TALLAHASSEE — As friends, family and former colleagues told stories about longtime Tampa Bay Times journalist Lucy Morgan’s tenacity, her portrait sat in the center of the Florida House gallery.
In its gilded frame, it was not unlike the portraits on the Capitol building’s walls of House speakers that had come before — many of whom Morgan herself faced as a Capitol reporter of about 20 years — but Morgan’s portrait stood alone as the only woman.
Morgan was a woman in a male-dominated world who held power to account, who had a nose for corruption, who took other women under her wing and who relished in being underestimated, her friends and family said of her at her memorial ceremony on Friday in the Florida House of Representatives, a rare honor.
Morgan died at 82 years old last week from complications from a fall she sustained in May. Morgan was the Tallahassee bureau chief of the then-St. Petersburg Times from 1985 to 2005 and chased stories even after her first official retirement. In 1985, she won a Pulitzer Prize, which stood next to her portrait during the memorial.
Kathy Bauerlin, Morgan’s daughter, said her mother would be ecstatic about being honored with a memorial service in Florida’s Capitol.
Bauerlin remembers being a teenager, coming with her mom to the Capitol and hardly being able to make it through one end of a hall to another without being stopped by people who wanted to speak with Morgan. She said her mom wouldn’t take no for an answer, but she also was open to people and their stories.
“We can’t forget her love because she spread it all over,” Bauerlin said.
Guests attending the memorial signed their names on a yellow legal pad — Morgan’s trademark — nestled between old St. Petersburg Times newspapers with Morgan’s articles.
Paul Tash, the former chairman of the Tampa Bay Times and Morgan’s former editor, called Morgan “indomitable.”
“Her reporting still makes a difference for many who may never know her name,” Tash said.
Along with her family, some of “Lucy’s disciples” spoke about how she taught them to be braver, bolder journalists, and how she was the “machete” that cleared the path for them to be successful female journalists in Florida.
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Jennifer Liberto, the economics editor of The Washington Post, said she was “plucked out of obscurity” by Morgan, who by that point in Morgan’s long career was already a journalism giant.
But her mentorship extended far beyond Tallahassee’s press gallery. Liberto and other women call themselves Morgan’s “wayward girls” and often gathered at Morgan’s North Carolina home to talk about love, loss, career changes, motherhood and other things they knew Morgan could guide them through.
She told them to always speak their minds, encouraged them to be bold, cooked them meals, took them dancing, knitted their children Christmas stockings.
“She lived in our heads, and she still does to this day,” Liberto said.