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Longtime civic leader Schwartz dies at age 79

Throughout 50 years, Paula Berger Schwartz served on more than 20 boards and committees.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 22, 2002

TAMPA -- When it came down to smoothing feathers or standing by principle, Paula Berger Schwartz went with principle every time.

Over the course of decades, she took tough stands on everything from racial integration in Hillsborough County schools to the need for audits of city programs.

But last week, Mrs. Schwartz's career as a civic activist came to end. On Thursday, at the age of 79, she died of complications from pneumonia.

"She was a tiger," said her son, Lee Schwartz. "It didn't matter to her if a person's feelings got bruised if it meant getting the right thing done."

Mrs. Schwartz was born in New York but spent all but a few years of her life in Tampa. In 1947, she married Simon Schwartz, who owned the grocery store on S MacDill Avenue that bore his name and became a South Tampa institution.

Lee Schwartz said his mother's activism came naturally. Throughout 50 years, she served on more than 20 boards and committees. She was on the United Way board of directors and headed the PTA at Robinson High School, among other positions. More recently, she served as a guardian ad litem for abused and neglected children.

"She couldn't help but get involved," her son said. "Some people just have that get-up-and-go."

Fans included Hillsborough County Commissioner Jan Platt and Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, who appointed her to his citizen's advisory committee.

In the 1960s and 1970s, she worked with Bob Gilder, longtime president of the Hillsborough County NAACP, in pushing for integration of public schools.

Mrs. Schwartz's stand could have led to repercussions against her family's business, Giler said. But she never hesitated.

"She gave people like me courage," he said.

Later, Mrs. Schwartz showed the same resolve in getting the city to audit some of its programs, to make sure money wasn't being wasted.

"She said 'I wonder how Dick (Greco) is going to feel about this,"' Gilder said. "Then she said, 'I got to do what I got to do."'

At home, Mrs. Schwartz was a "news hound," her son said.

"She always read the papers from front to back, corner to corner," he said. "Public affairs was her hobby, more than anything else."

Lee Schwartz said his mother considered running for office. She would have made a great school board member, he said.

Gilder said Mrs. Schwartz has taken her activism to a higher level.

"When and if I get to heaven," he said, "I'll see Paula there, running things."

Mrs. Schwartz is survived by a daughter, Susan Beaugrand, and three sons, Wayne, Lee and Steven. The funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Monday, at the Blount, Curry & Roel Funeral Home, 605 S MacDill Ave. Family visitation begins at 9 a.m.

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