ST. PETERSBURG — In winning two elections to the City Council and her public life before and after, Martha Maddux never put in a lackluster performance.
Mrs. Maddux, a teacher with an extensive record of civic involvement before joining the council in 1983, had always been known for a feisty yet compassionate demeanor, the ability to take nuanced positions and her command of the facts.
Mrs. Maddux served six years on the council before joining her husband's business venture. She stayed close to politics and in 1996 ran for the state House of Representatives seat vacated by Peter Wallace, whose campaign she had managed 14 years earlier.
In her 1996 run for the state Legislature, Mrs. Maddux began to show signs that something was wrong. During a debate against Democratic primary opponent Margo Fischer and Republican candidates, she had trouble remembering the questions that had been asked.
"In all the time I'd seen her in public office, she was quick on her feet, smart and pretty well-versed on the answers," said Carlen Maddux, her husband. "And she just couldn't remember a thing."
Mrs. Maddux lost the primary to Fischer by about 20 votes. The next year, doctors delivered the sobering news: She had Alzheimer's disease. The illness ended her public life. Four years later, she largely lost the ability to speak.
Mrs. Maddux, who combined motherhood and teaching with an impressive record as an activist and politician, died Monday at Menorah Manor, where she had lived since 2008. She was 66.
"It's a sad day for the city," said former City Council member Sally Wallace, whose 1977 campaign was co-managed by Mrs. Maddux. "Martha was lighthearted and fun. She had good relationships on the council and made the council more interesting."
She was born Martha Cooper in Tampa in 1947, but graduated from St. Petersburg High. At Agnes Scott College, she became interested in the roommate of a Georgia Tech student she was dating. Carlen Maddux was verbal and full of ideas, as she was.
Mrs. Maddux graduated from Agnes Scott, earned a master's degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She married Carlen in 1972 and they moved to St. Petersburg in 1975. The couple started a family and built an elaborate tree house for their three children.
Though she disliked the word "activist," that's what Mrs. Maddux was. She worked as district leader for Jimmy Carter's 1976 presidential campaign and chaired Lawton Chiles' gubernatorial campaign in Pinellas 15 years later.
In between she volunteered for Peter Wallace, then 28, and told him to get a haircut. "There was no artifice," Wallace said. "She never minced words. She was able to do that with people and remain fast friends with them."
In 1983, she was elected to fill an unexpired term created by the death of City Council member Betty Finley. She was re-elected in 1985 and was considered a key swing vote in the council's decision to finance what is now Tropicana Field.
Instead of running for another term, she stepped down in 1989 and sold advertising for her husband's magazine, the Maddux Report. The family moved to Snell Isle, a different district. She ran for City Council in 1991 but lost to Connie Kone, then spent a year as an adjunct professor at what is now St. Petersburg College.
Then came the race for the District 52 House seat and her uncharacteristic lapses at Suncoast Tiger Bay, a club for which she had once served as director and treasurer. "She had a first-rate mind," said Tom Dunn, a past two-term Tiger Bay president. "That was part of the tragedy of her decline, when her mental faculties began to fade. It was like the light going out."
At first, Mrs. Maddux insisted her Alzheimer's diagnosis be kept secret, even from their children. Over time she and her husband accepted the ways the disease changed their lives. The first 11 years, Carlen Maddux cared for his wife at home, then visited daily at Menorah Manor. She couldn't really make conversation. It didn't matter.
"We spent a lot of time holding hands," said Carlen Maddux, 68. "We had been too busy to do that before."
Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected]