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Charlie Crist's sister and former campaign manager Margaret Crist Wood dead at 60

Margaret Crist Wood, Fay Mackey and Susan Churuti at a Stuart Society fashion show at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort.
Margaret Crist Wood, Fay Mackey and Susan Churuti at a Stuart Society fashion show at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort.
Published Feb. 26, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — Margaret Crist Wood, a sister of former Gov. Charlie Crist who managed his 2010 campaign for the U.S. Senate, died of cancer Tuesday at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, her family said.

She was 60.

Mrs. Wood had been treated for a malignant brain tumor. The cancer reappeared in recent months.

The eldest of four children by Dr. Charles J. Crist, a former Pinellas County School Board chairman, and his wife Nancy, Mrs. Wood grew up in a close-knit family that has been anchored in St. Petersburg since 1960. Its members even now live within 2 miles of each other.

Mrs. Wood graduated from St. Petersburg High School in 1972, then LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. She married Emory Wood in 1975, the year before she graduated.

Mrs. Wood taught science at Bay Point Middle School, her middle school alma mater, from 1976 to 1982.

When Charlie Crist needed help preparing for his 2010 U.S. Senate campaign, he turned to his older sister, who at that time had managed the law office of her husband for more than two decades. Crist had left the Republican Party to run as a nonaffiliated candidate.

"I was like, 'I'm not sure I'm good enough. I want you to have the best,' " Mrs. Wood told the Times in 2010.

Her brother told her he valued her frugality in managing his independent campaign. She could also keep the candidate on schedule and under budget as much as possible. Even so, Crist lost in the general election to Marco Rubio.

"She loved her little brother and was very protective of him," said Cathy Kennedy, 50, Mrs. Wood's sister. As far as keeping Charlie grounded, Kennedy said, "It wasn't like he was asking her to adopt a new role."

After five years at Bay Point, Mrs. Wood left teaching to manage the law firm. As with other supportive roles she had taken, Mrs. Wood concerned herself with getting the job done correctly rather than who gets credit for the result.

"She didn't need anyone to say, 'Oh, you're doing a good job, let's give you an award,' " her sister said. "As long as it worked out, she could duck into the shadows and be just fine."

Friends remember her as soft-spoken and kind. Sue Boore Foster, 60, a friend since childhood, said Mrs. Wood could establish distance with a few words or a look.

"More often," said Foster, "she said something loving and her expression spoke pages. That was absolutely a skill that would serve her well as a teacher, businesswoman and parent."

She encouraged her children to follow their own career paths. One is a Methodist minister, another a lawyer. A third assumed her old duties managing Emory Wood's law firm.

Mrs. Wood led an active lifestyle, working out and playing tennis. She was competitive, often beating opponents 10 years her junior. The only major health issue cropped up in August 2013, when doctors diagnosed a brain tumor.

She had surgery but the cancer reappeared, this time in her lower back, her family said.

Her family gathered in recent weeks as Mrs. Wood's health declined in a hospice unit at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg. During one of many conversations tinged with remembrances, family members reflected on time spent with Mrs. Wood and her children.

"We were amazed that we have no regrets as a family," Kennedy said. "When someone reaches the end of their lives, people (often) say, 'If only we had done this, or said that.' We all paused and looked at each other and said, 'We did it.' We would take those family outings, have those dinners and we did not leave anything unsaid."

Contact Andrew Meacham at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.

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