TAMPA — When it came to reading Florida Trend magazine, some people flipped to the back first.
It was home to Harris Mullen's column, Florida Close-Ups. His space to wax about everything from junk mail to the phone company with a splash of humor and a plainspoken edge.
"Many Florida banks lend only half of their deposits … because they don't know how to lend any more."
"Everybody in Florida should be required by law to plant a tree every year. In five years we would have 40-million new trees. The Chinese do something like this I think, or used to, anyway."
"This country is crying for people who can do something."
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Mr. Mullen, founder of Florida Trend, died Wednesday after a long battle with Parkinson's disease and some recent falls. He was 84.
A Florida native and the son of a newspaperman, Mr. Mullen worked as a reporter for the Tampa Tribune and was a U.S. Navy veteran. When he returned from serving in the Korean War, he noticed the state lacked a good business publication. He decided to change that.
It worked. Florida Trend just celebrated its 50th anniversary.
"One of the things that Harris was able to do was to really hire good people and let them do their jobs and do them well, and that's something I really admired," said current group publisher Lynda Keever. "He was very thoughtful in his columns, and he wanted anything that wasn't quite right with Florida to get better."
Under his lead, the magazine chronicled urban renewal, housing booms, branch banking, slow construction, rising gas consumption, presidential energy plans and recession.
His personal thoughts were measured, not hasty.
"He was a rebel to a degree," said his wife, Kay Mullen, with whom he had four children. "He didn't like bankers. He didn't like lawyers. He loved Tampa and Ybor City. He thought a lot. He'd just sit there and think. Sometimes, we'd be out and people would be talking, and he'd just sit there. He'd come into the conversation after we had finished it 10 minutes ago."
He was a stickler for good grammar, even with songs on the radio. He was understated in the office and conservative with spending. He would only give employees new pencils if they brought him their worn-out old ones.
He was fatherly. In 1979, he hired Keever as the publication's first female advertising sales representative. He looked after her carefully as she went out alone on sales calls.
"He really cared what happened to all his employees," she said. "He really took the responsibility seriously."
In 1980, he sold Florida Trend to the St. Petersburg Times. He switched gears to focus on Ybor Square, an old cigar factory he had purchased and converted to a shopping center. He was fascinated by Ybor City, frequenting La Tropicana Cafe and Carmine's Seventh Avenue Restaurant.
He co-founded the Tampa and Ybor City Street Railway Society, pushing for an electric trolley system. A trolley museum was eventually founded and named for him. He spent his later years writing Civil War publications, including a novel called God Bless General Early, and took cruises with his family.
"We had a wonderful life together," said his wife. "The last months have been hard."
Through it all, she said, he never lost his curiosity. When the conversation was interesting, Mr. Mullen would perk up and listen.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8857.