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WFLA reporter, news director Mannion dies

TAMPA - Joe Mannion, an award-winning newsman who started as a reporter with WFLA News Channel 8 in the mid-1960s and became news director of the station in 1979, died Sunday night after a long illness. He was 78.
“Five years ago, he was diagnosed with renal cancer,” said his 40-year-old son, John, who lives in Safety Harbor. “He carried on from there, but he was ailing.”
Mannion still managed to golf a few days a week at the Dunedin Country Club. He was an avid fan of the Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and followed Notre Dame closely, his son said.
After his news career ended in 1983, he became a lobbyist for Pasco County, a position he held until 2009, when ill health and a scaled-back Pasco budget forced him into retirement.
Mannion moved to the Tampa area in the mid-1960s from South Carolina after a stint as a reporter in Washington, and worked as a producer, reporter and anchorman here. He was appointed news director of WFLA in 1976.
“He definitely loved the news business,” John Mannion said.
In 1979, Bob Koop, WFLA’s nightly anchor, resigned and Mannion picked a weekend anchor named Bob Hite to take over the nightly duties. Hite continued on at the station until 2007 when he retired.
“Joe was ultimate newsman,” said Joe Davis, a longtime friend. “He trained in Washington along with the Huntleys and the Brinkleys and the others that the younger guys these days don’t know.”
He settled with his wife, Elizabeth, in Clearwater where they raised four sons.
In 1987, Mannion became the liaison between Pasco and the Florida Legislature, and served in that job for 22 years before the county’s budget crunch in 2009 forced the commission to cut the position.
He was instrumental in coordinating efforts to get a more than $3 million in grant money between 2006 and 2008 for a needed stormwater improvement project. He also roped in nearly $2 million for a recycling and waste tire initiative, and his input was credited with making sinkhole coverage changes that reduced property insurance bills of Pasco residents.
Before his professional career in front of a camera and behind the scenes in Tallahassee, Mannion considered a life in the clergy.
He had spent years in a Rome seminary, preparing himself for the Catholic priesthood, but changed his mind, Davis said.
“He just didn’t feel comfortable with it,” he said, though Mannion remained a deeply religious man throughout his life. “Joe, in civilian life, was not only a religious person, but also a spiritual person and above all, he had a terrific intellect.”
Visitation is scheduled for between 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Hubbell Funeral Home, 499 N. Indian Rocks Road, Belleair Bluffs. Services are set for 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Brendan Catholic Church, 245 Dory Passage in Clearwater.

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