NEW PORT RICHEY — Lucy Baxley already had demonstrated an extraordinary intelligence and dedication to higher education by the time she landed in Pasco County.
As a young woman, she earned a degree in psychology at Indiana University and worked as a researcher for Dr. Alfred Kinsey and his revolutionary work on human sexual behavior. She got a law degree from LaSalle University and served as a field supervisor for the late Gov. John West in South Carolina.
For three decades, she balanced career and service as a military wife, guiding three children to their own successful careers before "retiring'' to Florida.
And then she really started shaking things up.
In 1980, as Pasco County reeled from unbridled development and government corruption, Mrs. Baxley easily recognized the screaming need for watchdogs. She and some other like-minded women who had moved from more progressive communities set out to form a chapter of the League of Women Voters. They conducted forums so voters could get to know candidates and issues. In a county where special interests had dictated public policy, these women grew their ranks with only one real mission: good government.
In time, as Mrs. Baxley served four terms as president of the league, they boasted more than 100 members. Anybody who ran for office would have to deal with them. They would advocate campaign finance reform, open records, child welfare and growth management. They earned respect for their calm but authoritative manner and independence.
Pat Gorecki moved to Gulf Harbors in 1987 from Minnesota. She had been a card-carrying member of the League of Women Voters since 1956, and before she had even unpacked her bags, she found herself attending one of the meetings where Mrs. Baxley presided. The two women would become close friends.
"She was so intelligent,'' said Mrs. Gorecki, now 81. "She was an inspiration to many.''
Mrs. Gorecki refuses to drink from Styrofoam cups, "or anything else that's bad for the environment.'' She still uses a cup that Mrs. Baxley gave her in 1991. On the side it reads, "League of Women Voters of Pasco County.''
Sadly, the women who blazed the trail for the local league grew old. The organization that had been so vibrant and influential disappeared.
Lucy Baxley would not be pleased. She would not mince words in one of her meticulous letters to the editor. But if there is to be a chapter now, younger women must step forward.
Mrs. Baxley died on Monday (May 2, 2011) after an illness at her home in Walterboro, S.C., where she moved to in 1996. She was 87. Her husband of more than six decades, John, died four years ago. He had served 27 years in the Army, fighting in three wars before retiring as a lieutenant colonel and then earning a Ph.D in counseling. He worked as a guidance counselor for several years in Pasco schools.
Their three children illustrate the family's value of education. John Jr. is a physician, Reade a retired chemical engineer. And Dr. Rebecca Yackel, the youngest, is the administrator at the Baldomero Lopez State Veterans Nursing Home in Land O'Lakes. Yackel's son Patrick Montgomery, an Army Rangers sergeant, is flying from his combat mission in Afghanistan for the funeral.
"She taught me integrity, honesty, faith and perseverance,'' Yackel said Wednesday. "I believe she would say her greatest accomplishment is her children. . . . She will be remembered and loved for her kindness and devotion to us all.''
Bill Stevens can be reached at email@example.com, or at (727) 869-6250.