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Henry Aloysius "Harry" Gill Jr. | 1939-2010

Henry 'Harry' Gill Jr. dies at 71; remembered as 'ultimate people person'

DAVIS ISLANDS — When Henry Gill's children were young, his work often made him the focus of national media. It was the kind of attention a lot of people dream of. To Mr. Gill, it was just part of his job.

"I'd tell our kids, 'Come into the TV room. Daddy's going to be on CBS,' " his wife, Peggy Gill, said. "All the other lawyers would talk, but Harry would just say, 'No comment.' Our kids would say, 'Is that all he's going to say?' "

A high-profile attorney for the federal government, he was careful with his words, but Mr. Gill led an extraordinary life. He spent time in the company of world leaders and was at the center of watershed moments in the nation's history, most notably the Watergate trials. But he saw himself as an ordinary man.

"He never thought of himself as special," Mrs. Gill said. "He never even thought of himself as especially bright. He could talk to the lawn people. He could talk to the bag people, the homeless people on the street. They were people, and he was the ultimate people person."

Mr. Gill died Nov. 29 at age 71. He had battled colon cancer, but complications from diabetes ended his life. A memorial service is planned for Jan. 22. The family decided to delay services until after the holidays.

He was born in Winthrop, Mass., near Boston, and graduated from Boston College before he enlisted in the Navy. Through the 1960s he was an aviator, launching from aircraft carriers.

He was stationed in Sanford when he met his wife, a teacher in Winter Park. A mutual friend arranged for them to go on a blind date to a Navy party.

"It was a Roman toga party," Mrs. Gill said. "I didn't usually do blind dates, but he called and we talked and he sounded interesting. We went to the party and at the end of the evening I thought, 'Well, that was all right.' "

They married in 1963. A few years later, while he was still in the Navy and stationed in Washington, D.C., Mr. Gill studied law at Georgetown University.

Not long after he got his law degree, he found himself working for Judge John Sirica. Mr. Gill served as his administrative assistant while Sirica presided over the Watergate trials.

"It was a very interesting time," Mrs. Gill said. "The phone rang constantly and there were reporters camped out on our front lawn."

It would not be the last time that Mr. Gill would be in the national news. In the late 1970s, when he was deputy general counsel for litigation for the U.S. Department of Energy, he was involved with lawsuits filed by people who said they had developed cancer through living near the nuclear bomb tests at Los Alamos.

The Gills moved to Tampa in 1990, where Mr. Gill took on another high-profile assignment. He was both managing attorney of the Tampa office of the Resolution Trust Corp. and deputy managing attorney for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. when several troubled savings and loans were closed by the government.

When he wasn't working, Mr. Gill was involved with a variety of political and civic organizations and charity work. He was chairman of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee and a board member of the Davis Islands Civic Association and the Davis Islands Yacht Club.

His cancer had slowed him down in recent months, but he was determined to fight it. Even when it became apparent that he couldn't win the physical battle, he never lost his ability to enjoy his life and the people around him. Even his grandson noticed how strong Mr. Gill was during his illness.

Henry Gill IV, 9, made him a video not long before Mr. Gill passed away.

"He thanked him for his name," Peggy Gill said. "He said, 'I know you're going to get through this because you're a cat with 29 lives. But I hope you like heaven.' "

Besides his wife, Mr. Gill is survived by a daughter, Alicia Gill Rossiter, sons Henry A. Gill III and Jaymes Daniel Gill, and six grandchildren. A Celebration of Life Mass is scheduled for 11 a.m. Jan. 22 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

Marty Clear writes life stories of Tampa residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at

Henry 'Harry' Gill Jr. dies at 71; remembered as 'ultimate people person' 12/16/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 16, 2010 3:30am]
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