Iorio: The lasting gift of Leland Hawes
It was Leland Hawes who told me about the old Shoup lever voting machine being used by the chairman of the Elections Board for Hillsborough County to smoke mullet in his backyard. Turns out the Shoup Voting Machine Company was bribing local officials who then voted to purchase the machines.
All of this led to indictments and the eventual conviction of at least the backyard BBQ chairman in what became known as the “Shoup Voting Machine Scandal” in the 1970s. The scandal led to the purchase of the punch-card voting system for Hillsborough County, but that's a story for another day.
We were engaged in a long conversation about Tampa's sordid elections; there were plenty of them, and he had a story for each. Better take your time when you were with Leland because his stories were never rushed. He wanted you to have a feel for the times and the people involved. It was history, and the facts were important.
Leland's death May 18 caused me to go back through my files to find notes on a conversation with him in April 2000 when, as part of my master's program in history, I was writing an article on the influence of gambling, notably the game of Bolita, on Tampa politics. Family connections, political loyalties, Mafia ties, grudges held — it was all there, put in context with a thorough explanation of an era long ago that somehow seemed so fresh in his memory.
Even as a teenager in rural Thonotosassa, just northeast of Tampa, Leland Hawes was producing his own newspaper, the Flint Lake Diver. His first real job with a newspaper was as a summer intern for The Tampa Times in 1947. From the Times he landed a job with The Tampa Tribune in 1952, making all of $75 a week. For the next 52 years Leland covered the unique and colorful events of our community as a trusted journalist who set high standards for himself and the profession. For more than 20 years he wrote and edited the Sunday History and Heritage page for the newspaper.
Before Google, there was Leland Hawes. Though today's Internet searches yield a dizzying number of facts, what we often miss is the setting, the context, the personalities, and the connections. Piecing all that together still requires a person with the knowledge, the memory and the patience to tell a story from beginning to end. That was Leland. You called him to check a fact, put an event in context, and understand relationships. And he did it all without ever seeming rushed or put out.
The Tampa Tribune recently asked me to write a history column for the newspaper. It has been a little difficult getting into a writing stride, in part because I have always seen Leland as the expert in that role. And I am the first to admit that I don't possess even a fraction of his knowledge, wisdom or patience. I was planning to visit him to discuss column ideas and explore further the legacy of D.B. McKay. McKay was a former Tampa mayor and newspaper publisher who spent the latter part of his life as a historian. In 1946 he began a Sunday column for the Tampa Daily Times called Pioneer Florida which continued for 14 years.
Between McKay and Hawes, the Tampa Daily Times and The Tampa Tribune have had the best of local historians to connect with their readers. I will take a stab at chronicling our times, understanding that McKay and Hawes were unique and irreplaceable and have no peers in their knowledge and writings.
History provides us with a sense of shared experiences, emotions and values. It tells of progress, sacrifices, mistakes, accomplishments, human frailty and strengths. It always has and always will reflect the best and the worst of human nature. Our local history is a part of the continuity of community that binds us. We are a collection of shared values and characteristics that translate to our daily behavior and attitudes. Remembering our past and applying it to our future allows us to move forward with valuable insight.
This gift of a shared journey is the lasting gift of Leland Hawes.
Pam Iorio is a former Hillsborough County commissioner, supervisor of elections and Tampa mayor. Readers can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.