ST. PETERSBURG — Robert S. Schindler Sr., the father of Terri Schiavo, died Saturday (Aug. 29, 2009) at Northside Hospital of heart failure.
He was 71.
Mr. Schindler became a national figure in the right-to-life movement when he and his wife, Mary, fought for more than a decade to keep their daughter alive with the help of a feeding tube.
Schiavo's husband, Michael Schiavo, tried to have the feeding tube removed, saying it was Terri Schiavo's wish.
The case bounced from state court to appellate court and drew attention worldwide. The Florida Legislature and Congress attempted to circumvent the decisions of the court system.
Ultimately, federal judges and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to overturn the rulings of the state court, and Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed on March 18, 2005. She died 13 days later.
"After Terri's death, my father was never the same," son Bobby Schindler said Saturday though a spokesman.
Mr. Schindler had lived in Gulfport with his wife.
"I am heartbroken over the loss of my father, and yet I know at this moment he is rejoicing with my sister, Terri," Bobby Schindler said in a written statement. "My dad was a man of integrity, character and compassion who was blessed with a close and loving family."
After Schiavo's death, Mr. Schindler and his family created the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation, which was dedicated to supporting families facing similar end-of-life decisions.
On Saturday, condolences from right-to-life organizations around the country poured in.
"He gave life to the phrase 'unconditional love,' " said David N. O'Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee.
The organization gave Mr. Schindler and his family an award in 2007 for their dedication and commitment to the cause.
O'Steen, who has known Mr. Schindler for several years and considered him a friend, said Mr. Schindler was always sincere about his main goal.
Mr. Schindler was just a father trying to take care of his daughter, O'Steen said, but his fight also brought a new face to the right-to-life movement's opposition of euthanasia.
Mr. Schindler always seemed full of life, O'Steen said, but the sadness never left his eyes after his daughter's death.
"The world is a little smaller and sadder with his passing," O'Steen said.
But before the world new him, Mr. Schindler was a just a regular, middle-class guy. He was born on Oct. 23, 1937, in Philadelphia and ran a business selling industrial supplies.
He and his wife raised their three kids in the suburbs. The couple moved to Florida in 1986, following Terri, their oldest daughter, after she got married.
After she collapsed in 1990 and remained in what some doctors said was a persistent vegetative state, it shook the faith of Mr. Schindler, a former altar boy who had contemplated becoming a priest.
But his family said he remained a rock. He and his wife visited their daughter faithfully.
Later, as the court battles ensued and the fight caught the attention of the nation's leaders, Mr. Schindler rallied right-to-life crowds in Washington, D.C.
"Even at the height of the battle to save my sister Terri's life, when his patience and temperance was near exhaustion, he managed to display a gentleness of spirit," Bobby Schindler's statement reads. "Yet it was his unfathomable strength that allowed him to shoulder up his own heartache and lead us through our darkest hour."
Mr. Schindler is survived by his wife Mary, daughter Suzanne Vitadamo, son Bobby Schindler and granddaughter Alexandra.
The family asked that memorials be made to the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation, 5562 Central Avenue, Suite 2, St. Petersburg 33707.
A public service will take place in Philadelphia, the family said. Arrangements are pending.
Times staff writer Aaron Sharockman contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at (727) 893-8643 or [email protected]