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Shirley Ryals, Tampa banker, was 68

The mother of two was well-known for her sports and civic activities.

Shirley Ryals, who broke glass ceilings in banking and sports while becoming one of this town's biggest boosters, died early Sunday morning at St. Joseph's Hospital. She was 68.

Mrs. Ryals had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage the night of Jan. 28 in Miami while waiting for a flight back to Tampa. She had attended a meeting of the Florida Sports Foundation.

A native of Tampa, Mrs. Ryals climbed high in the business world, becoming senior vice president of SunTrust Bank. She was especially well-known, however, for her many civic activities.

She was the first woman appointed to the Tampa Sports Authority. She has served as chair of the Outback Bowl and was a member of the city's Olympics 2012 committee. She helped bring the Super Bowl to Tampa in 1984 and 1991, and was vice chairman of the host committee for Super Bowl XXXV in 2001.

Mrs. Ryals also served as a trustee for the University of Tampa and the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, and had been a member of the Hillsborough Community College Foundation, the Moffitt Cancer Center Foundation and the Tampa Urban League, among others.

She credited her success in banking and boosterism to her humble beginnings as program chairman for the PTA at Manhattan Elementary in the 1960s. She ran school carnivals, raised money to get air conditioning in the schools and lined up speakers for meetings.

"When I started my job (at SunTrust) and was asked to send in a resume, I only had my volunteer resume at that time," Ryals said during an interview in 1996. "And they were a little reluctant to give credence to it.

"They asked, "Have you ever managed people? Have you ever handled money?' I figured if you have counted nickels, dimes and quarters for fundraising, yes, you have handled money. And if you've organized parents and speakers, yes, you have managed people."

Karen Ryals, her daughter, remembers her mother taking her and her brother Lester Jr. into a meeting years ago with Mayor Nick Nuccio because she had no babysitter.

Despite hectic days that often ended with an evening meeting, Mrs. Ryals had a standing date with her daughter for 5:30 a.m. workouts at an exercise studio.

"I don't remember a time when she wasn't involved in something," Karen Ryals said last week. "She would say, "Don't you ever say you don't have time to do something.' "

Survivors include her husband, Lester J. Sr.; her daughter Karen, son Lester J. Jr. and a sister, Betty Jo Andrews, all of Tampa; and two grandchildren.

Visitation is to be from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 1, at the Blount, Curry & Roel Funeral Home. The funeral is to be at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 2, at the Palma Ceia Methodist Church.

_ Linda Gibson can be reached at (813) 226-3382 or by e-mailing her at gibsonsptimes.com.

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