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Sam Gibbons memorial set for Oct. 20 at South Tampa church

TAMPA — Sam Gibbons wanted to leave this world the same way he lived in it: trying to make things better.

Gibbons, who fought in World War II, served 44 years as a legislator and helped start countless national, state and local programs, died early Wednesday at the age of 92.

A memorial service for the longtime congressman will be held at Tampa's Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church at 11 a.m. Oct. 20, a Saturday.

"He always said, 'For God's sake, don't make anyone miss work to come talk about me,' " his son Clifford Gibbons said. "We wanted to honor that as best we could. It had to be Saturday."

Sam Gibbons was very clear about his wishes, which he laid out this summer, his son said. Even when the family didn't want to talk about it, he would insist.

"There was never any discussion or debate about it. He was incredibly blunt," Clifford Gibbons said. "He would say, 'Now, boys, you make sure it's taken care of.' And we all stood and said, 'Yes, sir.' "

Gibbons requested his body be donated for medical research at his alma mater, the University of Florida. His remains were transported from Tampa General Hospital to Gainesville on Wednesday.

There was a caveat: He insisted some of his tissue be donated to the Moffitt Cancer Center at the University of South Florida, the school he helped start.

"I'm 92 years old and I don't have a drop of cancer in me," Mr. Gibbons told his sons. "I want them to figure out why. Make sure they get some tissue."

The request took no one by surprise. Mr. Gibbons devoted his life to serving the public, Clifford Gibbons said, it made sense that he would want to do the same in death.

Former President Bill Clinton and wife Hillary, television newsman Tom Brokaw and Librarian of Congress James H. Billington could be among the guests expected to pack Palma Ceia Presbyterian for the service, according to representatives who have spoken to Clifford Gibbons.

Church officials estimate about 600 people can fit inside the building's sanctuary. If the crowd overflows, the church will open its side doors and set up chairs in an outside courtyard as they do for Easter service.

Pastor John DeBevoise will help lead the memorial service, which will include several hymns, a favorite of Mr. Gibbons.

"Many of us have very happy memories of him singing with gusto," DeBevoise said. "We'll be singing the songs he loved in a room where he was present almost every Sunday."

DeBevoise said Mr. Gibbons had last attended church on Sunday, just days before he died.

The Gibbons family will personally receive guests following the service.

Marissa Lang can be reached at mlang@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386 or on Twitter @Marissa_Jae.

Sam Gibbons memorial set for Oct. 20 at South Tampa church 10/11/12 [Last modified: Thursday, October 11, 2012 11:03pm]
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