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Gregarious yet opinionated, Hank Lavandera left his mark on local politics and in court rooms

When Joe Garcia would take his kid nephew Henry "Hank" Lavandera to the beach, he’d always make sure to bring plenty of quarters.

"He was so inquisitive that the entire car ride he would talk and ask questions," chuckled Garcia, 87, former chairman of the Tampa Port Authority. "I’d finally say, ‘Hey, I’ll give you a quarter if you stay quiet for a while.’?"

That desire to understand the facts, Garcia said, is what propelled Mr. Lavandera’s long legal career that included serving as a Hillsborough County assistant state attorney from the 1970s through the 1990s and then as associate general counsel at the University of South Florida until he retired in 2014.

"He expressed himself clearly and could explain the intricate details in a manner that was easy to understand," Garcia said.

Mr. Lavandera, a native of West Tampa, died on March 15. He was 70 years old.

His childhood friend Manuel Menendez Jr., 70 and a retired Hillsborough circuit judge, saidMr. Lavandera also succeeded due to sheer force of personality.

"He was so gregarious," Menendez said. "He was no wallflower. We’d go to a restaurant and he knew everyone and everyone loved him."

Never was that more evident than during his time in the Hills­borough State Attorney’s Office, said Terry Smiljanich, 71, another of Mr. Lavandera’s childhood friends and a former federal prosecutor.

"He first worked for State Attorney E.J. Salcines and then campaigned hard for E.J. against Bill James in an election," Smiljanich said. "But when Bill James won, he still kept Hank. He even promoted him to a bureau chief. Hank was so likable."

Still, Mr. Lavandera, described by friends and family as a far left progressive, was known to turn off the charm when debating politics with Republicans.

Garcia, his uncle, recalled a Democrat winning an election and then changing parties. When that official was later a keynote speaker at a Tiger Bay Club meeting, Mr. Lavandera accused him of turning against his supporters.

"He was one of the early pioneers of Tiger Bay," said current club president Victor DiMaio. "He was one of those guys who made Tiger Bay noted for tough questions because he really studied their issues."

Smiljanich added, with a chuckle, "He had to live up to his namesake."

The son of left-leaning Spanish immigrant Ralph Lavandera, who as a cigarmaker led labor movements, Mr. Lavandera was named for Henry Wallace, vice president to Franklin D. Roosevelt and a 1948 Progressive Party presidential nominee.

A 1965 Jefferson High School graduate, Mr. Lavandera served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War and earned degrees from the University of South Florida and the University of Florida College of Law.

When not practicing law, he taught as an adjunct professor at USF and Hillsborough Community College. And among his passions was the history of Ybor City’s Centro Asturiano social club, of which his father was a member.

"He was just a prince of a guy," said childhood friend Dennis Delgado. "He had a terrific personality. He was popular when we were kids, he was popular in high school and he was popular as an adult. He will be missed."

Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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