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Joan Perlman Saul: 1928-2003 // Helping her city _ behind the scenes

Published Mar. 28, 2003|Updated Jun. 20, 2006

In some ways, Joan Saul was a quintessential mid-20th century, small-town housewife. She never earned a paycheck, she never ran for public office. She lived in the same neighborhood for virtually her entire life.

Mrs. Saul, who died March 22 at age 74, never wanted the spotlight. But quietly and tirelessly, she worked to make Tampa a more vibrant and more sophisticated city.

"She not only believed in things, she acted on them," said her daughter, Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena.

Mrs. Saul was born in Manhattan but moved to Davis Islands with her parents when she was very young. Saul-Sena and her husband, Mark, still live in the house with their two daughters, Aliza and Gabrielle.

Tampa was a small and sleepy town back then. But partly because of Mrs. Saul's New York roots, her family was a little more urbane than most. At least once a year, the family traveled to New York, where young Joan developed her passion for art.

She worked all her adult life to help support and enhance the arts in Tampa. She made a point of exposing her two daughters, Linda and Julie, to the arts starting at a young age.

"Tampa had no museums, but she would take us to museums in New York," Julie Saul said. "We had a house that wasn't filled with great art, but there were great reproductions and great art books."

Mrs. Saul was a volunteer docent for the Tampa Museum of Art from its earliest days, and had worked with its predecessor, the Tampa Bay Arts Center. She was also a longtime volunteer for the Florida Orchestra.

Mrs. Saul was unconditionally supportive when her daughter Julie decided to move to New York to study art and later open a gallery in Manhattan.

Without her mother's emotional and, occasionally, financial support, the gallery might not be in business today, Julie Saul said.

Besides art and family, Mrs. Saul was passionate about civic involvement. She was a longtime and active member of the Women's Division of the Tampa Jewish Federation and of Temple Schaarai Zedek.

In 1964, at a time when pollution was just becoming a public concern, Mrs. Saul was among the founders of the Davis Islands Civic Association, whose original focus was pollution from smokestacks across the water.

"We had white lawn furniture and when she started seeing black soot on them she decided it was time to take action," Saul-Sena said.

Just as Mrs. Saul left a legacy of love for the arts, she also taught her children to be active and responsible citizens. Nonetheless, she was less than enthusiastic about her daughter Linda going into politics.

"When I first told her I was going to run for City Council, she was astounded," Saul-Sena said. "She said, "Why do you want to do that?' "

Though Mrs. Saul was exceptionally sophisticated, she was still a product of her time, Saul-Sena said, and she had a little trouble adjusting to the notion of women in overtly powerful positions. Besides, she knew how much a person could help her community by working behind the scenes.

Gradually, however, she embraced her daughter's political career and went on to help with her campaigns.

Mrs. Saul was diagnosed with cancer about a decade ago. She fought it successfully and remained active until about two years ago. Her husband of more than 50 years, M. William Saul, died three years ago.

Lifepath Hospice helped Mrs. Saul die peacefully at home, among family and other loved ones. And she died with the same kind of grace and dignity that had characterized her life.

"It was so intimate and natural," Saul-Sena said. "It felt right."

Even though she's gone, her daughters carry on her legacy of civic activism and love for the arts.

"One thing I can say about my mom," Julie Saul said, "is that she was a very local woman, but with a very wide world view."