TAMPA — Top local and national dignitaries along with hundreds of mourners are expected to fill Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church on Saturday to honor Sam Gibbons, the World War II veteran and longtime congressman who helped create the University of South Florida.
Gibbons, 92, died Oct. 10. A lifelong Presbyterian, he was a member of the South Tampa church where the memorial service will be held. Church officials estimate about 600 people can fit in the sanctuary. The church plans to open its side doors and set up chairs in a courtyard if overflow crowds appear.
Clifford Gibbons, Mr. Gibbons' son, said the public is encouraged to attend, as Gibbons had always credited voters and Florida residents for his accomplishments.
In addition to his government and military service, Sam Gibbons is known for helping to expand Tampa's boundaries and pushing for the country's first Head Start program.
"We're going to open the doors and say thank you," Clifford Gibbons said.
Representatives for Vice President Joe Biden, vice presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have inquired about attending the service, Gibbons said. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, C.W. Bill Young and Gus Bilirakis, as well as his father, former U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis, have indicated they may attend.
The Rev. John DeBevoise of Palma Ceia Presbyterian and Gibbons' cousin, Monsignor Robert Gibbons of St. Paul's Catholic Church of St. Petersburg, will officiate the service, which begins at 11 a.m.
A gun salute from a U.S. Army Honor Guard will honor Gibbons' military service, which included parachuting behind enemy lines on D-Day.
In anticipation of a large turnout, Tampa police will assist with traffic and parking at the church, 3501 W San Jose Street. Attendees are advised to arrive early and use the S Dale Mabry Highway entrance of H.B. Plant High School because Himes Avenue may be closed. Disabled guests will be permitted to unload and load at the church entrance.
Justin George can be reached at email@example.com, (813) 226-3368 or Twitter @justingeorge.