Stories recount life of Tampa journalist Leland Hawes
Family and friends of renowned Tampa storyteller Leland Hawes gathered for his memorial service Saturday morning, and this time, they were the ones sharing stories.
More than 100 people came together at the First Presbyterian Church downtown to remember the former Tampa Tribune reporter, editor and historian who died May 18. Hawes was 83.
“He was that gentleman working in the newsroom,” said Steve Otto, longtime Tribune columnist and a friend of Hawes.
Everyone in town knew him, Otto said, and Hawes knew everyone in town. He was kind, sophisticated and a mentor to other journalists at the Tribune, both young and old. Being a proper southern gentleman, Hawes was always punctual and polite, Otto said.
And Hawes knew Tampa better than anyone.
“He was Google before there was Google,” Otto said.
Hawes started his own newspaper in Thonotosassa when he was 12 years old. He put out a special edition the day Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941.
After graduating from the University of Florida in 1950, Hawes landed a job with the Tampa Times and was hired by The Tampa Tribune in 1952.
He covered cops and education, among other things. Hawes’ colleagues remembered he once was chased out of the woods while covering a Klu Klux Klan rally, and he was reporting from Havana the day Fidel Castro came to the city.
Hawes served in various editor positions at the Tribune before he became the Tampa history and heritage writer. He retired in 2004, but continued writing the Tribune’s history column until 2007.
Former Tampa mayor Pam Iorio knew Hawes well and frequently worked with him during her years in office.
“It was a perfect service for Leland,” she said about Saturday’s memorial. “It was simple and heartfelt. Sincere, loving reflections on a life well lived.”
Hawes was instrumental in the formation of the Tampa Bay History Center and served on the museum’s board. Through the years he was honored by the University of Florida, the University of South Florida, the City of Tampa and the Hillsborough County Bar Association, among others, for his contributions to the community.
Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of the Tampa Bay History Center, spoke during the service, and credited Hawes with giving him his start. Kite-Powell wrote to Hawes one summer in the 1990s, while he was a history student at the University of Florida, offering to help Hawes with research.
He recalled meeting with Hawes at The Tampa Tribune office and sitting across from him at his desk, piled high with documents and photographs. Kite-Powell, who now writes a history column for the Tribune, said Hawes gave him his first writing assignment and paid him out of his own pocket.
“I think we can all agree that Leland was a kind and generous man,” Kite-Powell said.
It is important for the Tribune to continue to follow in Hawes’ footsteps with honest reporting and community coverage, said Publisher Bill Barker.
“We’re all about connecting community,” he said. “This service is a reminder that Leland has been connecting the community for generations.”
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