TAMPA — Shirley Miranda helped most everybody who called the congressional office of Jim Davis and his successor, Kathy Castor.
They might be veterans or the newly disabled or Haitian immigrants tangled in bureaucratic knots; seniors and widows seeking benefits; people who got their passports stolen a week before an overseas trip.
Sweetly yet forcefully, she steered them through the maze to services. Guiding others came naturally to her. She had helped raise her siblings. She devoted most of her adult life to her husband, Tampa City Council member Charlie Miranda, and their three children.
There was only one person Mrs. Miranda could not help through aid or funds: herself.
Mrs. Miranda, who excelled as a mother and congressional assistant, usually in labor-intensive ways, died Dec. 13 of cancer. She was 66.
"She looked very fragile. She was delicately thin and always beautiful," said Fernando Noriega, a development director when Dick Greco was mayor. "But she was a stronghold for that family."
Evidence of esteem overflowed at the JGR Funeral Home Wednesday, where hundreds of mourners — including Mayor Pam Iorio and four former Tampa mayors — filled a guest book and waited in a 90-minute receiving line; and again at a packed funeral mass Thursday at St. Lawrence Catholic Church.
Mrs. Miranda started working for Davis in 1996, after her three children had grown. Castor retained Mrs. Miranda after succeeding Davis in 2006, and in 2008 after winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"She really assisted folks with how you work the levers of government and bureaucracy, and she cut through all of the red tape on behalf of thousands and thousands of families," Castor said.
"These were people who didn't have anywhere else to turn."
Mrs. Miranda helped Haitian immigrants, veterans and widowed seniors with equal dexterity, and was skilled at breaking down walls of ethnic pride that prevented some from seeking any benefits.
She arranged for tickets to Washington, D.C., attractions months in advance for Hillsborough County school groups.
"They didn't have to wait in line. My kids always said that was their favorite vacation," said Tampa fire rescue inspector Brian Rodriguez, part of a uniformed contingent from the department that was at Mrs. Miranda's service.
She booked spare time to attend grandchildren's games, performances or graduations. "Buying a gift is easy," son-in-law Mike Chapman told mourners. "Going to the third basketball game in a week isn't always easy."
Mrs. Miranda was almost at a loss when it came time to receive rather than give.
She was usually the last to order at a restaurant, as if the act of requesting food made her uncomfortable.
"She was not programmed that way," Frank Miranda, her son, said Thursday.
As the eldest child, it was often up to young Mary Martinez and her grandmother to look after her siblings while her mother worked long hours in a cigar factory. At 17, she was working in Belk Lindsey's credit department when she met Charlie Miranda, who worked in the men's department.
At the end of one of their first conversations, he surprised her by announcing, "I'm going to marry you one day."
A year later, he did. In 1968, they bought a house on W Lake Avenue for $12,400. Over the years they expanded it, but never moved because Mrs. Miranda didn't want to, Chapman said.
Several years ago, Charlie was trying to figure out what to get Shirley for her birthday. She was hard to shop for. Either she already had it or didn't want it.
He decided to give her $800. She could go to the mall, he figured. Then he forgot about it.
His wife reminded him of the gift recently, while she was a patient at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center. Turns out, the cash was in a shoebox in the closet, beneath an old pair of shoes. She could never decide what to do with it.
The loss has hit Charlie Miranda hard. "Forty-eight years is a long time," he said. "But then you blink, and they are gone."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or email@example.com.