ST. PETERSBURG — Former Florida Sen. Jeanne Malchon, an outspoken advocate for the elderly and environmental causes, died Sunday. She was 86.
According to her family, the cause of death was complications from liver disease.
A communications consultant, Mrs. Malchon was appointed to the Pinellas County Commission in 1975 in the wake of a bribery scandal.
A Democrat, she ran for the state Senate in 1982, where she was a key sponsor for the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act. She was re-elected twice, including the same 1986 race that temporarily derailed the hopes of a young Charlie Crist. Mrs. Malchon stepped down in 1992 after her legislative district was redrawn.
"She was exceptionally smart and completely candid in her opinions," said former state Rep. Peter Wallace, who entered the Legislature with Mrs. Malchon in 1982. "You knew exactly where you stood, and she played no games. In part because of that, she was very effective."
Born Jeanne Keller in Newark, N.J., she was trained as a draftsman and worked as a civilian employee for the Army in Hawaii during World War II. She married Richard Malchon, then a civil engineer, in 1946.
The family moved to St. Petersburg in 1952, and Mrs. Malchon became active in the League of Women Voters. She became a lobbyist for the organization. Politics seemed to come naturally.
"She was very focused, and she had an attitude that when she decided that something needed to be done, she didn't quit until she had accomplished it," said her son, Richard H. Malchon Jr., 59.
In 1975, Gov. Reuben Askew appointed Mrs. Malchon to fill the seat of William Dockerty, who was swept out of office in a scandal involving payments for zoning decisions.
Charles Rainey, a Republican who served on the commission alongside Mrs. Malchon, remembered her as a steady hand in a perilous time.
"She was very active and knowledgeable," said Rainey, 77. "She made it look easy because she knew what she was talking about."
Harold "Pete" Mullendore, a former clerk of the Circuit Court who was active in Democratic Party politics, echoed those sentiments.
"She had her own opinion and would not be easily swayed by anyone who wanted to counter her position," said Mullendore, 84.
In 1982, she ran successfully for the Florida Senate, pledging to strengthen social services so that fewer elderly or poor people fell through the cracks.
Mrs. Malchon sponsored the 1985 Florida Clean Indoor Air Act, which outlawed smoking in a variety of commonly shared places, such as airline terminals, except in designated areas.
Ironically, though, Mrs. Malchon was once a smoker.
"She and Dad quit smoking when I was about 5 years old," her son said. "It was 1954 or 1955. She quit smoking before anybody appreciated it was bad for you."
Mrs. Malchon also succeeded in pushing for tougher penalties for driving under the influence and for making employers declare any toxic chemicals used in the workplace. She championed funding for teen runaway shelters and environmental causes.
In 1986, a 30-year-old Charlie Crist ran for her Senate seat but was defeated by Robert Melby in the Republican primary. Melby then lost the race to Mrs. Malchon.
"He was always a very, very nice person," Mrs. Malchon said of the governor in 2006. "Other than the fact that he was a Republican, I didn't have anything against him."
Mrs. Malchon's political career came to a crossroads in 1992, after her district was redrawn to make it more attractive to minority candidates. Because she supported the redistricting, Mrs. Malchon said it would be hypocritical to run against a minority candidate.
Nor did she want to move to Hillsborough County and run against Democratic Sen. Helen Gordon Davis. Mrs. Malchon decided not to seek re-election.
"It wasn't easy for her," said Wallace. "But Jeanne very graciously stepped aside rather than create a divisive primary."
Davis was defeated in the general election by Charlie Crist.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy and staff writer Luis Perez contributed to this story. Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]