Working with George Steinbrenner was thrilling and his power was contagious. However, I would have been wiser to fear him during my early 1980s tenure as director of public relations at Tampa Bay Downs.
Because he was a friend of my family, I would laugh when on several occasions the Boss said, "You're fired."
George gave me free access, listened to my opinions at meetings, and was affectionate toward my children.
But three years of being disagreeable had its limits and, with no joking, I was fired.
George wrote a gracious letter of recommendation and I learned a valuable lesson. Unless you recognize the limits of professionalism versus familiarity, you've got a lot more work to do.
Christy Callaghan McLaughlin, Dade City
He cared about people
There were many sides to Mr. Steinbrenner and you have to appreciate them all. I saw and can confirm the side that cared about the little guy.
Steinbrenner was in his usual plane seat on the Tampa/New York run, a commute he made often. He had two first-class seats at the entry for privacy. (Who doesn't want to give advice to the owner of the Yankees!)
We had completed boarding and there was a major argument on the jetway. A young man had a flat tire on the way to the airport and the airline sold his seat. He pleaded that he was going to a job interview and his family needed this opportunity.
Steinbrenner got up and quietly went out the door and moments later escorted the young man to the seat next to him. No fanfare, just action. One or two Billy Martin firings mean little. The man who gave up his seat is the Mr. S. I will always remember.
Richard W. Cope, Clearwater
A gesture to remember
George Steinbrenner was a generous man and his generosity was not only frequent but spontaneous.
Back in 1984, I agreed to chaperone a group of Dunedin High School singers called the Falconaires to the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Tampa where they were asked to sing at a meeting of Florida teachers. These young people were excited upon receiving this invitation but had little knowledge where the appearance would lead them. They were a talented group, but their fan base was limited to the North Pinellas area. This all changed on that fateful day in Tampa.
Enter George Steinbrenner, who happened to be the guest speaker at the conference. I cannot remember his speech, but I do remember his charisma and the motivational aspect of his appearance. The kids and I had never been in the room with a personality of his magnitude.
Their performance, which included songs of every genre, ended with their exuberant version of New York, New York. This was not planned; all their performances included this crowd-pleasing rendition. They received a resounding ovation, mingled with the crowd and prepared to return to Dunedin.
Then it happened. Steinbrenner approached and offered his congratulations and words of praise.
He chatted for a moment with them and then made them an offer beyond their wildest dreams. He would arrange for them to come to New York for a weekend and sing the National Anthem at Yankee Stadium before a baseball game. They were in shock, looking from one to the other, eyes wide with excitement. Were they imagining this amazing proposal?
It was all true. Steinbrenner arranged for them to travel to New York, all expenses paid, for a weekend, and they sang the National Anthem at Yankee Stadium.
My daughter, Jeanette, was one of the singers and frequently tells her children this amazing story of not only luck, but of recognition through the generosity of a great man.
George Steinbrenner was a larger-than-life man, but he was a champion of those who represented excellence in all forms.
The Dunedin High Falconaires sang their way into his generous heart that day back in l984. For those of us who were there to witness this side of George Steinbrenner, we will always be grateful.
Norma McCulliss, Palm Harbor
Voters must do their part
With elections not far off, we should all be aware of the importance of voting. Every individual counts.
It is difficult for working people to get to the polling place on time — especially working mothers. But there are countries where if an individual is a registered voter and does not show up on election day, he or she is fined unless there is a good reason for not voting.
Frequently the turnout for our primaries is 20 to 30 percent. Other countries put us to shame.
Everyone complains that elected officials are in the pockets of lobbyists and big business. Campaigns are expensive, and so huge campaign contributions may at times sway an elected official. We have a way of altering that. When you learn of a candidate who appears to show real integrity and a genuine interest in the public good, make a contribution to his or her campaign. If enough working-class individuals support good candidates, they will not have to rely on huge business contributions.
When you disapprove of an elected official's actions, write or call the office or protest. If enough people do this, things will change.
You, the public, ultimately do have control. Remember that. Somehow or other, no matter how inconvenient, come election time, get out and vote.
Robert Blum, Homosassa
The ticket to job creation
Imagine what downtown St. Petersburg would look like if we spent a billion dollars a day there. It's an exercise in fantasy to be sure, but each and every day, we spend billions of dollars on foreign oil. What would happen if we spent that money creating jobs here, instead of helping prop up unfriendly regimes overseas?
For one, we'd be a lot healthier. Our communities are suffering from the consequences of using dirty energy owned by corporations that aren't concerned about the health of our children or our planet. Instead, we need to invest in clean, renewable energy sources like wind turbines and solar panels — and we need to invest in technologies that will improve energy efficiency. Smart energy policies can create up to 1.9 million jobs nationwide. Our communities deserve nothing less.
