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Longtime Hernando County activist Armin Sevier dies at 80

BROOKSVILLE — Working long days as a cop in St. Petersburg, Al Sevier's thoughts drifted to the country.

The Texas native dreamed of owning more than a sliver of the suburbs. By the late 1970s, Mr. Sevier and wife Sally had settled on a 4-acre plot of land north of Brooksville they called Fairwind Farm.

"He just fell in love with the area," recalled his daughter, Michele Rowe.

Rather than keep to himself in his new corner of the world, though, Mr. Sevier worked to shape Hernando, serving on the Planning and Zoning Board, speaking out against the mining industry and sacrificing some leather on his trademark cowboy boots to help local candidates get elected.

Mr. Sevier died Saturday in West Point, Miss., where he'd spent much of his time since suffering a stroke in 2009. He was 80.

"But this was still always his home," said longtime friend Steve Dunn, director of Turner Funeral Home, where Mr. Sevier worked for years as a part-time attendant.

Born in San Antonio during the Depression, Mr. Sevier was one of five siblings in a family that struggled to make ends meet. He moved to St. Petersburg in 1949 and returned to the city after a stint with the U.S. Maritime Service. He met his first wife Darlene at St. Petersburg High School, and her mother helped him get a foot in the door at the police department.

"He got in there and loved it," Rowe said.

The father of four didn't bring the stresses of the job home, Rowe said. He was the kind of dad who took the family camping and played hide and seek with the kids until sunset.

The couple divorced around 1970. Mr. Sevier met Sally, retired from the force as a lieutenant, and the couple bought Sonitrol, a security alarm company in Pasco County. They commuted from their Brooksville farm and later sold the company.

In 1982, Mr. Sevier ran as a Republican for the Hernando County Commission, losing to Democrat Bill Koenig by 495 votes.

He showed up regularly to commission meetings, often to speak out against the county's dominant industry. Fairwind Farm, nestled among oak trees, backed up against mining land. For years, the couple fought to curb mine expansion and lobbied the county to address pollution and the noise from dynamite blasting.

In 1987, the chairman of a county task force on mining and industrial development threatened to call the Sheriff's Office and eventually adjourned the meeting in frustration after Mr. Sevier got up to speak and refused to stop talking.

Their interest extended beyond neighbors, Rowe said.

"He wanted to protect what was incredibly valuable, the natural resources and the beauty, so it would not be spoiled for others who came along," Rowe said.

Mr. Sevier turned from activist to public servant in 1998 when he was appointed to the zoning board. He served for about eight years and was known for faithfully visiting every property on the agenda to get a firsthand perspective.

"He was dedicated, and he was really fair," said Anthony Palmieri, who served on the board during the same period. The two men often disagreed, and Sevier would sometimes chide Palmieri for casting the lone dissenting vote.

"That got to me a little bit," Palmieri said, "but as a person he was terrific."

Mr. Sevier helped Rich Nugent with his campaign for sheriff in 2000. The two men had become fast friends, sharing the bond of law enforcement careers. The former lawman, who liked to praise people with his favorite phrase "Good on ya," had a sense of humor that brightened rooms and a sense of loyalty that never faltered, Nugent said.

"He never asked for anything," he said. "He was always just there to help."

Former U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite and her husband Harvey met the Seviers back when she ran for county commission. Mr. Sevier worked hard on Brown-Waite's bid for Congress.

Sally Sevier died in 2002 at the age of 68 after suffering abdominal cancer. Harvey Waite died of pancreatic cancer seven years later.

"He helped me cope with the fact that I was going to lose my spouse and kept Harvey laughing when he would get down thinking of the slow death of pancreatic cancer he faced," Brown-Waite recalled. "After Harv died, Al was there and several of us left behind widows and widowers would get together for dinner and to counsel each other. I am sure Harv and Al will be organizing a poker group in heaven."

In recent years, Mr. Sevier woke every morning to walk his property with Big-Un, his Rhodesian Ridgeback, and check on his Florida Cracker cattle. Along the way, his friend Dunn recalled, he would stop at the gazebo where Sally's ashes were kept.

He'd nod, say good morning and continue on his way.

Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

Armin 'Al' M. Sevier

July 12, 1931 - Nov. 5, 2011

Survivors include four children, Michele Rowe, Darcelle Hines and John Sevier, all of West Point, Miss., and Wendy Welch of Ocala; a brother, Ret. Lt. Commander Moses T. Sevier of Christ Church, New Zealand; two sisters, Martha Thompson of Palasaides Estates, Ca. and Cloe Francis of Ahwahnee, Ca.; and four grandchildren.

Gathering 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday, Turner Funeral Homes Brooksville Chapel, 504 E Jefferson St. Service to follow, also at the chapel.

Longtime Hernando County activist Armin Sevier dies at 80 11/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 10, 2011 8:06pm]
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