Roy Bain, who served nearly two decades as publisher of the North Suncoast editions of the then-St. Petersburg Times and provided leadership during an era in Pasco likened to the wild west, died Friday (Dec. 20, 2013). He was 77.
Mr. Bain, who was diagnosed with lupus in June, remained active until a few months before his death, said his wife, Billie, who celebrated 28 years of marriage with him on Nov. 30.
"He was playing golf three times a week," she said. The Bains lived in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Mrs. Bain said her husband loved Pasco County. Just about every night, he attended some sort of community event. In 1998, he was crowned King Pithla at Chasco Fiesta.
"He was an up-and-comer and a mover and a shaker," said retired County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, who worked with Mr. Bain to found the United Way of Pasco. "He came at just the right time."
When Mr. Bain arrived in 1979, Pasco County had few social services and scant amenities. Economic development was virtually non-existent. When a rare prospect did surface, the east and west sides fought over it. When a potential employer visited, leaders had to show them a vacant lot and ask executives to imagine their new building sitting atop the dirt.
"The hardest part of a job as publisher is the expectation to provide leadership in a county that is really transforming," said Bill Stevens, former North Suncoast editor, who worked closely with Mr. Bain during his years at the Times. He said Mr. Bain's ability to bring together people with conflicting interests helped improve the county's quality of life. Many of the nonprofit agencies Mr. Bain helped found still exist today.
United Way CEO Duggan Cooley never knew Mr. Bain personally but credited him with getting the agency off to a healthy start.
When Mr. Bain served as board chairman in 1985, the annual campaign raised $260,000, a 53 percent increase over the previous year.
"If not for a few people like Mr. Bain, who thought to start a United Way," Cooley said, "there would not have been a total of $30 million raised to help people in Pasco County."
It wasn't until 1986 that the county had an extensive system of parks and libraries. Mr. Bain championed an effort, led by Hildebrand and then-County Commissioner Mike Wells, to issue $23 million in bonds to build those.
"We didn't know if it would pass," recalled Hildebrand. "When it did, we said 'Holy cow, what do we do now?' That was one of the things Roy was involved in. He was a visionary kind of guy."
Though soft-spoken with an Alabama drawl, Mr. Bain spent much of his life shaking up the status quo.
A native of Guntersville, Ala., Mr. Bain began his career as a reporter at the Commercial Dispatch in Columbus, Miss.
He had been a reporter in Laurel, Miss., in the early 1960s when somebody set off a bomb beneath one of the presses. A few years later, he worked with some other idealistic reporters in Meridian, Miss., as they aggressively gathered facts on the murders of three civil rights crusaders. One night, while at the Tuscaloosa News, he narrowly escaped being attacked while trying to cover a meeting of the White Citizens Council.
Mr. Bain, who majored in journalism at Auburn University, worked as reporter, columnist, editor and business manager for newspapers in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. He moved to Tampa in 1973 to become editor of The South Magazine, a sister publication of Florida Trend, which was later bought by Times Publishing Co.
In 1979, Mr. Bain was named publisher for the Times' daily editions in Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties. He went on to oversee an era of tremendous circulation growth for the newspaper as it emphasized localized news and advertising.
He served two years as chairman of the Pasco-Hernando Community College Foundation board, starting the foundation's Lifetime Fellows Program and an annual fundraiser in Gulf View Square Mall. The foundation raises money to pay for scholarships and other needs of the college.
Retired PHCC President Robert Judson said Mr. Bain was instrumental in convincing him to pursue the job back in 1993. As the first African-American president in the modern Florida community college system, Judson wanted to know what he could do to encourage more minority enrollments at the school.
"Roy had dealt with racial issues as a journalist, and I learned a lot from him," Judson recalled Tuesday. "He was very supportive of my ideas as well, and encouraged me to do everything possible to combat prejudice at all levels."
The two men went on to organize a diversity group that explored ways of making Pasco and Hernando more hospitable to minorities.
In the early 1990s, he helped found the Pasco County Public Schools Foundation, which raises money for school needs, including student scholarships and class projects.
Mr. Bain was founding chairman of the Tri-County Economic Development Council, a now-defunct lobbying group for the North Suncoast, and was among those who organized the Pasco County Committee of 100. The county's nonprofit economic development organization was formed in 1986 and served as the forerunner for today's public-private Pasco Economic Development Council.
"Roy was a pioneer around here," said retired Pasco County Administrator John Gallagher, who took the reins in Pasco in 1982. "It was the height of the county's efforts to become something besides a rural county."
Times staff writer Logan Neill contributed to this report.