Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. St. Petersburg

Epilogue: Bea Griswold, longtime St. Petersburg council member

Her compassion was as strong as her passion.
Bea Griswold, then Chairwoman of the St Petersburg City Council, spoke at the groundbreaking for BayWalk. [MARK GUSS | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Aug. 23
Updated Aug. 24

ST. PETERSBURG — Bea Griswold had many lessons to teach.

She taught those around her about the values of compassion. About public service. Loyalty, trust, honesty.

As a public school teacher for 35 years, she’d leave her purse on her desk as a bank for students who forgot their lunch. They could take what they needed, and were trusted like her own children to pay it back before they sought more.

Later, she brought her leadership to the City Council, replacing her term-limited husband to serve eight years of her own. Twice named council chair, she held the gavel with humility yet ran a disciplined meeting.

“She set the tone for civility,” recalled former Mayor Bill Foster, whom Ms. Griswold mentored on the council. “There were some times when some things could have gone sour and she really set the tone. She was strong, she was firm, but she was graceful.”

Ms. Griswold died Aug. 12 of cancer. She was 86.

Beatrice M. Griswold [HANDOUT | Handout]

The Bea Griswold who became a stalwart for her adopted community of St. Petersburg had her roots on a farm in Vermont. One of seven children in a depression-era family, her parents still gave each child 50 cents during Christmastime to buy a gift for every member of the family. That’s how she learned the importance of giving, generosity and sacrifice.

Her civic life began years later, when, as a Pinellas County teacher in 1968, she joined educators from across the state in a mass resignation over a lack of school funding. Before doing so, Ms. Griswold held a family meeting to explain the implications to her four children. Her husband was recently retired from the military and it would mean the household would go without an income. That’s how her one son and three daughters learned about sacrifice.

Ms. Griswold later became the president of the Pinellas Classroom Teacher’s Association, where her deftness and emotional intelligence shone through.

In one memorable encounter, a male School Board member pushing a teacher dress code suggested all educators should dress like Ms. Griswold, who was meticulous about her presentation, and that day sported a dress and heels to the board meeting. She gently yet firmly dismissed the notion, saying if he found her in her classroom, she might have on tennis shoes.

“And that’s absolutely Bea" diplomatically defusing a situation, said former City Council administrator Terri Lipsey Scott, a member of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority and executive director of the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum.

Ms. Griswold ran for the legislature twice in the 1960s and ’70s. Then in 1993, after retiring from the classroom, she sought to replace her term-limited husband on the council.

The council chambers are where she left her most noticeable marks on the city. She served as the city courted Major League Baseball for an expansion team to play in what is now called Tropicana Field. After watching a news segment in which Dan Rather stood in front of the Vinoy in St. Petersburg and signed off from “Tampa,” she sent a letter to the baseball suits and national media parachuting in from New York.

"There is no city called Tampa Bay," Griswold wrote. "The stadium is in St. Petersburg, Florida. St. Petersburg is the city spending, yearning, waiting and paying."

It might eventually be called the “Tampa Bay Whatevers,” she added, but “the CITY IS ST. PETERSBURG when you talk expansion.”

She could be a firecracker when she had to be. Like when, as chairwoman, she would temporarily give up her role to Foster when the council was discussing issues she was passionate about. Because of decorum, chairs can make only limited contributions to the discussion.

“She’d say ‘I’m going to pass the gavel to you, because I’m going to raise hell,’” Foster said.

Ms. Griswold’s fingerprints remain today. She was instrumental in the city purchasing Sunken Gardens, and she helped complete her husband’s mission of building a veterans memorial in Williams Park.

The most important roles she ever had, though, were familial. She had a knack for relating to the children in her family — which at the time of her death had about 100 members. When her preteen great, great nieces came to visit Florida last year, they favored romping around St. Petersburg with her to Disney World.

And when her son-in-law would go to social gatherings and the requisite mother-in-law jokes would start among the men, he would have to bow out.

“I’m sorry," he’d say, according to daughter Terri Reynolds. "I can’t engage in this discussion because I have the best mother-in-law on the planet.”

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. The old St. Petersburg High School on Mirror Lake in 1919 during the school's first year there. After it left the building in 1925, St. Pete High moved into its current home on 5th Avenue. University of South Florida St. Petersburg
    The city’s first high school has a history that stretches back a century with many moves along the way.
  2. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates.
    The shooting occurred at Queensboro Ave. South and Yale Street.
  3. Rendering of the new Shore Acres Recreation Center that will replace the current structure at 4230 Shore Acres Blvd. NE, St. Petersburg Wannemacher Jensen Architects
    The long-desired project is praised, but some neighbors worry about its proposed height and a new entrance and exit on busy 40th Avenue NE
  4. Less than a month after being fired, former St. Petersburg Housing Authority CEO Tony Love wants the agency to give him a job running its development nonprofit at the same $157,000 salary. That offer, part of ongoing negotiations over his severance, was rejected by the agency's board.
    Tony Love’s attorney tells the agency that fired him he wants full salary and benefits through 2020. The board rejects his offer.
  5. John Jonchuck returned to a Pinellas County courtroom last month to attend a hearing about whether he was entitled to a new trial. A judge on Tuesday ruled that he is not. SCOTT KEELER  |   Times
    Jonchuck was convicted of first-degree murder in April. He dropped his 5-year-old daughter, Phoebe Jonchuck, off a bridge in 2015.
  6. A study found that two of the worst intersections in the country for running red lights are in the Tampa Bay area. Tampa Bay Times
    Two intersections are among the worst for running red lights
  7. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. TMCCARTY  |  times staff
    The 15-year-old student was arrested Monday after shouting the threat out loud, according to St. Petersburg police.
  8. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, a Republican, has asked for a City Council vote on a resolution asking congress for gun control measures. DOUGLAS CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    However, the Republican’s symbolic resolution will almost certainly fail.
  9. Yesterday• Pinellas
    Ele Fox, Kiwanis Club of Dunedin member, and Joe Mackin, president of the Dunedin Cares Food Pantry are pictured in front of the case of meals they received to be distributed to families in need in the Dunedin area. Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Bessette. Stephanie Bessette
    Local Kiwanis clubs supply food in service project
  10. Yesterday• Pinellas
    Cleo. Photo courtesy of Friends of Stray Animal Shelter. BY MONIQUE WELCH  |  Friends of Stray Animal Shelter
    Meet Cleo.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement