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Roberta Golding, who used strong personality to get results, dies

TAMPA — For Roberta Golding, beliefs mattered.

What she believed determined her actions, which affected a lot of people in the Tampa Bay area.

When she wasn't sure what to believe, she found out.

What she learned she enlarged, mixed together and dispersed in myriad ways.

A women's treatment center, an endowed chair for arts at the University of South Florida and sizable donations to numerous arts, nonprofit and cultural organizations number among the results.

Mrs. Golding — an artist, philanthropist and political activist — died Dec. 21, of congestive heart failure. She was 91.

She was a tall, striking woman who mixed sharp opinions with charm and empathy.

Drivers along Interstate 275 in August, including thousands of visitors to the Republican National Convention, got a dose of her style and humor with a billboard she helped fund. "Welcome to Tampa," the sign read, "where the mayor and all city council members are Democrats."

"She wasn't ashamed of her beliefs," said Sara Scher, her daughter. "She was proud of them and was able to talk to people in a clear way, in a comfortable way about her own beliefs."

She was a staunch atheist who supported Congregation Schaarai Zedek; who sought to improve her understanding after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by seeking out Muslim leaders; a woman who started a chair in African art for the sake of diversity as much as the art itself.

Mrs. Golding took risks for her beliefs.

A dislike of Richard Nixon led her to manage the Hillsborough County campaign of George McGovern in 1972; and she was hounded by the State Department after smuggling medical supplies to Cuba.

"She was the only grandmother I know who feels comfortable dropping F-bombs," grandson Simon Scher said at her memorial service.

She hungered for new experiences, once asking a granddaughter to make pot brownies. They made her feel lethargic, so she crossed the item off her bucket list.

She enjoyed Woody Allen movies, lavender flowers and walks on the beach at a summer home in Marblehead, Mass., where she served an enviable brisket on mismatched antique plates. She took refuge in her painting, weaving and quilting, filling her studio with work.

Roberta Markowitz was born in Tampa in 1921, the daughter of a traveling shoe salesman. She graduated from Plant High and the Florida State College for Women (now Florida State University).

In 1943 she married Stuart Golding, an aspiring businessman. The couple and their three children moved from Brookline, Mass., to Tampa in 1959.

Her husband bought property on Davis Islands, and later developed numerous area shopping malls.

In 1977 with former state Rep.Helen Gordon Davis, Mrs. Golding helped establish the Women's Survival Center (now the Centre), one of the first substance abuse treatment centers specifically for women.

"She really believed in social justice and helping those who could not help themselves," said Davis, the first woman from Hillsborough County to serve in the Florida Legislature. "I just can't say what a great woman she was and what a great friend."

In 1990, two years after her husband's death, she established a chair for African art at USF, now known as the Stuart S. Golding Endowed Chair in Modern and Contemporary Art.

Mrs. Golding also gave generously to the Florida Holocaust Museum; the Straz Center and Planned Parenthood, among many other causes.

"Finance was not Roberta's thing," David Scher said in a eulogy for his mother-in-law, "Each time she had to make giving decisions, she would call and ask me to explain how she could afford it. Thank God she was blessed with the ability to give, and she did."

She read multiple newspapers, eating dinner with a TV tray and the evening news.

Sara Scher, 56, said her mother influenced her to stand up for her own convictions.

As a young child, she said at her mother's memorial service at Congregation Schaarai Zedek, she asked her mother to assure her she would communicate with her after she died.

"She said there is nothing after death so that wouldn't be possible," Sara Scher recalled. "But I insisted there was, and she promised to talk to me if she could find a way."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248.

>>Remembering

Roberta Marks Golding

Born: Oct. 8, 1921

Died: Dec. 21, 2012

Survivors: Daughter, Sara Scher; sons, Paul and Ken Golding; five grandchildren; one great-grandchild.

Roberta Golding, who used strong personality to get results, dies 12/28/12 [Last modified: Friday, December 28, 2012 11:06pm]

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