TAMPA — In the span of two weeks during the summer of 1981, a Tampa police detective and two Tampa firefighters lost their lives in the line of duty.
As George Steinbrenner III read about their deaths in the newspaper, he thought first about their families. When he realized there were no resources available to help them, he created his own.
That's when the Gold Shield Foundation was born.
"He loved children and wanted to make sure they were taken care of and taken care of properly," said Joe Voskerichian, executive director of the foundation.
The foundation provides full college scholarships to the spouses and children of law officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty. From books to room and board, it's all paid for by the foundation.
To date, the foundation has paid for the college education of 14 children and two spouses. Four more are receiving aid and 30 are eligible for aid in the coming years.
Steinbrenner, 80, a Tampa resident and owner of the New York Yankees, died Tuesday after a massive heart attack.
One of the first people the foundation helped was Glenn Warner Jr.
Warner's father, Tampa Fire Chief Franz Warner, was shot and killed in 1981 when a disgruntled former firefighter gunned him down at the downtown fire station. The tragedy, which left Franz Warner and another firefighter dead, acted as the catalyst for Steinbrenner's foundation.
Warner, 39, went on to earn a degree in fire science from Hillsborough Community College and the foundation paid his way.
Today, he works as a Tampa Rescue firefighter, just like his father did.
"I would rather it not have been me but almost 30 years later the vision that (Steinbrenner) had has really come full circle," Warner said.
It all started with a $150,000 donation from Steinbrenner. Then a charity baseball game between the University of South Florida and the New York Yankees added an additional $75,000 to the pot, Voskerichian said.
Donations by Steinbrenner continued through the years, but he kept his role in the foundation low-key.
"He was not hands on, but he wanted to make sure everything was done properly and if there was anything we ever needed he was always ready to step up to the plate," Voskerichian said.
Today, the foundation covers families in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Marion and Polk counties. It is funded by its more than 300 members and several charity events throughout the year. Not only does the foundation provide educational support but it also provides $5,000 to the family immediately following a tragedy and $200 savings bonds each Christmas to children under 21.
For the families, it is just nice to know that someone is thinking about them and Steinbrenner was, Warner said.
"The public perception of him is as the Boss, but the success of the Gold Shield Foundation in Tampa speaks volumes to the type of person he actually was," Warner said.
"He was very generous, very giving; the community meant something to him and he had the ability to help."
Steinbrenner started a similar program, the Silver Shield Foundation, in New York City in 1980 after he saw a newspaper photo of a grieving family receiving the American flag from the coffin of a slain police officer.
"It's just been a tremendous thing," Steinbrenner said in 1997 interview with the St. Petersburg Times. "We don't understand the problems of families where the man goes to work and doesn't know if he'll come home."