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David Straz leaves a legacy of giving back to Tampa | Editorial

The retired banker will be remembered for the range of his philanthropy.
David Straz Jr. passed away this week. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Tampa Bay Times]
David Straz Jr. passed away this week. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Nov. 19, 2019

There isn’t a corner of Tampa that David A. Straz Jr. didn’t touch for the better. Over decades, his support for the arts, higher education, public health and conservation showed Straz’s love for his adopted city, his ambitions for the region and his commitment to future generations throughout Tampa Bay. Straz’s death Monday leaves an aching for family and friends, but his contributions will endure as a living legacy.

Straz, 77, was found dead early Monday while on a fishing trip with friends near Homosassa, about 70 miles north of Tampa. His passing, only months after losing a runoff election for Tampa mayor, stunned political, business and civic leaders who marveled at the energy and excitement he brought to the campaign.

The race capped a lifetime of service for Straz, who moved to Florida in 1980 after selling his chain of Wisconsin banks. Once in Tampa Bay, Straz formed a new chain of banks, which he sold in 1994. Over several decades, Straz and his wife, Catherine Lowry Straz, gave generously, supporting the arts, charities and educational programs. The multitude of buildings that carry his name—the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, the David A. Straz Jr. Hall at the University of Tampa, the David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center at ZooTampa at Lowry Park -- speak to the depth and range of his giving.

Straz was also seen as a sensible voice who had the region’s best interests at heart. His service on the board of Tampa General Hospital, the region’s most advanced safety net hospital, made news in 2016 when Straz resigned after his fellow board members voted to start paying themselves. Straz didn’t grandstand the issue, having no interest in embarrassing his colleagues or the hospital, explaining gently in his usual genial way that compensation conflicted with the ideal of public service. He also used his influence to improve relations with Cuba, visiting the island and supporting cultural and business ties. Those overtures were another step in a long-running process begun by former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco to rebuild Tampa Bay’s historic ties to the island.

Straz’s run as a first-time candidate in this year’s mayoral race wasn’t the most comfortable of fits. He talked in broad strokes about corruption in City Hall, yet never delivered a clear agenda for making city services more responsive and efficient. Still, with a record-setting campaign treasury, he made the runoff with former Tampa police Chief Jane Castor, who beat him with 73 percent of the vote in the April runoff. The mayor noted appropriately Monday that Straz’s contributions “will be a part of our cultural fabric for decades to come.” His platform in that race also brought new attention and promises to long-neglected communities, especially heavily African-American east Tampa.

Straz’s second act in this southern city helped create a stronger hospital, a better zoo, a richer cultural environment and a sturdier academic setting. Any one of those would be an enviable legacy, but together they trace the generosity of a benevolent father figure who believed in this community and shaped it a brighter future.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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