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Hundreds pay tribute to commissioner

Published Oct. 16, 2005

City Hall shut down for a while Tuesday morning, as firefighters,administrators and other city workers joined the throng at Baty Funeral Home paying tribute to Commissioner Margaret Harkey.

An estimated 300 to 400 people attended the funeral for Harkey, who died Friday in Tallahassee at age 53. About 250 packed the funeral home chapel, while the rest waited outside.

At the end of the funeral, Harkey's casket was carried out of the chapel by Mayor Art Levine, commissioners Sal Cincotta, George Costage and Don Mahoney, City Manager John Downes, Fire Chief Jay Stout and Oldsmar City Council member Loretta Wyandt.

They passed by an honor guard of 14 firefighters and loaded the casket into the funeral home's 1959 hearse, chosen for the occasion by funeral home owner and one-time commissioner Michael Baty.

"That car was Safety Harbor's only ambulance until 1967," Baty said later. "We started to use our newer car, but then I thought, 'This car is such a piece of Safety Harbor history, and so was Margaret.' So we opted to go with that."

The Rev. Bert Bloomquist, who conducted the funeral service, reminded the living of Harkey's devotion to the city and the people in it.

"She loved Safety Harbor and would get involved no matter what," he said. "Margaret was a community-builder, a connector."

For instance, over the Christmas holidays she came down with the flu and at one point her temperature hit 104 degrees, Bloomquist said.

Yet she got out of bed and "went out into the community to deliver Christmas baskets of food to the needy," he said.

Harkey's devotion to the community made her name "practically a household word," Bloomquist said. But he also talked about her devotion to her family.

He told the mourners about how she and her husband, Jerry, had been high school sweethearts in Jacksonville, and married the day before April Fool's Day 36 years ago, when Harkey was just 17.

He talked also of her three children. "Sandra, Gary and Nancy were the love of her life," Bloomquist said, then noted Harkey had six grandchildren as well.

"Margaret heard the first cry of these children, and held their little hands as they came into this world," he said.

Bloomquist also spoke of Harkey's sense of humor, then joked about her first steps in the afterlife.

"I can just see Margaret entering heaven, and with her inquisitive mind, beginning to ask questions: 'How did all this get here?' and 'What organizing needs to be done?' " the minister said. "She'll probably reorganize heaven."

Harkey's devotion to her family and her city established a good name, and that good name will live on, Bloomquist said.

"The most beautiful memorial left by anyone is not a service like this, or any words carved in stone," he said. "Margaret's best memorial is in the hearts of those who knew her."