CLEARWATER — Myra Chandler Haas started the Belleair Bee in 1976, a community newspaper she envisioned as a muscular arm for worthwhile causes.
She covered ribbon cuttings, Town Commission meetings and coming elections, using an advertising-supported model she had already used to run a string of successful newspapers in Michigan.
She founded the Largo Leader next, donating ad space and sponsoring events for charities.
Before moving to Clearwater, Mrs. Haas had expanded a business and rebounded from tragedy.
Mrs. Haas, a sparkplug for community newspapers and a powerful force in opening and sustaining Ruth Eckerd Hall, died Jan. 12. She was 93.
"She was a petite woman, but she had passion and determination the size of a giant," said Stephanie Smith, the chief development officer for Ruth Eckerd Hall.
She was born Myra Kuder in Detroit in 1919. She graduated from business school, worked as a secretary and started a family with her first husband, accountant William Cox. She dressed sharply — a "fashionista," her family said — and kept up with local politics.
In the mid 1950s, Mrs. Haas and other residents of suburban Detroit launched the Redford Observer. The move took them head to head with another weekly paper, covering new schools and local politics. Many of her co-workers were women.
"Ozzie and Harriet and June Cleaver were on TV, but Detroit was under brand-new development and the women's movement was just getting started," said Bill Cox, 68, Mrs. Haas' son.
Success followed success. The Observer grew to at least eight newspapers.
She weathered shocks, too. William Cox died at 42 of a heart attack. Mrs. Haas married printer Paul Chandler, who had bought her newspaper chain a few years earlier. Chandler, a political pal of Gov. George Romney, became a state senator and died of a heart attack at age 45.
His wife sold his businesses and moved to Clearwater in 1969. After owning a retail store, she started the Bee, then the Leader. She married Arthur Haas in 1981, who suffered a fatal heart attack five years later.
Mrs. Haas stayed busy, serving on the Ruth Eckerd board and as the president of the Leading Ladies, the hall's fund-raising and outreach organization.
Mrs. Haas sold the Bee and Leader in the mid 1980s, but remained in charge of the Bee until the late 1990s. The chain has since grown to eight newspapers and is now owned by a sister company of the Tampa Bay Times.
Her guiding mantra never changed, said Sue Osborne, a former sales manager for Mrs. Haas. "She knew how to make people feel important," Osborne said. "It was the newspaper's job to promote the well-being of the community."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.