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Epilogue | Lee Bentley

Banker and community leader Lee Bentley

TAMPA — Even in the hospital battling cancer, Lee Bentley was intent on organizing a poker game.

"He lived to play poker," said his son, Mickler Bentley. Mr. Bentley and friends gathered weekly for a friendly game. "They weren't huge stakes, but I know he regularly cleaned them out."

Tampa native, banker, veteran and a former king of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, Mr. Bentley died March 4 at home. He was 91.

His son described him as a quiet, calm man who never raised his voice, never seemed envious of anybody for anything and was liked by everybody.

Mr. Bentley, who was retired, had served as president of the Second National Bank of Tampa. He also had been a director of First Florida Banks, chairman of the First National Bank of Clearwater and chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber Commerce Committee of 100.

A leader in social circles as well, he had been president of the Merrymakers Club, a commodore at the Tampa Yacht Club and first chairman of the Center Club of Tampa.

As a child of the Depression, he lived through hard times after his banker father lost his job and his parents had to sell their furniture, Mickler Bentley said. He took a job at Whaley's grocery, and at 13 or 14 was driving a truck between Tampa and New York.

They weren't exactly fond memories, according to his friend, Walter Baldwin.

"He always told me, 'You know, I still hate grocery stores,' " said Baldwin, laughing.

Baldwin, founder of Baldwin & Sons insurance company, now DavisBaldwin Inc., displays a deposit slip for $821.90 on his wall, the money he used to start his company in 1960. It's initialed "L.B." — Lee Bentley, who was a teller at First National. They were friends from then on.

He had a good sense of humor, Baldwin said, though he tended to be low-key about it.

Baldwin recalled a time when a few couples gathered for cocktails. Mr. Bentley put his shoes on the wrong feet, just to see how long it would take to notice.

As a prank while he was a student at Plant High School, he held another student by the belt and dangled him from a second-story window, his son said. "He was really strong back then." The belt broke and the boy dropped, his fall luckily broken by bushes.

Mr. Bentley served in England during World War II, working as a sergeant in the payroll division of the Eighth Air Force. Poor vision kept him out of combat.

He began his career at First National Bank of Tampa. After attending the University of Tampa, he graduated from Louisiana State University Banking School of the South. He was a member of First Baptist Church of Tampa for 80 years.

As a teenager, he was there on opening day of the Colonnade Restaurant, which started as a drive-in hamburger joint. In later years, he dined in the small restaurant lounge about twice a week, usually ordering pan-fried trout or catfish, employees said.

"He was always very pleasant," said bartender Smokie McDonnell. "Very quiet, but he loved to carry on a conversation."

Philip Morgan can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or pmorgan@sptimes.com.

.Biography

Lee Milton Bentley

Born: June 8, 1919.

Died: March 4, 2011.

Survivors: Wife Laura Mickler Bentley; son Charles Mickler Bentley and his wife Shirley; and two grandsons.

Banker and community leader Lee Bentley 03/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 10, 2011 8:08pm]
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