ST. PETERSBURG — Dr. James L. Mason, a tall and stylishly dressed man who wore tinted glasses and hair that crept past his collar, made a memorable impression while serving briefly on the St. Petersburg City Council in the 1970s.
He spoke about issues ranging from the economic viability of area hospitals to protecting waterfront property from developers to the future of Albert Whitted Airport. At times he vented frustration with what he considered wasted time at City Council meetings.
A cardiologist, he also performed the first pacemaker implantation in the St. Petersburg area and acquired the first equipment to perform electrocardiograms, according to the Heart and Vascular Institute, the current name for the business he founded in 1964.
Dr. Mason died unexpectedly Sept. 6 in Friendsville, Tenn., where he had been living for the last several years. He was 81.
"He was like the Al Gore of his time on the environment and things like that," said Barbara Gammon, 82, who served on the council from 1969 to 1973 and sometimes crossed swords with Dr. Mason, whom she described as "well dressed and lovely and quiet."
At times, Dr. Mason was about as quiet as an earthquake.
In 1972, just three months after being appointed to the council, he answered Mayor Herman Goldner's inquiry about scheduling another hearing on water fluoridation with, "No, I think one senile circus at a time is enough."
A supporter of fluoridation, Dr. Mason suggested that many of the opponents who had spoken at the hearing were "too blooming old to know what they're talking about."
Such bluntness, along with positions he took as a lifelong Republican and environmentalist, often provoked disagreement — yet, perhaps ironically, rarely offense. Colleagues and patients found him to be courtly — an employer who always bought flowers for his female staffers on Valentine's Day and walked the housekeeper to her car.
James Larrence Mason was born in Plano, Texas. He was an Eagle Scout who graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., threw the discus for the Yale University track team and graduated from Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. After five years as a Navy flight surgeon and completing a cardiology fellowship at the University of Florida, he joined Rogers Heart Foundation at St. Anthony's Hospital in the early 1960s.
Dr. Mason soon went into private practice and directed the coronary care unit at Bayfront Medical Center. He helped expand the use of heart catheterization instruments at All Children's Hospital to adult patients.
"By opening the cath lab for adults, that opened it up to do surgery for adults," said Dr. John Hoche, who joined Dr. Mason's cardiology practice in 1978. "The fact is, we didn't have heart surgery in St. Petersburg (for adults). We were sending them to Tampa."
Dr. Mason and his first wife, Eula, lived in Driftwood with their three sons. In 1969 he fought a city project to pave its tree-lined roads.
In 1972 he was appointed to complete the City Council term of the late Horace Williams. Some of his proposals provoked debate, such as a plan to limit new hospital growth so as not to drain paying patients from nonprofit hospitals, and buying large chunks of waterfront land for preservation.
In 1973 Dr. Mason decided against running for the council seat he had held. "He was glad he did it, but medicine was taking up more and more of his time, and that's where his first love was," said Debra Mason, 57, his wife since 1987.
He returned to the council by appointment, serving in 1976 and 1977.
After retiring around 2000, he maintained residences in St. Pete Beach and Tennessee. He and Debra moved several years ago to Friendsville, where he enjoyed fly fishing and exploring antique shops. He had seemed in good health recently but died in his sleep, his wife said.
"He always said, 'I've had a wonderful life,' " she said.
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the middle name of Dr. James Larrence Mason was misspelled.
Researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this story. Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.