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Lester Hirsch Jr. | 1933-2008

Civic activist, honored dad Les Hirsch dies at 75

HARBOUR ISLAND — Les Hirsch grew up in Manhattan, studied optometry to appease his father, and joined the Air Force to satisfy his ROTC obligation.

In 1958, his work as an Air Force optometrist brought him to a Florida town that couldn't have been more different from New York City.

He knew right away he had found his home.

"He just loved Tampa," said his son, Andy. "He loved the lifestyle. He loved the people. He loved the weather. He just loved this city."

Mr. Hirsch spent only three years in the Air Force, and only a few years longer than that as an optometrist. But he spent 50 years — the rest of his life — in Tampa. He died Oct. 31 at age 75 after a long period of declining health.

He gave up optometry shortly after he left the Air Force and spent the rest of his life as one of Tampa's most successful stockbrokers. He loved the work so much he never actually retired, even when he was very ill.

"He was still coming into work two or three days a week," said Andy Hirsch, who worked alongside his father since for more than 25 years. "He even came in one day the week he died."

But when the people who knew Mr. Hirsch best talk about his life, things other than his career seem more important.

Mr. Hirsch was a fixture in state and local political circles, helping to run election campaigns for several Florida governors in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Most of the candidates he supported were Democrats, but he also worked for Republican Gov. Claude Kirk. Kirk later appointed Mr. Hirsch to the Tampa Port Authority Board. He also served as chairman of the Tampa Sports Authority in 1984, the year the Super Bowl first came here.

But his deepest passion was for his wife, Gail, their sons Andy and David and their daughter Beth.

As busy as his professional and civic life was, Mr. Hirsch always had time for his children. David Hirsch, who is now a rabbi in Jerusalem, recalled when he was in high school and was struggling to learn Latin. His father took it upon himself to help.

"He didn't speak Latin himself," David Hirsch said. "But he sat down and learned it with me, and helped me learn it."

Just a few years ago, Hirsch was named Father of the Year by the Shelton Quarles Foundation. He had been nominated by his son Andy and was selected over several dozen finalists.

Andy Hirsch said he read about the Father of the Year Award and decided to honor his father by nominating him. He figured it would be a gesture that his father would appreciate. He didn't expect him to win.

In his nominating essay, Andy Hirsch wrote that his father had taught him three essential lessons: pray every day, help less fortunate people, and don't waste time with people who have disappointed you.

Mr. Hirsch maintained a strong bond with all his children even though only Andy lived close by.

Last year, his daughter Beth came from her California home to visit. In one of her last face-to-face conversations with her father, she told him how much his family cared for him.

"I said, 'Dad, do you know how much we all love you?' Beth Hirsch said. "And he said, 'Yes, my three children love me and I feel that. I am very lucky.' "

Besides his wife and his three children, Mr. Hirsch is survived by six grandchildren.

Marty Clear writes life stories about local residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at mclear@tampbay.rr.com.

Civic activist, honored dad Les Hirsch dies at 75 11/13/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 14, 2008 9:13pm]
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