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Friends remember Pasco Tax Collector Mike Olson for his efficiency, integrity

At 68, Mike Olson was fit. He walked for 45 minutes every morning while conducting business over a phone headset. A diabetic, he maintained a strict diet and never skipped a doctor visit.

"I remember he was about to go on a hunting trip," said Michael Cox, a former county commissioner and longtime friend. "He had mapped out where the closest medical facilities were in case anything happened to him."

So it came as a shock that Pasco's longtime tax collector had died Wednesday night, three days after suffering a stroke.

"He was always healthy," said retired County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, who heard of Mr. Olson's hospitalization earlier this week. "I was stunned."

Mr. Olson, a Pasco icon, had just won a ninth term. The lone Democrat to hold countywide office, Mr. Olson's name was perhaps the best known among everyday folks, who saw it whenever they paid property taxes, renewed a driver's license or car tag or went hunting and fishing.

"Customer service was Mike's No. 1 priority and was a hallmark of his career in public service to the citizens of Pasco County," Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said.

"He won (his last election) by 65 percent of the vote," noted Clyde Hobby, his attorney and longtime friend. "He just did a good job."

Democratic leaders paid tribute to Mr. Olson, who did not join many colleagues as they switched parties over the years.

"He was the dean of Pasco Democrats," said Lynn Lindeman, chairman of the Pasco Democratic Party.

By law, Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, will appoint a successor, who will serve until a special election is held in 2014. The winner would then have to seek re-election in 2016. Scott's spokesman, John Tupps, said the governor was aware of Mr. Olson's death and was working on filling the vacancy.

A Pasco native, Mr. Olson was the son of Mittye P. Locke, a longtime principal. An elementary school bears her name.

She played the church organ, and Olson learned to play piano at age 5. At 8, he took up the saxophone and later marched in the Gulf High Buccaneer Band.

Last year, faced with his first re-election challenge in years, he dusted off his old sax and held a concert fundraiser with former band mates.

"It sounded like I was in sixth grade again," Mr. Olson said as he revived his rusty skills.

He began his career as a clerk at First National Bank of New Port Richey and rose to the ranks of senior management at various banks. He was elected to the Pasco County Commission in 1974 and served six years. He made unsuccessful runs for the state Legislature and Congress before being elected tax collector in 1980.

When he took over as tax collector, he drew on his experience at banks to improve efficiency, friends said.

"He was a perfectionist," said Hobby, who recalled how he recently had to change the spacing on a letter because Mr. Olson didn't like it.

Mr. Olson also introduced customer comment cards.

"He would read each one," Hobby said.

Mr. Olson is survived by his wife, Mary, two daughters, Mary Beth Grodszinsky and Kelly Rutherford, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

.Fast facts

Olson's funeral

The family will receive friends from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at Michels & Lund­quist Funeral Home, 5228 Trouble Creek Road, New Port Richey. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Monday at First Baptist Church, 6800 Trouble Creek Road, New Port Richey.

Friends remember Pasco Tax Collector Mike Olson for his efficiency, integrity 06/27/13 [Last modified: Thursday, June 27, 2013 10:18pm]
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