ethics and moral values by example," Ronald Rosas wrote to his second cousin, Barbara Byars. "While mentoring through life, the family elder became a close friend whose greatest treasure and legacy he shared with me — his love, trust, kindness, humor, wisdom and compassion."
Dr. Alonso, a Tampa native, decorated war veteran and lifelong educator who had a high school named after him, died Saturday. He was 93.
Dr. Alonso was the son of cigar factory workers who instilled a strong work ethic. At 10, he began working at a newspaper stand after school, on weekends and during summers.
"He knew that in order to be successful in life, to help himself and his family, he had to get an education," said Byars, his daughter. "He strongly believed an education was the one thing that you could do anything with and nobody could take it away from you."
Dr. Alonso graduated from Hillsborough High, the University of Tampa and University of Florida. He had a doctorate in education and three honorary doctorates. He started his teaching career as teacher of chemistry and physics at Plant High School.
He was drafted in September 1941. After Pearl Harbor, he was sent to Officers' Candidate School in Fort Sill, Okla., and graduated as an artillery officer in April 1942. He served as a battery commander-captain in World War II in North Africa and received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with Cluster.
When he returned home in December 1945, Dr. Alonso helped returning veterans get training, receive high school diplomas or pass the GED test.
Dr. Alonso served as principal of West Tampa Junior High, Jefferson High School and King High School. He served three terms as president of the Hillsborough County Education Association, leading the drive to integrate the organization.
He also served as president of the National Education Association and started its human rights commission. He participated in civil rights demonstrations and was invited to attend the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In 2001, Alonso High School opened, bearing his name. He visited the school often, even celebrating his birthday with the students. This was the first year he missed speaking at graduation because he was too ill.
Dr. Alonso was preceded in death by his wife of 63 years, Adelfa Diaz "Bebe" Alonso; and is survived by his son, Dr. Kenneth B. and wife Pilar; daughter, Barbara A. Byars; two grandchildren and many relatives.
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 909-4613 or [email protected]