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Family and friends gather to celebrate the life of former Tampa Mayor Poe

TAMPA — William F. Poe Sr. loved being mayor. But more than that, his son said, he loved the people of the city he served.

"He said many times over the last few weeks, many, many times, how much he loved everyone and what a wonderful life he had," his son William Frederick Poe Jr. said.

William F. Poe Sr. served as mayor from 1974 to 1979 and founded an insurance agency that became one of the nation's largest. He died Thursday at age 82 after an illness of several weeks.

At a memorial service Tuesday, family and friends remembered Poe, the successful businessman and public servant. But they also recalled the father who always had time for swim meets and the doting grandfather who made silly nicknames for his 16 grandchildren.

The memorial service at Bayshore Baptist Church followed a graveside service Tuesday morning at Myrtle Hill Memorial Park.

A slide show before the memorial service showed Poe with his large family, at graduations, weddings and fishing trips. Nat King Cole's Unforgettable accompanied photos of Poe and his wife, Elizabeth, smiling together at the beach.

Fourteen of Poe's grandchildren stood at the front of the church to share the life lessons they learned from him.

He taught them how to give high-fives, how to appreciate college sports and that, if Nana wasn't home, hot dogs and Cheetos were fine for dinner. He also taught them to work hard and stand up for their beliefs, they said.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn spoke during the memorial of Poe's role in shaping the city he sees today.

"To be mayor is to take a job with no manual, to assume the responsibility and mantle of a city," Buckhorn said.

Poe understood the importance of a thriving downtown and that diversity mattered, particularly at a time when that view wasn't popular, Buckhorn said.

"He was a mayor who understood we all rise and fall together," Buckhorn said. "He was a mayor that broke down racial barriers and told the African-American community, you have a seat at the table, as well."

Poe believed in the city's potential, Buckhorn said.

"He could have gone on in business, he could have made a lot of money," Buckhorn said. "He didn't have to give back to the community."

Poe's son Charles Edwin Poe recalled when his father received the outstanding alumnus award from the Hillsborough County School District in the 1990s. He stood in front of the crowd at the ceremony and began naming his former teachers one by one, starting with kindergarten.

At the time, his son remembered worrying about how much time his father was taking up. But later he realized his father was trying to encourage an audience full of teachers by showing that, 50 years later, he still remembered and appreciated his.

"A big reason he had such a rich life was he believed people wanted to succeed," Charles Poe said. "That's a great gift to give others."

Dr. Tom Pinner was Poe's minister and friend since 1968. Poe's accolades and good works were because of his faith, Pinner said. He heard of many good things Poe did, but Poe rarely told him about them himself.

"Many of those things you mention, he did because he was a Christian. He had grace in his heart," Pinner said.

Pinner said he has seen many business success stories with catastrophic home lives. But Poe succeeded in both.

"I don't know where he got the time," Pinner said. "But when you love people, you make time."

Keeley Sheehan can be reached at ksheehan@tampabay.com.

Family and friends gather to celebrate the life of former Tampa Mayor Poe 05/06/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 6, 2014 11:18pm]
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