CLEARWATER — When the old Clearwater Sun newspaper ran a story about Lois Cormier in 1977, the headline was "The Snooper at City Hall.'' When the Clearwater Times profiled her in 1990, the headline was "Watchdog is looking for trouble."
She was a tenacious City Hall watchdog and community activist, riding around town on her bicycle and handing out leaflets about upcoming public meetings. At any given time, she'd be investigating issues such as how many trees were cut down to build a parking lot, or tenant complaints at Clearwater housing projects.
Mrs. Cormier died Tuesday afternoon of lingering health problems. She was 81. A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. June 23 at St. Cecilia Catholic Church, 820 Jasmine Way, Clearwater.
"If there ever was supposed to be a Mrs. Clearwater, it should have been Lois," said Lee Regulski, a city commissioner from 1985 to 1992. "She just thought the city was the greatest place in the world and wanted to do anything she could to keep it great."
Mrs. Cormier was a local government watchdog during the late 1970s, all of the 1980s and much of the 1990s, before poor health sidelined her.
Over the years, she took on environmental issues such as saving trees and creeks, social issues such as public housing and financing for welfare programs, and government corruption.
Mrs. Cormier's files filled an entire room in her home. She clipped newspaper stories and spent money making copies of memos and documents to back up her complaints. She prided herself in keeping such complete files that even newspaper reporters would turn to her when they couldn't get their hands on a document at City Hall.
"She quit recording the (City Council) meetings, finally. We have quite a number of cartons full of VCR tapes," said one of her three sons, Jay Cormier, who lived with her in the house near Morton Plant Hospital where she'd lived for 50 years. "Shorthand notes, too. She wrote everything down in shorthand. When I was a little kid, she could transcribe it and have a conversation at the same time."
Mrs. Cormier also helped change her South Greenwood neighborhood from an area riddled with crime and drugs to a place where families feel more comfortable living. In the 1980s and '90s, she took part in anti-drug marches as a member of the local neighborhood association and the South Clearwater Citizens for Progressive Action.
"She was always involved in anything that was going on. She was a major contribution to this community. I just can't think of anything where she wasn't there," said fellow activist Duke Tieman, who worked with Mrs. Cormier to change their neighborhood's name to Lake Belleview.
Mrs. Cormier was still going strong in 1998, when she got then-City Manager Mike Roberto to join her for a bike ride in her neighborhood. She showed him everything from potholes to homes under construction to drug-infested areas. They pedaled in the midafternoon heat, Roberto sweating in his suit.
"I've watched over the years how Lois has advocated for the people," said Isay Gulley, president of Clearwater Neighborhood Housing Services. "We've got to let everybody know that a good citizen has gone away."
In recent years, Mrs. Cormier watched council meetings on TV and wrote numerous letters to the editor.
Back in her heyday as a city government watchdog, she had run-ins with almost every Clearwater official.
In a 1990 article in the Clearwater Times, she said, "I'm still snooping around at City Hall. I'm still making people mad, and I'm still looking over their shoulder. People tell me, 'You know, Lois, a lot of people don't like you.' I know that, and I don't care."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.