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Michael Whitman, civic leader, dies

By RITA FARLOW, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 18, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- Michael "Mike" Whitman, former owner of Blue Ribbon Cleaners on Madeira Beach and former president of the Madeira Beach Chamber of Commerce, died Monday (Sept. 16, 2002) at home. He was 93.

Born in Austria, Mr. Whitman grew up in Montreal, became a U.S. citizen in 1932 and moved to St. Petersburg in 1937. A year later, he opened Blue Ribbon Cleaners in St. Petersburg.

Mr. Whitman moved the business to a larger facility in Madeira Beach in 1948 and sold the business in the early 1970s. After he purchased the Windrift Cottages across the street from his dry cleaning business in 1967, he became a Realtor and opened Michael L. Whitman Realty in 1972. In 1959, Mr. Whitman was elected president of the board of the Pinellas County Child Guidance Clinic, and in 1963 he was elected president of the Madeira Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Whitman was a past president of the Cleaners and Launderers Association of St. Petersburg and the Florida Institute of Launderers and Cleaners.

In 1971, Mr. Whitman helped to create the Madeira Beach Save Our Shores Committee after a dispute over the ownership of renourished beach land broke out between the city, the State Department of Natural Resources and developers of the Holiday Inn on Gulf Boulevard.

A charter and life member of the Boca Ciega Kiwanis Club, where he served as a past president, Mr. Whitman was a past lieutenant governor for Florida District of Kiwanis International Division 20. He was a director of National Bank of Seminole and was a past chairman of Common Cause. He was a member of the Tiger Bay Club, Hadassah, Jewish Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 246 and Congregation B'nai Israel.

Still active in later years, Mr. Whitman graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in political science at age 74 and climbed Ayres Rock in Australia at age 78.

An Army veteran of World War II, he served overseas as a sergeant first class.

Survivors include his wife of 61 years, Jessica; a son, Marc, Spokane, Wash.; three daughters, Susan Sousa, Seminole, Shelley Whitman, Jacksonville, and Martha Whitman, Snellville, Ga.; three sisters, Isabel Gilbert, Mission Viejo, Calif., Rae Schuster, St. Pete Beach, and Annette Silverstone, Bridgeport, Conn.; seven grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

A memorial service will be at 1 p.m. Sunday at Beth David South Chapel of David C. Gross Funeral Homes, St. Petersburg.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to B'nai B'rith International, Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., or Hospice of the Florida Suncoast.

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