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Edgecomb set bar high, and did it fast

Thirty-three years.

That was all George E. Edgecomb needed to create a legacy that continues to live today.

"So many people were not even born when all of this happened," said Edgecomb's widow, Doretha. "And yet today they can say there was a man who achieved greatness, and this community still believes in celebrating his contributions."

Edgecomb's name adorns the new $42.9-million courthouse for the 13th Judicial Circuit on Twiggs Street in downtown Tampa. On Thursday, judges, politicians, dignitaries and Edgecomb's family and friends gathered for a dedication at the 332,000-square-foot facility.

When you learn Edgecomb rose from public housing in West Tampa to become the county's first African-American prosecutor, first African-American chief assistant and first African-American judge, the honor seems more than appropriate. When you learn leukemia cut Edgecomb's accomplishments short in 1976 at the age of 33, his accomplishments are rightfully magnified.

Clarence Cooper, a U.S. District Court judge from Atlanta, said Thursday he wasn't at all surprised his college roommate achieved so much in such a short time. From the day they met at Atlanta's Clark College, Edgecomb seemed to know where he was going.

Cooper occasionally could get his friend to laugh, but most often Edgecomb was serious. His focus was often intense and he lived by a schedule in which he would block out time for class, studying and even meals.

"He was the most organized person I've ever known," Cooper said.

By the time he was a sophomore at Clark, Edgecomb already was student body president.

After graduating from Clark and earning a law degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C., Edgecomb embarked on his trailblazing career. Friends remarked he was deeply ethical and a true believer in fairness. He went so far so fast that family and friends could only wonder how it came to an end in seemingly the same amount of time.

In fact, Edgecomb was fiercely private about his battle. When an ambulance came to take him to the hospital, he refused to let the drivers turn on the siren.

"I remember standing in his home, witnessing the toll it was taking and it would take on his wife Doretha and their infant daughter Allison," County Commissioner Pat Frank said. "We all asked the same question: Why? I think I now know the answer to that question.

"I think that God took George because he needed a little counsel. I think that God knew that George judged people not by the color of their skin or the assets that they had, but by the merits of their character."

Plaques which were unveiled Thursday will note his contributions, but they won't mark how many people will be inspired by his name.

One of the plaques will display the thoughts of Doretha, who said, "He would want this day and this building to be a reminder to all young people throughout this community, how important it is to dream and how important it is to be courageous and try."

The ceremony concluded with Belinda Womack singing The Impossible Dream. More than one pair of eyes welled with tears.

Yet it was something that County Commissioner Jan Platt said earlier that left the biggest impression with me.

"This is the first building in downtown Tampa named for an African-American," said Platt, who led the board's effort to name the courthouse after Edgecomb. "This is the first. That's a hint. That's a challenge."

Don't let the challenge go unheeded.

That's all I'm saying.

_ Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813) 226-3406 or