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Violence shelter director calls it quits

Mabel Bexley, 64, has been executive director of The Spring for 18 years. She'll step down Oct. 1.

By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 22, 2001


Mabel Bexley, 64, has been executive director of The Spring for 18 years. She'll step down Oct. 1.

TAMPA -- When Mabel Bexley took over as executive director of The Spring of Tampa Bay 18 years ago, the first thing she did was visit with each person at the domestic violence shelter to lay out her plans.

Last week, she made the rounds again. But this time, it was to announce plans of a different sort.

Bexley, 64, is stepping down at the end of the year to spend more time with her husband and to run an environmental preservation program in Pasco County, agency officials said Monday.

Her last day will be Oct. 1.

Bexley was named executive director in 1983, six years after The Spring was established. She has built it into Florida's largest state-certified shelter for women and children.

"We're sad that she's decided to retire, but we feel lucky that our community has had the benefit of her vision and leadership for so long," said Kimberly Renfroe, president of the board of directors. "She deserves a retirement."

When Bexley left the Center for Women to join The Spring in 1983, she inherited a one-bedroom house and a few employees. Today, it has a 102-bed facility, 120 employees and a $4-million budget -- 60 percent of which comes from private sources. It sheltered one in 10 victims of domestic violence in Florida last year.

Bexley said she is most proud of the national accreditation of the shelter's two day care centers. Only 7 percent of all day-care centers in the United States are nationally accredited, she said.

Also under Bexley, The Spring became the first shelter in Florida to have a law enforcement work room.

"The time is right," she said. "We've accomplished more than I have ever envisioned and we have strong leadership in place to continue the work that I have started."

Renfroe, the president of The Spring's board, said that Bexley's decision is not connected to a slander lawsuit filed against her by a former employee last year.

The employee, Donna Bevis, accused Bexley and her chief operating officer, Rosemary Fleishman, of spreading malicious lies and mistakenly thinking that Bevis wrote an anonymous memo suggesting changes at the shelter. The case is in the deposition phase.

"I look forward to getting the truth on the record," Bexley said Monday.

Bexley isn't severing her ties competely with The Spring.

Bexley and her husband of 44 years plan to run a non-profit agency, Center to Preserve Native Florida, from their ranch in central Pasco County. The preservation program will cater to children, including some from The Spring.

A national search is under way to find Bexley's replacement at The Spring.

"I'm going to walk away with a big grin," Bexley said.

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