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    Longtime state legislator Jamerson dies at 53

    The St. Petersburg native, who had been education commissioner, had cancer, though few knew about his illness.

    By ALICIA CALDWELL, DIANE RADO and CHRIS TISCH

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 22, 2001


    To the end, Douglas Jamerson spoke of what his next political move might be.

    He gave public speeches. Several times a month, he visited the poor St. Petersburg neighborhoods where he grew up.

    But he told virtually no one about his illness.

    So when the longtime Pinellas legislator and former state education commissioner died Saturday at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, succumbing to cancer, according to confidantes in Tallahassee, it was a shock to friends and even family.

    Cathy Kelly, director of governmental relations for the Florida Education Association, was with Jamerson's wife, Leatha, at the hospital Saturday morning after Jamerson died. Mrs. Jamerson said her husband died of cancer, Kelly said.

    Douglas Lee "Tim" Jamerson was 53, and while he had lost his last run for office -- the state Senate seat for parts of Tampa and St. Petersburg -- supporters believed in his political future.

    He was, they said, a star in the Democratic Party. Known as one of the most prominent black politicians in Florida, he was too smart, too passionate, too politically experienced and well-connected to call an end to a political career that included 11 years in the state House from St. Petersburg and a stint as state secretary of labor.

    "Despite all he accomplished, it was such an unfulfilled life. He was destined for such great things," said Myrtle Smith-Carroll, a former Democratic state and national committeewoman who helped launch the campaign that made Jamerson the first black state legislator elected from Pinellas County.

    "He represented all that is right in public service," said state Rep. Frank Peterman, D-St. Petersburg, who holds Jamerson's former House seat.

    Several friends said they knew nothing of the gravity of his illness.

    "As close as we were, he never talked about this," said Jade Moore, executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, who has known Jamerson for 30 years.

    Moore's wife served as treasurer for Jamerson's election campaigns. Moore said he knew Jamerson was ill because he visited him three years ago at Shands hospital in Gainesville when Jamerson had a tumor operated on, Moore said.

    Since then, Jamerson didn't talk about health problems. The cancer apparently returned last fall, after Jamerson's state Senate race, where he lost in the primary, Moore said.

    In the last week or so, Jamerson seemed to drop from view, Moore and Kelly said, and friends and associates began to wonder what was going on. Still, no one imagined he was near death, Moore said.

    "He put up a hell of a front," Moore said.

    He recently told former House Speaker Peter Wallace he had given up drinking and red meat, and told Kelly he was "upgrading my image" when she commented on his weight loss and new glasses.

    Jamerson kept his illness from his mother as well. Neva McGill, 70, said she had noticed her son had lost weight in recent months. But all his life he had quickly gained and lost weight. And he was moving a little slowly, but she attributed that to his battle with gout. Her son, ever affable and attentive, brushed off questions about his health, Mrs. McGill said.

    "He had an answer for everything to keep me from knowing," she said.

    Last weekend, she said, he called her and made vague comments about health trouble, and Mrs. McGill said she was ready to go to Tallahassee to be with him. But he put her off, saying he would see her in a couple of weeks when he visited St. Petersburg.

    "He didn't want me to worry," she said, choking with emotion. "I would have liked to have been there."

    During the last several months, Jamerson was visible in St. Petersburg political circles despite having moved to Tallahassee about seven years ago. He gave a moving speech at a going-away gala last month for Mayor David Fischer, who opted not to seek re-election. And he had campaigned hard for new Mayor Rick Baker.

    Jamerson grew up in the poor St. Petersburg neighborhoods and later advocated on their behalf. When he planned to attend Gibbs High School, his grandmother pushed him to attend Bishop Barry High School, now St. Petersburg Catholic. He was the school's first black student.

    He graduated from St. Petersburg Junior College and earned bachelor's degree in criminal justice from the University of South Florida. He also graduated from the St. Petersburg Police Academy.

    Elected to the House of Representatives in 1982, he served as District 55 representative for 51/2 terms, where he was instrumental in education reform measures that put more control of schools in local hands. Then-Gov. Lawton Chiles appointed him as state education commissioner. About a year later, he lost the seat to now-Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan in a 1994 election that saw huge Republican gains on the national and state level.

    Subsequently, Chiles appointed him as secretary of the state Department of Labor.

    In January 1999, Jamerson opened a consulting office in Tallahassee, registered as a lobbyist and did some work for the teachers union and other clients. This year, he was registered to lobby for BellSouth and the Florida Insurance Council.

    It didn't seem a good fit. "Doug was never going to be happy as a lobbyist. His heart was in public service. That's where Doug shined," said former Florida House Speaker T. K. Wetherell, president of Tallahassee Community College, where Jamerson's son, Cedric, attends.

    While his high-level state jobs kept him in Tallahassee for much of his political career, Jamerson remained intensely interested in his hometown's welfare.

    Credited with helping St. Petersburg recover from racial violence in the fall of 1996, he won a national award the following year for his efforts. During the disturbances, he walked the streets, trying to cool emotions.

    Groups causing problems would see him coming and yell, "Here comes Doug," remembered Robert L. Gilder, a community relations coordinator in the mayor's office and former NAACP president.

    Jamerson would tell them: "You have no business out here. I'll tell your mother or grandmother. And if I catch you out here again, I'll personally whip your butts," Gilder recalled.

    As news of Jamerson's death spread Saturday, friends and politicians took a moment to recall the contributions Jamerson had made.

    Peterman, the state legislator, said he has long considered Jamerson a mentor.

    "For me, Doug Jamerson was the quintessential politician and statesman," Peterman said Saturday from Washington, D.C. "And he was the ultimate African-American government official from St. Petersburg, and also probably the state of Florida. He represented all that is right in public service."

    Fischer, the former mayor who had known Jamerson for years, said Jamerson's voice will be missed.

    "He's certainly one of the political pioneers of the African-American community," Fischer said. "I never heard and unkind statement about him or his work. There was nothing but respect."

    In addition to his wife and son, Jamerson is survived by: his mother and stepfather, Neva J. and Rue McGill of St. Petersburg; two sisters, Terecina Rice of Sierra Vista, Ariz., and Donna Jamerson of Largo; and a brother, Michael Jamerson of Largo.

    -- Information from Times files was used in this report.

    Douglas 'Tim' Jamerson

    BORN: Oct. 16, 1947

    BIRTHPLACE: St. Petersburg

    PUBLIC SERVICE: State representative from District 55 in St. Petersburg, 1982-1993; state commissioner of education, 1994; state secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment Security, 1995-1998.

    FAMILY: Wife, Leatha; son, Cedric

    Arrangements

    Friends may call Thursday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. at Creal's Funeral Home, 1940 Seventh Ave. S in St. Petersburg. A memorial service is at 1 p.m. Friday at Blessed Trinity Catholic Church, 1600 54th Ave. S in St. Petersburg. A memorial service will take place Wednesday in Tallahassee, but details were being determined Saturday. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Douglas L. Jamerson Scholarship Fund, c/o The Florida State Conference of Black Legislators, 400 N Adams St., Suite B, Tallahassee, FL 32301. Young's Funeral Home in Clearwater is in charge of arrangements.

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