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Advocate for battered women dies

Patricia Gonzalez lent her strength and guidance to hundreds of battered women over the years as a counselor. Her crowning achievement was helping to establish The Spring of Tampa Bay, a domestic violence shelter.

More than a decade ago, diabetes and heart disease forced her to retire from the counseling profession to which she had dedicated her life.

Ms. Gonzalez died at home early Tuesday. She had turned 58 on Monday.

"I think it was important to her to have other women see how you could be a strong person and not have to live in a situation that was unhealthy or unsafe," said her daughter Cathi Belk, 37. "She wanted to give that power to other people."

Ms. Gonzalez was born and grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. In the 1970s, she became active in the women's movement in New York City, where she joined NOW and marched on behalf of a woman's right to abortion.

She moved to Seminole in 1974 where she founded Female Awareness Counseling Enterprises, now FACE Learning Center, which offers counseling for displaced homemakers. A year later, she moved to Tampa.

Ms. Gonzalez worked for the Women's Health Center in Tampa and was one of a dozen board members and community leaders who offered their homes to battered women needing a place to stay.

In October 1977, The Spring opened its doors with Ms. Gonzalez as its first executive director. For the first two years, she was unpaid.

"She had enough strength to be able to give the women strength and she was a good counselor," said Skippy King, 73, who also helped start the shelter. "She used her own background of having had problems in her life to help other women."

Her daughter said Ms. Gonzalez also helped to write the Marriage License Trust Fund Bill, which provides money to shelters from marriage license fees.

In 1983, Ms. Gonzalez left The Spring and worked as a juvenile offender counselor for Bay Area Youth Services until illness forced her home.

"She was a high-energy community organizer," said Mabel Bexley, executive director of The Spring. "Simply, we need to honor her for her vision and seeing the need for women to be safe."

Survivors include a brother, James Monahan, Arizona; five children, Cathi Belk, Redington Beach, Cynthia Castillo, Michael Gonzalez and Carlos Gonzalez, all of Tampa, and Anthony Belk, Charlotte, N.C.; and four grandchildren.

Services will be handled by Blount, Curry & Roel Funeral Homes & Cemeteries, Garden of Memories Chapel, Tampa. Donations to The Spring of Tampa Bay will be accepted in lieu of flowers.

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