Ky. crash kills 'servant' of poor
Arnold Andrews worked behind the scenes for decades for the bay area's downtrodden.
By LEONORA LAPETER
Published August 29, 2006
Arnold Andrews, who was killed in a commuter plane crash in Kentucky on Sunday, rarely made news - but left his imprint all over the Tampa Bay area.
He helped everyone from migrant workers, Cubans and hurricane victims to children with cancer, and the drug and alcohol addicted. One of his latest projects was a training center for homeless families in St. Petersburg.
"He did so much behind-the-scenes work for people," said Hillsborough Commissioner Ronda Storms, who met him eight years ago. "Just completely causing big and small things to be done on behalf of people who had no voice and no power."
Andrews was among 49 people killed when a Comair regional jet crashed after taking off from Lexington's Blue Grass Field airport.
Andrews, 64, was an executive with WestCare Foundation, a non-profit that runs mental health and substance abuse programs. He had attended a company board meeting in Lexington and was scheduled to return Saturday night.
But his plane had a mechanical problem, he told longtime friend and colleague Bob Neri when the two spoke Saturday night.
As news traveled of Andrews' death, colleagues and friends traded stories of a man who dedicated his life to the poor and needy in a career that spanned four decades.
For 23 years he worked for Operation PAR (Parental Awareness and Responsibility), a drug treatment program serving Pinellas, Pasco, Manatee and Lee counties. He started as a volunteer and counselor and left as executive vice president.
"We've lost someone who behind the scenes has masterminded quite a few things," said Watson Haynes, a friend of 35 years who worked with Andrews at Operation PAR.
Andrews became executive director of Catholic Charities in St. Petersburg for a decade, serving also as vice chair on Catholic Charities USA.
"He had a real fondness for the poor and the downtrodden," said Sheila Lopez, chief operating officer of Catholic Charities, Diocese of St. Petersburg Inc., who also worked with him at Operation PAR. "He loved working in particular with migrant workers. His dream was to build the San Jose Mission."
Andrews was key in getting grants to set up the residential community for low-income farm workers in Dover in Hillsborough County.
While working with Catholic Charities, Andrews took trips to Cuba to set up cafeterias in the churches to feed the elderly. On one trip, he went to a support group for children with cancer. Soon after, he made arrangements to help several children with cancer who had lost limbs get prostheses from bay area doctors.
"This was very personal to Arnold," said Ed Foster, a local photojournalist who went on all 13 trips with Andrews, the last one in May. "Arnold was of Cuban heritage, so it was a very special place for him."
One time, Andrews and a group of others gathered at an ice cream shop. There was a long line for the Cubans who paid pesos and no line for anyone willing to pay in dollars. Andrews left the group and returned with an elderly woman and an ice cream sundae. He introduced her as his old friend, Esther, but Foster knew better.
"He would always try to allow people to maintain their dignity," Foster said. "That was so important to Arnold."
Andrews grew up in Tampa. His father was a boxing promoter who changed his name from Andreas to Andrews because he could do better with an American-sounding name, said Neri, 54, chief clinical officer at WestCare Foundation.
Andrews was divorced in 2001, according to court records, and he had a daughter. She could not be reached for comment Monday. Friends said she was in Kentucky.
Andrews joined WestCare more than a year ago, overseeing the foundation's treatment programs and facilities in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The nonprofit administers A Turning Point and The Mustard Seed Inn, which both serve the homeless with substance abuse problems in St. Petersburg.
Haynes said he recently talked with Andrews about a technology center for children in St. Petersburg. His longtime friend then suggested he change the idea to a training center for homeless families. Haynes and Andrews met with a city official about the proposal last week and planned to go to Atlanta to discuss the program with WestCare Foundation's president.
"You know, everything I've ever been involved with, somewhere Arnold shows up in the picture," Haynes said. "This is not easy. I've lost friends, I've lost relatives, but I've never had a loss as deep as this one because it cuts too close."
Said Bishop Robert N. Lynch of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg: "Throughout his years of service at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Arnie served in the front line of those dedicated to the defense of human life from conception to natural death.
"In that field in Lexington , he surely heard the Lord say: well done, good and faithful servant."
Staff writer Kevin Graham and Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.
[Last modified September 3, 2006, 12:07:50]
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