PLANT CITY — In a time of upheaval for the Hillsborough County Commission, Rodney Clyde Colson was a constant.
He was one of only two people to remain on the commission in 1983, when three others were arrested for accepting bribes. He helped draft the current county charter that expanded the board to seven members and shifted more authority to the appointed county administrator.
A longtime educator, Mr. Colson, 85, believed in learning from others and mentoring newcomers, including Pam Iorio, who joined the commission in 1985. He'd approach her at the end of meetings and say in his Southern drawl, "You did a good thing there."
"I was only 26, and he was very thoughtful and considerate," said Iorio, now mayor of Tampa. "I always appreciated how kind he was to me."
Mr. Colson died Friday. He leaves behind his wife of 55 years, Jackie, and his son, Clay.
Mr. Colson was born in Plant City in 1924 and helped his family grow strawberries.
He went to the old Plant City High School, where he played football and signed up with the fire department. Back then, high school boys could volunteer and whenever a fire alarm rang out, they could immediately leave class to go to the fire, said his nephew, Ted Whitaker, 60.
Mr. Colson also purposely failed his senior year so he could play another year of football and help coach. It paid off — he was invited to attend the University of Georgia on football and baseball scholarships.
After a short stint playing minor league baseball for the Jacksonville Beach Sea Birds, he moved back to Plant City. That's when his 30-year education career took off.
In the early '50s, he coached football and taught at Pinecrest School. He got his master's of education from the University of Florida and returned to Pinecrest to serve as assistant principal and then principal, before working for the school district as a director and in assistant superintendent positions.
He retired in 1981. The next year, was elected to a countywide seat on the Hillsborough County Commission.
Several of his commission colleagues said they remember him as a thoughtful, upbeat man who worked hard to get opposing sides to work together.
"He was a serious-minded person, and he studied the agendas," said former Commissioner Jan Platt. "He had an even temper, and he did his job in a very professional manner."
Iorio said she thought of Mr. Colson as a man of integrity who was fair and never had a harsh word to say about anybody.
"I don't know what he'd think of today's politics," she said. "Rodney came from that particular era when people had achieved a lot of success in their life and then saw elected public service as a way to cap a career and complete their civil obligation. He just wanted to serve."
Today, an elementary school and park, both in Seffner, are named after him.
When he retired from the County Commission in 1990, he wrote a letter titled "Farewell" and ended with these words:
"I only hope that I have helped to make our community a better place in which to live, work and raise our families. May God bless each of you."
Times news researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.