TAMPA — "She was such a lady."
That's how family, friends and colleagues described Marion Simmons Rodgers, a former Hillsborough County School Board member who died Wednesday (April 7).
The 82-year-old succumbed to cancer, but her legacy lives on in every corner of Hillsborough County's educational community, including a Riverview middle school that became her namesake in 1997.
A Tampa native, Mrs. Rodgers attended H.B. Plant High School, said Pat Rodgers-McCollough, mother of Marion Rodgers' oldest grandchild.
She married Fred T. Rodgers and joined the Parent Teachers Association as her two children came into the county school system.
In 1974, she ran a winning campaign for the School Board and remained until her retirement two decades later.
Candy Olson said she has filled Mrs. Rodgers' School Board seat since then but "no one took her place."
"She was all about the children," Olson said. "When you talked to her, you knew that she cared about you. She was honest and straightforward and compassionate and she would pray and make her decision based on what was right."
It was that sense of what's right that led Mrs. Rodgers to work for years with other community leaders to create what is now the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, a taxing authority validated in 1988 that acts as a social welfare agency for the county's most vulnerable citizens.
Children were her passion, said Earl Lennard, former superintendent of the school district and current Hillsborough supervisor of elections.
"When the Children's Board was first set up as a taxing agency, she saw that as another venue — another avenue — that cared for children to get a proper start in life."
When she retired from the School Board in 1994, she remained active in education, her colleagues said. She would visit Rodgers Middle School to talk to students and keep up with what was going on in classrooms.
Mrs. Rodgers told the Times in 1994: "I lasted 20 years. You just do what's right for children and don't worry about the rest."
Olson said, as a leader and a woman, Mrs. Rodgers could be summed up in one word: class.
"She conducted herself in a manner that would make anyone proud to be a son or daughter, husband, or mother and father." Lennard said.
Rodgers-McCollough said that gentility stayed with her, even near the end as she rested peacefully in a room with Christian music playing in the background.
Then the lady made her exit.