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Philanthropist, avid Yankees fan

Jean Ann Cone was known for her love of the New York Yankees and her support of the Republican Party.

By AMY SCHERZER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2003

TAMPA -- Jean Ann Cone, an effervescent South Tampa philanthropist who was passionate about the New York Yankees, Tri Delta sorority, Republicans, bulldogs and her family, died this week at her home. She was 75.

Mrs. Cone, a Plant City native often seen driving around town in her 1977 Silver Shadow Rolls Royce, enjoyed parties and politics in equal measure. She had served on the Tampa Sports Authority and once threw a bash at Malio's for the University of Georgia's canine mascot.

An avid Yankees fan, she had been planning to attend their spring training game Wednesday night. She would have been wearing her sapphire and diamond World Series pendant, a gift from close friend and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. She will be buried wearing it.

"She was a special woman ... not just because she followed the Yankees," Steinbrenner said. "She's done so many good things for this area, and she didn't wear that on her sleeve."

Steinbrenner called her "a true Yankees fan" who knew all the coaches and players. "I remember bumping into her in Boston in the concessions line," he said. "She asked me, 'What are you doing here?"'

Her family is uncertain where the love of the Yankees came from. Maybe it bloomed when her sons, Douglas Jr. and Rammy, played Little League baseball. It certainly blossomed when Rex Farrior III, son of one of her best friends, signed to play in the Yankees minor league system.

"Or maybe because her father was a huge Yankees fan," said her daughter, Julianne McKeel. Mrs. Cone's father, Ashley Wakefield Ramsdell, was a renowned athlete at Hillsborough High School and the University of Florida.

Last year, on her 75th birthday, Mrs. Cone was tickled to see her name emblazoned on the marquee at Yankee Stadium in New York. McKeel and her brothers surprised her with the birthday greeting.

Last week, and for many years, Mrs. Cone sponsored a table at the Yankees-Boys & Girls Club luncheon. She invited the Berkeley Preparatory baseball team to join her.

Berkeley Prep was often the beneficiary of Mrs. Cone's largesse, first when she was president of the Ladies of Berkeley in 1971-72, when her three children attended, and later when two granddaughters were students. She chaired the capital campaign to build a new campus. The Jean Ann Cone Library was named for her in 1979, "Dad's gift on their anniversary," said McKeel.

She was awarded the Berkeley Shield in May 1982, the school's highest honor. A trustee emeritus, she remained involved the rest of her life, as a member of the Berkeley Blazers. As recently as last weekend, she attended their spring musical, Evita.

Bulldogs were another of Cone's loves. Her collection -- china, bronze, stuffed, framed -- numbers in the thousands. She once threw a party at Malio's restaurant for Uga, the University of Georgia mascot, when the team played in the Outback Bowl. Not that she was a Georgia fan -- Mrs. Cone was a former cheerleader at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and lifelong Tar Heel. She served on the national alumni association board of directors.

Mrs. Cone served a term on the Tampa Sports Authority beginning in 1989, appointed by then-Gov. Bob Martinez, and was named to the Suncoast Major League Baseball Advisory Committee. She was a past president of the Tri Delta Sorority Tampa Alumna chapter, the Junior League of Tampa and Presbyterian Woman of Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church. She was a lifelong Republican involved in numerous races. She said in a 2001 application to be on a judicial nominating commission that she had campaigned for "all the Bush men."

She served on the board of the Tampa Museum of Art. In 1987, she and her daughter co-chaired Pavilion VII, "An Evening on the Orient Express," one of the museum's most successful charity balls.

Cone is survived by her husband of more than 50 years, Douglas Poe Cone, chairman of Cone & Graham construction company; three children and nine grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday at Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church. A celebration of her life will follow at Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club. Donations may be made to the Jean Ann Cone Library, Berkeley Preparatory School, 4811 Kelley Road, Tampa, 33615.

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