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Pioneering politician Mary Grizzle dies

Early edition: She was the first Republican woman elected to the Florida Legislature

Published November 9, 2006

In a 1965 photo, Mary Grizzle, second from left, poses with U.S. Rep. William C. Cramer, left, U.S. Sen. Thurston B. Morton, center, state Rep. John J. Savage and State Rep. Ray C. Osborne. The group appeared at a Pinellas fundraising dinner.
[Times files]
Mary R. Grizzle, one of Pinellas County’s most successful politicians, died Thursday (Nov. 9, 2006) at her Redington Beach townhouse. She was 85.

Mrs. Grizzle, the first Republican woman elected to the Florida Legislature, had been ill recently and in failing health, according to her family.

An Ohio farm girl, Mrs. Grizzle was sent to the state House in 1963 and moved on to the state Senate in 1978. She remained there until 1992, becoming the longest-serving member of the state Legislature.

She was defeated in a hard-fought campaign to Seminole orthopedic surgeon Don Sullivan in a Republican runoff election.

A champion of the environment “long before ecology became a household word,” as she once said, Mrs. Grizzle was perhaps best known as the co-sponsor of a 1972 bill that set strict treatment standards on sewage dumped into Tampa Bay.

Fifteen years later she had pushed through a law requiring that treated waste water be almost clean enough to drink.

In an assessment of her 29-year career, the Belleair Bluffs resident recalled working on legislation designed to allow married women to buy property or start businesses without first winning their husbands’ permission. She also supported the Equal Rights Amendment.

Born Aug, 19, 1921, Mrs. Grizzle grew up near Ironton, Ohio, on a farm where her family raised corn and soybeans and ran a small general store. After graduating from high school, she studied shorthand and bookkeeping at a business college in Portsmouth, Ohio, and worked for an insurance company.

When World War II broke out, she went to Washington, D.C., to a job in the Office of Energy, which became the War Production Board, issuing certificates for fuel allocations to war plants.

In Washington, she met Ben Grizzle, a petroleum consultant. They married and lived in Washington for another year before moving to Florida in 1949. He died in 1961.

Always interested in politics, and with six children in school, the well-to-do housewife went from being PTA president to leading the Florida Federation of Republican Women.
She also became a town commissioner of Belleair Shore, a tiny community she tried to abolish unsuccessfully in the 1966 legislative session.

Reapportionment of state House seats in 1963 gave the soft-spoken, rather bashful Mrs. Grizzle her chance to run for the Legislature. With her children helping in the campaign by handing out flyers at shopping centers, she beat Charles Rainey, who later became a member of the Pinellas County Commission.

Her strength at the polls made her the senior Republican member of the House and gave her seats on the Appropriations, Education and Rules and Calendar committees.

After eight terms in the House, where she was minority leader pro tempore for the last two, she moved up to the Senate in 1978, when GOP incumbent Henry Sayler vacated his seat. Mrs. Grizzle defeated Democrat Tommy Thompson, a St. Petersburg College professor. In 1982 and 1986 she drew no opposition for reelection.

Licensing day care centers was the hardest bill to pass in her legislative career, Mrs Grizzle said.

“They thought we wanted to make all the kids communists,” she recalled in November 2003 in Tallahassee when she was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame.

In June 1988 the state Legislature approved naming a $13-million state office building near Ridge and Ulmerton roads in Largo in her honor. The Mary Grizzle State Office Building opened in 1992.

Mrs. Grizzle is survived by her six children. Funeral services are pending.

Information from Times files was used in this obituary.


[Last modified November 9, 2006, 17:40:32]

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