Betty Castor turning focus back to education, politics
TAMPA - Betty Castor, one of Tampa's best-known names in education and politics, is starting a new life chapter after leaving her position as director of the Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions at the University of South Florida. Castor wants to start her own education foundation and to work in East Africa, where her teaching career started some 40 years ago. She'll probably divide her time between Tallahassee and Tampa, with occasional visits to more exotic locales - Uganda, Tanzania or Kenya. Castor, 68, a former USF president, county commissioner, state legislator and education commissioner, is also going to stay involved in politics.She plans to work as a volunteer and fundraiser for the campaign of fellow Democrat Alex Sink for governor in the 2010 election. She has also endorsed state Sen. Dan Gelber for attorney general. And "number one," she said in an interview, is her daughter, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, who's running for re-election next year. Kathy Castor, however, seems unlikely to have as tough a battle as Sink, who's likely to face Republican Bill McCollum for governor. The Patel Center, founded in 2005 with money from philanthropist Kiran C. Patel, supports research on environmental and community projects worldwide. Castor has been executive director since 2007. "I'm now leaving my beloved university for the third time, with very mixed emotions," Castor said. "My life for the past several decades has been intertwined with USF." Castor began her career teaching in Uganda in the 1960's, inspired by President John F. Kennedy's call for Americans to help others abroad. In 1972, she became the first woman elected as a Hillsborough County commissioner. She then served in the Florida Senate from 1976-86, while working as director of government and community relations at USF. She was then elected state education commissioner and served two terms. From 1993 to 1999 she was USF president. Castor left the USF presidency to become head of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which trains and certifies master teachers. She ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2004, winning a sometimes bitter Democratic primary but losing the general election to Mel Martinez. In 1996, Castor was inducted into the Florida Women's Hall of Fame. Castor said she enjoyed the global focus of the Patel Center, but wants to return to working in education - "That's my passion." She plans to start a foundation, probably based in Tallahassee, to support research and advocacy on education. She'll also be working with another foundation created by American teachers with similar African experience, Teachers for East Africa. The foundation raises money and provides educational materials and guidance for African schools. Castor's husband, Sam Bell, is a Tallahassee lobbyist who represents local governments and businesses. But she maintains several Tampa interests besides being the mother of the local Congress member - she's a board member of the Tampa Bay History Center, the Hillsborough County Education Foundation, and the private, Tampa-based NorthStar Bank. "I'll still be spending a good deal of time in Tampa," she said.
Reporter William March can be reached at (813) 259-7761.
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