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C. Bette Wimbish's life opened doors

ST. PETERSBURG — Overcast skies greeted mourners who came to remember of the city's most prominent leaders.

C. Bette Wimbish, the first African-American member of St. Petersburg's City Council, died Nov. 30 at 85. Her funeral service on Thursday at Blessed Trinity Catholic Church drew about 80 people.

"I can't be sad today. She blazed a trail for all of us," said state Sen. Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, a law school classmate in the 1960s at Florida A&M University. "A lot of my becoming a state senator emanated from her saying, 'Arthenia, you can be anything you want to be.' "

Along with her husband, NAACP president Dr. Ralph Wimbish, Mrs. Wimbish emerged at the center of a racially tinged garbage strike in 1968, representing protesters who had been thrown in jail and urging others on. She was elected to the City Council in 1969, and appointed to the state's Commerce Department in 1973.

"She was a bright and capable woman, and that is why I appointed her deputy secretary of commerce," former Gov. Reubin Askew said in a telephone interview from Tallahassee. "She was fiercely independent, and she will be missed."

Mrs. Wimbish ran losing campaigns for the Pinellas County School Board in 1960, the state Senate in 1972, the state House of Representatives in 1982 and for U.S. Congress against C.W. Bill Young in 1988.

Both Joyner and Mayor Rick Baker produced proclamations on behalf of the state Senate and the city of St. Petersburg. But most of those who spoke Thursday emphasized the relative and friend they knew, not the politician.

"Those of us who grew up on 15th Avenue S and 16th Avenue S, and were in and out of each other's houses all the time remember the personal side, the family side," said state Rep. Darryl Rouson, who recalled being near Mrs. Wimbish in times of family tragedy and joy.

Former St. Louis Cardinals player Bill White did not attend the service, but relayed his gratitude in an e-mail to Mrs. Wimbish's son, Ralph Wimbish Jr. The Wimbishes housed White and other athletes and entertainers during Jim Crow segregation, the practices they helped to end.

"I am proud to have had known (the Wimbishes) and benefitted from their combativeness in fighting the racial wrongs when it was then not the safest and most popular thing to do," said White, who went on to become a broadcaster and the first black president of the National League. "Bette is at peace after a long, long fight."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or

On the Web

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C. Bette Wimbish's life opened doors 12/10/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 10, 2009 11:14pm]
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