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Family, friends recall strength of advocate for the disabled

The Tarpon Springs native ran for office and lobbied for bills in Georgia.

Through it all, Linda Stinson-Worley never lost her smile.

When she was 9, her mother died when a portion of the U.S. 19 bridge over the Anclote River collapsed. Seven years later, during her sophomore year at Tarpon Springs High School, a virus left her paralyzed from the neck down. Then, when she was a 35-year-old community activist and advocate for the disabled in Cumming, Ga., her husband was killed by a drunken driver.

"She was always smiling," said her younger brother, Chuck Stinson. "It must have been some kind of inner strength to keep her going."

Stinson-Worley, 41, a Tarpon Springs native, died last week of a heart attack at her home in Georgia. Her family held two funerals: one was on Monday in Tarpon Springs and the other was over the weekend in Georgia, where they played her favorite song, Freebird by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

"The Lord was very, very strong in her life, and I think that's why God brought her home earlier so she wouldn't suffer any more," Stinson said. "She was paralyzed and disabled, but she didn't look at herself that way. She took every day like she wasn't paralyzed and she didn't hold anything back."

In 1996, Stinson-Worley unsuccessfully challenged GOP incumbent Mike Evans for the 28th District seat in the Georgia General Assembly, primarily because she disagreed with his positions on various bills that would benefit the disabled. Her campaign slogan was "Paralyzed from the neck down, not the neck up."

After the votes were counted, she called Evans and left a message on his answering machine to congratulate him and tell him that she intended to "stay on his butt" as Forsyth County's leading advocate for the disabled.

She also was a familiar face in county government meetings, and she never hesitated to give the politicians a piece of her mind if they were doing something that she disagreed with.

Forysth County leaders even gave her and her caretaker the power to write tickets to drivers who illegally parked in handicapped parking spaces.

"I guess they figured that instead of having her work against them, they would have her work for them," Stinson said. "She was a pistol. One thing she would want everyone to know is whatever the disability, whatever the problem, never stop trying and stand up for your rights."

_ Staff writer Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183 or at quiocosptimes.com.

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