L. Garry Smith, former chief of staff to then-Gov. Bob Graham and a prominent Tampa civic leader, died Wednesday morning from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He was 81.
Mr. Smith was a "role model of integrity" whose creativity helped propel Graham's campaign when he was last in the polls, the former governor said.
"He was a humble person who did not attempt to get at the front of the line or in front of the camera," Graham said, "but did his job in a very conscientious and intelligent manner."
Graham first met him while Mr. Smith was involved in the Tampa Model Cities Program, a housing and urban development program started in the late 1960s. Mr. Smith had just successfully managed Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign in Louisiana when Graham persuaded him to manage his campaign for governor in the late 1970s, he said.
"It was more a matter of me trying to sell him instead of vice versa," Graham said. "My prospects weren't too encouraging, but he agreed to take it on. Eighteen months later, we were elected."
Mr. Smith was born Dec. 11, 1932, in Tampa. He attended Hillsborough High School, where he played football, and the University of Tampa. Former Mayor Dick Greco, who had been friends with Mr. Smith since they were children, recalled that he had always been interested in politics. Mr. Smith worked on the campaigns of Greco and former Mayor William Poe, plus those of some County Commission candidates.
"He helped in many campaigns. He believed in politics, he knew the people he was helping well and he would do anything for them," Greco said. "He was always my very, very dear friend."
Mr. Smith later became an investment banker. Greco appointed Mr. Smith to the Tampa Sports Authority in 1999.
Mr. Smith also founded the Boys and Girls Club at the Mary Help of Christians Center in Tampa. He spent two years in foster care as a child, said his daughter Sheri Bryan, 52, of Tallahassee.
"He thought it was so important to give back and have a place for kids in the same situation he was in to have a safe place to go to learn, study and have support," she said.
A funeral service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 509 N Florida Ave. Blount & Curry Funeral Homes is handling arrangements.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.