TAMPA — C. Blythe Andrews Jr. served as a gatekeeper for a generation of black politicians in Hillsborough County.
His Florida Sentinel Bulletin cultivated a loyal readership of black residents who turned to the twice weekly newspaper to find out what was going on in the African-American community, good and bad. When the paper endorsed candidates for office, those readers listened.
"His paper pretty much directed the black community," said Rubin Padgett, Hillsborough County's first elected African-American commissioner and a close family friend who serves on the newspaper's editorial board.
Mr. Andrews died Tuesday (Jan. 12, 2010) after a long illness. He was 79.
Many newer residents of Tampa may know Mr. Andrews as the prominent civic leader caught up in the federal sexual discrimination trial of Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White last year. But for several decades, he served as a leader in the black community and the region as a whole, in business and civic causes.
At times, he sat on the board that oversaw the community's major public hospital and advocated other causes on behalf of the poor and working class.
His enduring legacy flows through the newspaper, which has served as the voice of African-Americans in West Central Florida since World War II. During the decades of segregation, it provided news to readers and a venue for black writers and columnists.
The Sentinel Bulletin is sold throughout Florida by mail subscriptions and is delivered to homes and newsstands in Hillsborough, Polk and Pinellas counties.
"People have looked forward to receiving that paper on Tuesdays and Fridays since I can remember," said former state Sen. Les Miller. "The newspaper provided the news of accomplishments by people in the black community, and gave that news to the world."
Mr. Andrews represents the third of four generations of newspaper publishers. His paper is still the only African-American publication in Florida that is published twice weekly and that owns its own printing equipment.
His grandfather, William W. Andrews, founded the original Florida Sentinel in Jacksonville in 1919. The paper closed during the Great Depression before his father, C. Blythe Andrews, resurrected it in Tampa in 1945.
The elder Andrews would purchase the former Tampa Bulletin in 1959 and merge the two papers. His son would spend afternoons after school at Booker T. Washington Junior High School folding copies for delivery, recalled Perry Harvey, a former Tampa City Council member and friend of Mr. Andrews' since the seventh grade.
The newspaper's offices were originally located on Central Avenue, then the main black business and entertainment district in Tampa. Urban Renewal in the early 1960s forced a relocation to its current home in Ybor City.
Mr. Andrews took over as editor-in-chief and publisher after the death of his father in 1977 and served as the newspaper's leader for nearly two decades.
In the tradition of other black-owned newspapers, it built its following by featuring nearly exclusively the achievements and tribulations of its African-Americans readers.
"Unless we did something extraordinary, the white papers wouldn't print it," Harvey said. "The backbone of the community is his paper. We're going to miss him. I'm going to miss him."
In addition to his role with the paper, and sometimes in concert with it, Mr. Andrews took on several community positions.
He oversaw the Lily White Security Benefit Association, which offered small burial insurance benefits to its black members when other companies would not. His family still has a financial interest in the Tampa Park Apartments, a low-income private housing complex near downtown Tampa.
Mr. Andrews served on the board of trustees for Tampa General Hospital and pushed for renaming Buffalo Avenue after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio remembers him as a leading advocate for creating Hillsborough County's indigent health care program, which provides low cost medical treatment for the poor.
"He's always been to me a very kind and gentle person who cared very deeply about the community where he was born and raised his family," said Iorio, who was on the County Commission when the health care plan was created. "I think he was very proud of the paper staying in the family and growing."
During his time as publisher, politicians regularly sought out his counsel, and particularly the endorsements of his newspaper. A good word from the editorial board was considered crucial to black politicians, but the paper was also courted by other politicians hoping to sway black voters.
"It was highly critical," said Tampa City Council member Tom Scott. "Most every person who was a candidate in the black community, and even white candidates, made sure to make it by the editorial board."
Mr. Andrews turned over the reins of the Sentinel Bulletin to his daughter, Sybil Kay Andrews Wells, and son, C. Blythe Andrews III, in 1996. Wells is the publisher and Andrews III is the president and comptroller.
Their father had played a less visible role in the community in recent years as he battled illness.
However, last year Mr. Andrews was dragged into a civil lawsuit brought against White, the county commissioner, by a former aide. The aide claimed White sexually harassed her, including on a business trip to Atlanta in 2007 attended by Mr. Andrews.
White testified that he brought the aide, Alyssa Ogden, to Atlanta at the behest of Mr. Andrews, and said he believed the two had developed a romantic interest in each other. Both strongly denied White's claim and a jury rejected his defense.
A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at a location to be determined. Visitation is 5 to 9 p.m. Friday at the Wilson Funeral Home at 3000 N 29th Street in Tampa.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or [email protected]