Mark Sabin, Tampa
Hillsborough fertilizer ban
Ban nonnative grasses
Contrary to the opinion of Charles Bronson, Florida agriculture commissioner, that the proposed Hillsborough County ordinance to ban the sale of nitrogen-based fertilizers from June through September goes too far, I would argue it needs to go further.
The argument that healthy lawns would suffer is uneducated at best. Coastal Florida soil is not equipped to sustain the growth of the water-needy grasses that are the mainstay of the upscale subdivisions and which require an abundance of water and chemicals to maintain their so-called beauty.
A permanent set of water restrictions, a ban on nonnative grasses and an emphasis (tax breaks) on xeriscaping to builders and homeowners who utilize our native, salt- and sand-tolerant plants would do more good than any amount of chemical dumping would.
Raymond Day, Spring Hill
Recipients have earned it
As Social Security celebrates its 75th birthday in August, it is once again under attack. Since Social Security was enacted in 1935 it has been almost constantly the target of antigovernment politicians and economists who describe it as doomed and as the source of our nation's economic woes.
President Barack Obama, during his campaign, promised he would oppose efforts to privatize Social Security, raise the retirement age, or cut benefits, instead recommending raising the income cap on contributions to stabilize the fund. However, he has since created a deficit commission composed largely of deficit hawks who plan to recommend precisely those measures to deal with the deficit.
In truth, Social Security has been the foundation of retirement security for all these years. It is not about to "go broke;" it can pay full benefits until at least 2043. With minor tweaking, the fund can pay benefits for the foreseeable future. Social Security did not add one dime to the deficit; it is totally paid for by workers and employers. People who have paid into Social Security throughout their working lives deserve to receive the benefits they've earned.
Judy Moore, Lutz
State roads safer | July 12, story
The seat-belt solution
In your article on traffic fatalities, not fastening seat belts was near the top of the list of causes. Here is a solution.
Most new cars will not start unless you have your foot on the brake. This is because of sensors installed at the factory. Your seat belt sign and bells come on if you don't fasten them, but the car will start and the bells soon shut down.
Why not put sensors in the seat cushions that will not allow the car to start, or run, unless the seats that are filled have their belts fastened. It is a simple solution and can be easily done by the manufacturers at very little cost.
Dr. Jim Bardsley, Madeira Beach
Focus on safer roads
I read with interest your July 13 article that highlighted the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle's 2009 Traffic Crash Statistic Report. It reported the "lowest number of crash fatalities on record, only 1.3 deaths per 100 million miles traveled."
This is fantastic news for Florida. Coincidentally, the goal of the American Traffic Safety Services Association is "Zero Deaths" on America's roadways. How? By making our roads safer. We already know that today's vehicles are extremely safe, so our focus is making the roadways as safe as they can be. This includes brighter signs, roadway striping that can be seen in any condition — day or night — rumble strips to keep motorists on course, and lifesaving guardrails and median cable barriers.
A recent independent assessment prepared for ATSSA by Science Applications International Corp. asserts that increases in roadway safety funding since 2006 have significantly contributed to the decrease in the number of roadway fatalities.Many of these roadway safety improvements are achieved at a relatively low cost. Please ask your local elected officials to support funding for roadway safety. Safer roads keep America moving safely, and safer roads do indeed save lives.
James Scott Baron, director of communications, ATSSA, Fredericksburg, Va.
A waste of public dollars
After a long day at work, my family and I sit down to watch Wheel of Fortune. We are bombarded with ads from Rick Scott and Bill McCollum. He said this; he did that. It's like being in a pre-K classroom.
Now McCollum wants public dollars for more commercials? Why don't we use that money for our schools? Or our cities, which have to cut their budgets? We are again seeing millions of dollars in attack ads that have turned this Republican off to her party. A limit should be imposed on the money spent.
We need to grow up and put on our big boy panties and take off the diapers. Nothing will get solved this way, and I'm sure many others have had enough of this too. Save your votes for people who deserve them.
Lisa Averbeck, St. Petersburg
Gates touts school change | July 11, story
I read with interest Bill Gates' interview. I am a teacher in Hillsborough County and have taught for over 30 years. I generally support the Gates Grant to improve teaching; I encourage a more rigorous evaluation of teachers in general. However, I wonder if some of the money could not be used to bring more 21st century technology into our classrooms.
Gates, of all people, should know the value of a modern classroom. Why can't Hillsborough try using e-readers in some schools, for example, to see if this would encourage nonreaders to improve their reading skills? Clearwater is attempting to use e-readers in some high schools. We are years into the 21st century, but our classrooms lack the basic technological advances that students are going to need to achieve success in the modern world.
And before we again put too much emphasis on judging performance based on test scores, we need to pay close attention to the current FCAT fiasco. When so many students do poorly on a test, as has happened on the elementary reading test, there is probably something wrong with the test itself.
Ronald Medvin, Tampa