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A pillar of PR charmed dollars this way to that

Howard E. Anderson, who boosted Florida Presbyterian (Eckerd) College, was extremely well connected but humble and genuine, friends say.

By SCOTT TAYLOR HARTZELL
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 5, 2003


ST. PETERSBURG -- Mary Anderson answered the door sporting wide eyes and a broad smile.

"I've been taking a trip down memory lane," she said, clutching yellowed newspapers that touted her husband, public relations guru Howard E. Anderson. "I don't forget any of it."

Before coming here in 1960, Anderson was a radio and television newscaster. Once here, he raised millions for Florida Presbyterian (Eckerd) College and directed the Florida Council of 100. Numerous enterprises prospered from his expertise; local officials respected his insight.

"If anyone wanted to meet someone knowledgeable in public relations and political consulting, that would be Howard," said County Commissioner Bob Stewart, who assumed Anderson's former position at Florida Presbyterian College in 1965.

"An adviser to kings and crumbs, (Anderson) could indulge the indulgent and sip with the simple and still keep an inner balance," wrote Robert Stiff, former Evening Independent editor. "Born in India, he was no son of our soil, but he gave of his substance to the St. Petersburg community for 17 years."

In 1921, while a monsoon raged, Anderson was born in the Himalayan mountains in Kasuali, India, 200 miles northwest of Delhi. A stone cottage capped with a tin roof was home to his parents, both missionaries.

After moving to Khanna about 1926, Anderson became the only white boy among 9,000 people. "Every day was exciting," he said. "Where else could you eat hot guhr candy . . . or have beetle fights or go camping (evangelical crusades) six weeks every year?"

At age 18, Anderson left India for Missouri's Park College to major in English and speech. He married in 1945 while in the Navy. "I shared his Indian heritage, which enhanced our whole family," said Mary Anderson, the mother of four.

About 1947, Anderson began a radio and TV reporting stint in Iowa and then Tennessee. He served as Tennessee Gov. Frank Clement's press secretary from 1956 to 1960. Anderson then became Vanderbilt University's director of development before coming to Florida Presbyterian College. To raise money for the college, Anderson contacted donors and spoke from Presbyterian pulpits. In three years, his efforts netted $3.3-million.

"Howard knew how to play the game and knew where to go," said Bethia Caffery, 78, a former Independent journalist and friend of Anderson's.

"My contribution was small, forgettable," said Anderson, the fourth person the college had hired. "Two duodenal ulcers for the cause of higher education."

In 1963 Anderson became executive director of the Florida Council of 100, an economic arm of state development. Two years later, he joined the Hank Meyer Associates public relations firm. Anderson would then energize several other concerns.

"In his day, Howard was probably the best PR person in the state," said the Rev. Lacy Harwell, pastor emeritus of Maximo Presbyterian Church, who called Anderson an ecumenical believer who envisioned the church as a community servant.

Anderson possessed great communication skills, his wife said, often exerting influence behind the scenes. When city landmarks began to vanish in the 1960s, Anderson responded:

"St. Petersburg doesn't need a new image. It needs a balancing of its present image. St. Petersburg is in a wonderful position to become a center for leisure study -- a first-in-the-nation study of the problems and opportunities of leisure time."

By the 1970s, Anderson was instrumental in raising money for the Bayfront Medical Center and the Florida Federal Savings and Loan Association.

"He was so connected to the movers and shakers," Stewart, 65, said of Anderson, who operated privately in the 1970s.

Said Jim Moorhead, 66, information specialist at St. Petersburg College and former Anderson friend: "He represented the type of person every community needs. He was not self-important. Not greedy. Nothing phony about him."

From October 1974 to August 1977, Anderson wrote monthly columns in the Independent. "Prettier than Tampa," he noted of St. Petersburg. "And further behind."

When asked about his non-Indian appearance, Anderson quoted his father: "Just because a cat has kittens in the oven, you don't call them biscuits."

By 1975 Anderson had spent a lot of time at the Hemlock Inn in Bryson City, N.C., writing The Late One, a novel based on his Indian experiences. "Howard's shelves were filled with volumes about India," said Mary Anderson, 77. "His book sat in a box on a shelf" until she published it in 1992.

Anderson returned to India briefly in 1976. "I want to see if I'm still an Indian," he said. "I want to find a little village like Kasuali and stay there awhile."

Within a year, Anderson would die at Bayfront Medical Center. He was 56.

"We lost a friend yesterday to cancer," the Independent noted. "People checked with him to find their own balance -- sort of a community gyroscope was he."

-- Scott Taylor Hartzell can be reached at hartzel@msn.com.

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