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Public servant put his stamp on the county

When Andy Anderson retired from the Pinellas County Commission in 1971, tears dampened his face.

"If all served (the public) who could serve, we would all be enriched," Anderson said softly while clutching a handkerchief.

For 34 years, Anderson helped move Pinellas County forward. He was a Gulfport mayor and a county commissioner. He was a commercial fisherman honored with two conservation awards. As a county Park Board member, Anderson was tagged "Mr. Parks."

"He was a courteous and courtly gentleman," said Ben Overton, 76, former Circuit Court judge (1964-1974) and former Florida Supreme Court judge (1974-1999).

Said Chuck Rainey, former state legislator (1964-1967) and county commissioner (1967-1996): "If not for Anderson, it would be pretty much solid land here. He was a major opponent of dredge and fill."

Born in 1889 in Peoria, Ill., Alphon Lester Anderson later graduated from the University of Illinois "with the highest grade point average in the history of the law school," said his daughter, Joan Anderson Porter, who called her father a kind, thoughtful man with strong hands.

About 1922, Anderson established a successful Peoria law practice. He married Pauline Ryan in 1930 and they raised two children and a stepchild.

Anderson remained in Peoria until about 1946, when arthritis and kidney surgery brought him here at about age 57 to Tifton Street and later to 6020 Luana Lane.

"There were only two houses there then," said Porter, now 80. "He named Luana Lane, which means lazy lane in Hawaiian. The county approved it."

While on the Gulfport Charter Board in 1954, Anderson was key to the establishment of city manager government. "There were reservations at that time," said Gulfport historian Lynne Brown, 64. "People weren't eager to change.'

That same year, Anderson was elected Gulfport's mayor at age 65 by a 4-1 ratio.

"He was like the godfather of the city," said Les McEwen Jr., 75, a council member from 1958 to 1975. "If he wanted his way, he would move heaven and Earth to make it happen."

During his second mayoral term, Anderson became infuriated with county commissioners over a dredge-and-fill matter. He won election to the County Commission in 1958 _ "so I could have a vote," Anderson said.

As county commissioner, Anderson lobbied to improve channels and construct artificial fishing reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. He helped establish several county parks, including one near Lake Tarpon that bears his name, A.L. Anderson Park (1966).

"He had two hearing aids," Rainey, 70, said of Anderson, who served as the commission's chairman and vice chairman. "Sometimes he would close his eyes. People thought he was sleeping, until he heard something he didn't like."

In 1963, Anderson's youngest son David, then a local lawyer and state representative, was killed in an automobile accident. He was 31.

In 1966, the Florida Wildlife Association honored Anderson with the Salt Water Resources Conservation Award. The Florida Outdoors Writers Association issued a trophy one year later to the avid fisherman, naming him Outdoorsman of the Year.

"Whenever anything would come up regarding dredging, he would inspect the area with his own boat," said grandson Dan Porter, 52. "When he spoke, he commanded a hell of a lot of respect."

In January 1971, Anderson retired from the commission. "Had it not been for his guidance, support and his dedication . . . these last two years would not have been as progressive," Rainey said at the time.

Anderson, then 81, thanked everyone by name and cautioned listeners not to be overly critical of public officials. "Criticism builds nothing," he said. "But well-being and constructive effort are what makes this country the great nation that it is."

Later the same year, Anderson was appointed to the County Parks Board. "When we think of parks in Pinellas County, we think of one man," said Mark Wheeler, former Park Board chairman. "We think of A.L. Andy Anderson."

In his later years, Anderson fished often. "Hell of a fisherman," Rainey said of Anderson, who made rods, carved duck decoys and owned property in Oklahoma and Mississippi. "Once we caught over 300 pounds of grouper. My arms were falling off."

On March 10, 1980, Andy Anderson died at Palms of Pasadena Hospital of heart failure. He was 90. "He was like my father," Dan Porter said. "A guy you could go to the bank with. He had such a passion for family and integrity. An old-school kind of guy."

_ Scott Taylor Hartzell can be reached at hartzelmsn.com.

Andy Anderson holds up part of a 200-pound kingfish catch during a fishing trip in 1959. The former Pinellas County commissioner and mayor of Gulfport was a conservationist and an avid fisherman who was once named Outdoorsman of the Year.

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