Joe Mannion, who followed an award-winning career as a broadcaster by becoming Pasco County's first full-time lobbyist, died Sunday at his Clearwater home. He was 78.
Mr. Mannion suffered from kidney cancer that had metastasized, his family said.
Blessed with a deep, resonant voice and soothing demeanor, Mr. Mannion won others over with a concise command of issues. Tampa Bay residents in the 1980s will remember his 60-second editorials on spending, public health, accountability for politicians or environmental issues that ended with his trademark, "That's what we think. Write and tell us what you think."
In 21 years as an anchor, news director and director of editorials at WFLA-Ch. 8, he doubled the size of the newsroom and won two Emmy awards. The station fired him in a 1987 shakeup. Two months later, Pasco Administrator John Gallagher hired him over 100 other applicants, many of whom had more legislative experience, deeper ties in Pasco or advanced degrees.
"We were extremely fortunate to have a man of that caliber work for Pasco County in Tallahassee," Gallagher said.
Mr. Mannion retired in 2009 amid praise for using his connections and skill to champion the agenda of a fast-growing but overlooked county in Tampa Bay.
"He was a knowledge-based lobbyist; by that I mean he knew the issues," said former Gov. Bob Martinez. "He had a lot of stature with members of the House and the Senate, and he informed the county when things were being considered that would be detrimental."
When he wasn't walking miles each day down the marble halls of the state Capitol, Mr. Mannion worked part time as communications director for the Diocese of St. Petersburg. The job kept him in touch with years of training toward the priesthood, his original calling.
Joseph Edward Mannion was born in 1935 in Mount Carmel, Pa., a coal-mining town. He attended Catholic schools, earning a bachelor's degree from St. Charles College and a license in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
Because he had planned to become a priest, he did not date in high school or college. In his early 20s, without a woman on the horizon, he decided he nonetheless wanted to be married someday. He left training for the priesthood and taught high school in Washington, D.C.
As a teacher, Mr. Mannion was tapped to run a local educational television show about citizenship. That work brought him into the Capitol building, where he met Elizabeth Roth, who worked in media relations for the U.S. Senate.
"When I first saw him, I thought he was beautiful," said Elizabeth Mannion, 75, his wife since 1964. They had four sons.
In 1966, WFLA-Ch. 8 hired Mr. Mannion away from a broadcasting job in High Point, N.C. He started as a weekend anchor. In 1975, he replaced Bill Henry as news director.
He made a number of groundbreaking moves for the time, including hiring women and African-American news anchors. His push for a news helicopter meant that Ch. 8 had a bird's-eye view of the 1980 Sunshine Skyway bridge collapse. The work led to an Emmy award for breaking news.
Mr. Mannion took over as director of editorials and won another Emmy in 1983.
After losing his job to cutbacks in 1987, he interviewed for the new lobbyist position with Pasco County. His work helped secure grants for utility and recycling issues, established a state veterans nursing home in Land O'Lakes and pushed for state help in managing growth.
"He was a great friend and mentor to me through much of my legislative career," said state Rep. Mike Fasano. "He had that tremendous communication skill in being able to calm the situation down, to deal with the situation in a calming way."
Mr. Mannion retired from the Diocese of St. Petersburg in 1997. But his affinity for listening and offering concise feedback earned him a nickname in Fasano's offices: Father Joe.
"He would come in here with that great presence and that deep voice," Fasano said. "We'd say, 'Father Joe is here, we'd better pay attention.' "
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.