Tampa historian Leland Hawes dies at 83

Retired journalist and historian Leland Hawes worked for the Tampa Tribune more than 50 years.
Retired journalist and historian Leland Hawes worked for the Tampa Tribune more than 50 years.
Published May 19, 2013

TAMPA — The love affair between Leland Hawes and newspapers began in the 1930s, with an old L.C. Smith typewriter in his father's office in their Thonotosassa home. Mr. Hawes, then a boy of 8 or 9, was fascinated by the typewriter, he told an interviewer later. His father, who worked in the citrus business, had an idea — the boy could put out a newspaper in their rural community.

That paper — The Flint Lake Diver (Thonotosassa is an Indian word meaning "lake of flint")launched the journalism career of Mr. Hawes, who would go on to work for the Tampa Tribune for more than 50 years as a reporter, editor, and history columnist. A lifelong Hillsborough County resident and historian, Mr. Hawes died Saturday, according to the Tribune. He was 83.

"There are very few people in this city who knew more about the history of Tampa Bay than Leland Hawes," said Tampa Bay Times columnist Dan Ruth, who worked with Hawes at the Tribune. "He was one of the most decent, warm, generous, caring human beings you'd ever want to meet. … I'm deeply saddened."

Born in Tampa on June 18, 1929, Mr. Hawes attended Plant High School and the University of Florida, and took a job with the Tampa Times in 1950. He joined the Tribune in 1952.

As a reporter, he was chased out of the woods by Ku Klux Klan members after he tried to attend a meeting in Baker County, and he witnessed a confrontation under an oak tree in Ybor City between Democratic presidential candidates Adlai Stevenson and Estes Kefauver in 1956. He later recounted these stories and others in a 2002 interview for the University of Florida.

"He was such a kind man," said attorney George Howell, a friend. "Tampa is still a small town, and Leland knew everyone, not only who was related to whom, but who did what to who."

In 1982, Mr. Hawes started writing a weekly history feature for the Sunday Tribune, a job he held until he retired in 2004. He was a trustee for the Tampa Bay History Center. Mr. Hawes never married. He had a stroke about two years ago, Ruth said, but had mostly recovered.

In the 2002 interview, Mr. Hawes was asked to reflect on his career. "I guess I'm an anomaly in some respects, in that I never had any particular goals, I just enjoyed what I was doing," he said. "There have been some downers along the way … but I'd say it's been a very satisfying career."

Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or