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Lobbyist's humor put state Capitol in perspective

By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2002


The pink coat was purchased years ago. It was one of those impulse things lobbyist Marvin Arrington did.

The pink coat was purchased years ago. It was one of those impulse things lobbyist Marvin Arrington did.

Every year on the last day of the legislative session, Marvin would appear among his fellow lobbyists on the fourth floor of the Capitol wearing the coat.

"He just wanted to add a little festivity to the last day," recalled his wife, Lynn. She and other family members visited the Capitol on Friday for memorial services held in the House and Senate in Marvin's honor.

Just shy of his 44th birthday and four days short of the end of session, Marvin suffered a massive heart attack and died on his way to work Tuesday.

On Friday, the last day of the session, about a dozen lobbyists, Marvin's son, Reynolds, and nephew, Patrick, showed up in pink coats. Pink was everywhere. More than 100 lobbyists who couldn't wear pink coats wore pink shirts or ties and pink carnations.

They bought out the pink coat supply at Jacks for Slacks, a Fort Lauderdale chain of stores, and had them sent by Federal Express to Tallahassee.

Reynolds Arrington, 16, was on crutches after ankle surgery last week. During a memorial service in the House Friday, he asked the lobbyists to continue the tradition in years to come.

"He really loved y'all," Reynolds said. "I want everybody to keep wearing the pink jackets, 'cause he really liked it even when everybody made fun of him."

Marvin was the nicest of us all.

He was not your usual lobbyist. No sleaze attached to him. No one ever accused him of pulling a dirty trick to get a bill passed that would put millions of dollars in a client's pocket. He made friends with everyone as he made his way through a political world that often turned ugly. And he didn't smoke or drink to excess but obviously inherited a tendency to die young since his own father, a member of the House, died when Marvin was only 16.

In a process that often turns mean and nasty, Marvin never was.

And so it was that lawmakers stopped the frantic pace of lawmaking on the final day of session -- an unheard of interruption -- to remember him.

"He had an ability to separate this process from reality," recalled Senate Majority Leader Jim King, as he praised Marvin's ability to remain involved in family life while lobbying.

"He was an inspiration for a lot of us," said state Rep. Jerry Melvin, R-Fort Walton.

He remained until the very end, unflappable and good hearted. When legislators refused to vote for bills he was pushing, he merely shrugged and moved on to the next issue.

A teddy bear kind of guy who divided his life between home and family and lobbying for clients and cooking for people he cared about.

Two years ago when I was laid up after ankle surgery, Marvin appeared at my door with a chicken pot pie. He'd made it himself. Last week, he cooked for the last time at the Capitol -- chicken and collard greens for Sen. Betty Holzendorf, D-Jacksonville.

She's leaving the Legislature this year -- term limits -- and was among those who cried when she heard about his death. Years ago, when she was a brand new lawmaker, Marvin and his wife, Lynn, would often pick up her grandson, Travis, and take him out with their son when legislative meetings ran long.

"A lot of people are probably wondering why we are doing this for Marvin Arrington," Holzendorf said Friday. "But he was more than a lobbyist."

On Thursday, legislators and lobbyists left the Capitol to attend his funeral down the street at St. John's Episcopal Church. You have never seen so many grown men crying.

Many of them would have never dreamed of leaving the Capitol on the day before the session ends for anything. Their lives were filled with little amendments and bills they needed to pass -- until Marvin collapsed Tuesday. It was the kind of moment that made you stop and remember the things that are really important.

Who cares about tax reform or the budget or new legislative districts? Some things are just more important.

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