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Battling cancer, Mark Gibbons found peace through social media

The former state representative and son of political icon Sam Gibbons dies at 67.
Mark Gibbons greets well-wishers following memorial services for his father, Congressman Sam Gibbons, in 2012. Mark Gibbons died on January 3.
Mark Gibbons greets well-wishers following memorial services for his father, Congressman Sam Gibbons, in 2012. Mark Gibbons died on January 3. [ Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Jan. 7, 2020
Updated Jan. 7, 2020

TAMPA — In the final months of his battle with pancreatic cancer, Mark Gibbons showcased how social media connects people.

He regularly took to Facebook to provide health updates and reminisce with friends when he was too ill to do so in person.

Gibbons even posted from hospice, wondering humorously about the afterlife:

Are there dance lessons, and does everyone have a job?

While other corners of Facebook were flooded with the kind of political vitriol that has become a regular part of the social media platform, Gibbons’ page showcased humanity. Family and friends replied day and night.

“The Facebook community really rallied behind him," his friend Donna Bevis said. "On his toughest days, the connections brought him a smile.”

Mr. Gibbons, a former Florida state representative, candidate for lieutenant governor and son of the late and famed U.S. Rep. Sam Gibbons, died on January 3.

He was 67.

“I have faith that we will meet again,” reads one of his final posts that received more than 100 replies.

“If 100 responded,” Bevis said, “it was like all 100 were in his hospice room.”

Mr. Gibbons was born into political royalty, though his life was not always princely.

He battled illness for decades, his cousin Gary Gibbons said.

“He was diagnosed with a chronic fatigue syndrome in 1994," he said. “He would never know from one day to the next how he would feel. To see him suffer for so many years and then go out like this gets you in touch with your mortality."

And it was never easy to live in the shadow of a father who had the federal courthouse in Tampa named after him.

Mr. Gibbons chided the media during his political career for continuously calling him the son of Sam Gibbons on first reference.

“Sam Gibbons is a legend,” friend Victor DiMaio said. “When you have to live up to those standards, it makes life a little harder. But he was a success regardless of his last name."

Mr. Gibbons was a prosecutor in the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office for two years before successfully running for the Legislature in 1984.

Rather than seeking reelection in 1986, he ran for lieutenant governor alongside gubernatorial candidate Harry Johnston.

They lost in the Democratic primary. Then Mr. Gibbons focused on his attorney work.

“He was an effective lawyer on family law and bankruptcy matters," his former law partner Reggie Garcia said, "and never stopped fighting for his clients. “

Rep. Mark Gibbons fields question from the media after Senate President Harry Johnston, left, announced Gibbons as his running mate in his campaign for governor.
Rep. Mark Gibbons fields question from the media after Senate President Harry Johnston, left, announced Gibbons as his running mate in his campaign for governor. [ Associated Press ]
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But Mr. Gibbons had to retire a little more than 20 years ago due to his chronic fatigue syndrome. It was around that time that he met his friend Bevis.

Mr. Gibbons would sometimes take walks on a route past her house.

“But except for our conversations about my winter nasturtiums and his love for the Old World smell of night-blooming jasmine, Mark and I were just 'round-the-block neighbors,” Bevis said.

Then, about a year ago, Bevis said, Mr. Gibbons invited her out for a cup of coffee.

“He wept a little,” Bevis said. “He talked about how his illness has isolated him.”

A few months later, Bevis said, Mr. Gibbons confided in her about his pancreatic cancer. It was around then that he also opened up about the disease on Facebook.

“It was very important to him,” his cousin Robert Gibbons, a monsignor at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in St. Petersburg, said of the social media platform. “It’s how his old friends and new friends really stepped up to be there for him.”

Mr. Gibbons was appreciative.

“I have treasured all your text messages, funny Facebook videos, visits, and kind words of support and comfort,” he posted to Facebook. “This is a difficult journey and each of you have helped smooth the path.”

Mr. Gibbons asked Bevis to post for him when he became too weak to do so himself.

“Mark asked what I thought his job may be” in heaven, she wrote on his page. “I suggested that since he loved talking about my garden, maybe, just maybe, he’d get to tend the gardens at Heaven’s gate.”

He objected, she said, because he was “an abject failure at lawn mowing as a kid.”

“One of the last things Mark said to me, through all his medication and fog, was a firm, ‘NO GARDENING!’ followed by a gentle squeeze of my hand,” Bevis wrote on Mr. Gibbons’ page following his death. “Our decent, complex, sweet Mark will now find out his Heavenly profession as he crossed through those pearly gates last night.”

BIOGRAPHY

Mark Gibbons

Born: July 30, 1952

Died: January 3, 2019

He is survived by his son Sam Brian Gibbons and daughter Elizabeth Gibbons.

A service will be held Thursday, Jan. 16 at 4 p.m. at Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church, 3501 W. San Jose St., Tampa.