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Haven Wilson Poe, child advocate and leader, dead at 82

TAMPA — As a Tampa city councilwoman and Hillsborough County commissioner, Haven Wilson Poe was known for her prudent stewardship of taxpayers’ money. But Poe’s larger legacy may be her life-long commitment to the welfare of children, friends say.

Poe, 82, died Sunday night from complications of Alzheimer’s Disease. She served on the City Council from 1979 until 1986 and on the County Commission from 1986 to 1990. She lost her re-election bid.

Before running for public office, Poe volunteered for a number of agencies including the county Juvenile Detention Center, Travelers Aid Society and Children’s Services of Hillsborough County. She was instrumental in move of the Oral School for the Deaf into the county school system.

“She always had other people’s interest at heart,” said Barbara Stefany, Poe’s longtime friend and campaign manager. “She never looked to do something that was just for her; she was always doing something for someone else.”

Poe was born Aug. 11, 1931, in Haines City to John Robert Wilson and Haven Elizabeth Wilson. She moved to Tampa as a teenager and attended Wilson Junior High School and H.B. Plant High School. While at Plant, she played tennis and golf and was voted Most Athletic Girl, according to her daughter, Lynn Reynolds.

She graduated from Florida State University with a degree in social work. Reynolds said that degree segued naturally into years of volunteer service to children’s welfare groups.

“She worked hard through the government system trying to make a better life for some of the kids,” Reynolds said. “That’s always been her passion.”

Stefany was teaching at the Oral School for the Deaf when she met Poe, a major fund-raiser for the school. Four months later, Poe asked Stefany to become director of the school, a post she held for seven years.

“Haven was instrumental in having teachers for Hillsborough County Schools teach at that school,” Stefany said. “She worked very hard to make it a public school so all kids could go there.”

When the Oral School closed its doors, its transition to the county school system was practically seamless because the teachers there were county teachers, Stefany said. It was the first school for the hearing impaired children in Hillsborough County.

“Haven was incredibly important in making all that happen,” Stefany said.

Poe, whose brother-in-law was former Tampa Mayor Bill Poe, was able to parlay her civic voluntarism into a city council seat. Her opponent, incumbent Joe Kotvas, was quoted several weeks before the election calling south Tampa voters “drones” who would vote any way The Tampa Tribune told them to. The Tribune had endorsed Poe.

Stefany saw opportunity in the drone comment, ordering up glittery, green and white T-shirts with pictures of bees for the campaign volunteers. Poe won easily.

After two terms on the council, Poe ran successfully for county commission. As chairman, she helped guide the county to a modern land-use plan.

However, she was often criticized as too friendly to developers, and lost her re-election bid to Ed Turanchik, a lawyer and environmentalist. The county honored Poe after her defeat, renaming a children’s shelter the Haven W. Poe Center for Runaway Children.

Stefany remembers Poe as someone who voted her conscience. She also was a constant voice for conservative fiscal policy when her colleagues touted big projects that could cost taxpayers down the road.

“Haven wasn’t really a politician,” Stefany said. “She was a public servant.”

Poe is survived by her husband, Charles Poe, and daughters, Lynn Poe Reynolds and Jennifer Poe Wolf.

A memorial service will be held on Thursday at 3 p.m. at Hyde Park Presbyterian Church, 1309 W. Swann Ave.

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