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Howard L. Garrett | 1929-2009

Howard L. Garrett, Tampa lawyer, dies

DAVIS ISLANDS — He was a man who, to borrow Emily Dickinson's words, could not stop for death.

Howard L. Garrett had long suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He had been hospitalized for pneumonia in December and was under hospice care.

Still, he continued practicing law virtually until the day he died.

"As sick as he was, there was something about him that made you think he wasn't going to die," said his daughter, Howardene Garrett. "He kept coming back. Even his doctor said he had nine lives."

Time finally ran out for Mr. Garrett on Feb. 2. He was 79.

He had practiced law in Tampa for almost 60 years. For most of that time, he and his wife, Marie, worked together in their own firm, Garrett and Garrett. They had offices downtown and more recently on Henderson Boulevard.

He was, his daughter said, "the last of the general practitioners." He would handle anything from wills and divorces to criminal defense, and many of his clients came to him for all their legal needs through their entire lives.

Age and declining health forced Mr. Garrett to lighten his workload in recent years. At the end of his life, he concentrated on pro bono cases.

He always had a passion for pro bono work and for community service in general.

"He helped people as much as he could," his wife said. "He didn't seem like a softie but he was. His whole life was about family and community."

He lived virtually his entire life in Tampa, leaving only for a few years to study at the University of Florida.

He was in law school there in 1948 when he met his wife, a fellow Tampa native who was a year ahead of him. She came back to Tampa a year later. He was still in school.

"Our relationship really grew through correspondence and his visits here to see his family when school was out," she said.

They married in December 1950, a little sooner than they had planned. Mr. Garrett was an Army Reservist, and it looked as though he would be called into active duty. They married so she would be allowed to go with him.

As it turned out, he wasn't called for active duty, and they settled first in Seminole Heights. Mr. Garrett joined a law firm in Sulphur Springs. They opened Garrett and Garrett a few years later and moved to Davis Islands, where he lived the rest of his life.

He worked tirelessly to support his family, and in his off-duty hours he worked just as hard for his city.

In the 1970s, he was appointed by Mayor Bob Martinez to head the newly formed Code Enforcement Board. He also served two terms as head of the local American Civil Liberties Union.

He loved politics and twice ran unsuccessfully for public office. In his first campaign, in the early 1950s, he ran against three other candidates for the Democratic nomination for state representative. He made it to the runoff, but lost to another political newcomer, Sam Gibbons. Gibbons, who had been a friend of Mr. Garrett and his wife since law school, went on to be a long-time U.S. congressman.

A few years later, Mr. Garrett ran for state senator.

It wasn't always easy to balance his passion for community service , while providing a comfortable life for his wife and three daughters. But he always found a way.

"We struggled, we really did," Marie Garret said. "But we had a good life. We loved each other very much, and as far as I'm concerned that's all there is."

Besides his wife and his daughter Howardene, Mr. Garrett is survived by daughters Gloria and Leslie Garrett and six grandchildren.

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

Howard L. Garrett, Tampa lawyer, dies 02/12/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 12, 2009 3:30am]
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