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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

An Inspiration

This is in remembrance of Thalia Lunsford Potter, who died recently at age 96.  She moved to Florida's east coast at age 90 to be near her only surviving child, but for eight decades, she was a child of Tampa.  Her father was a prominent attorney, and the family lived on then-fashionable Nebraska Avenue in a house called "Belvedere."  Their parents considered rural life desirable for children, though, and they moved to a Valrico farm, where the last of eight children was born.  But when the Roaring Twenties plunged Florida into the Great Depression earlier than most of the nation, they lost the farm and moved back to Tampa, living in Ballast Point.


Thalia thus grew up with an awareness of economic insecurity -- and how education could improve that.  Unlike most women of her time, she went to business school after graduating from Plant High School.  She was a working woman when she married Sydney Potter in 1944; he was tall and handsome, and she was blonde and beautiful.  He searched for a vacant lot on the Hillsborough River in Seminole Heights that Thalia described as "jungle," but they built a house in 1955 and lived there for the next 58 years. 


Their three children had happy childhoods, walking to school and diving off their dock to swim in the river with other neighborhood kids.  Sadly, though, both of their sons preceded mom and dad, and only a dutiful daughter remains.  By the time that Hubby and I met Thalia and Syd in the 1970s, the children were grown, and Thalia was finishing a USF degree and working for State Representative Ed Blackman, a former sheriff.  She moved on to the much more liberal State Senator Pat Frank, and finished her career by heading the local office of Congressman Jim Davis, a thoroughly good man. 


Jim spoke at Thalia's funeral last Sunday, and like all other speakers, lauded her unfailingly positive attitude.  I never knew her to be upset, even when others of us were.  She cared deeply about issues – especially feminist and environmental issues – but she never said an unkind word about anyone, no matter how politically awful they were.  She bravely bore the loss of her sons, a grandson, and her beloved husband, never whining or expecting others to share her pain.


She and Syd were active in the Democratic Party, as well as the Tiger Bay Club, a non-partisan group that encourages fair debate.  Sydney was proud of his big display of "Garfield Awards," the cartoon character given to the member who asked the best question at meetings.  They also worked hard to save their river from pollution and its banks from erosion, and linear Ebbs Park is the result.  In 2008, the League of Women Voters established an annual award to recognize their "tireless commitment to good government, protection of the environment, and community activism."




Thalia was the last of her siblings to die, and the other one who greatly affected Tampa was Colleen Lunsford Bevis.  She led the establishment of the Children's Board, which united several charities, and conducted a successful campaign in which we citizens agreed to tax ourselves for the benefit of the next generation.  Colleen also was a PTA leader for decades, and an elementary school in East Hillsborough's Fish Hawk is named for her.  She often visited that school, and I have a friend whose child was a student there when Colleen made one of her calls.  The staff set up a large upholstered chair for her at a school assembly, and my friend's son came home and announced to his mother that "the Queen visited our school today."


Finally, and more seriously, as you know, I've been thinking a lot lately about the parallels between the current pandemic and the global influenza that followed World War I.  Estimates of its fatalities vary greatly, but an early one put global morality at more than 2l million, compared with 4.4 million now.  There was no vaccine and no treatment comparable to what you get in ICU today.  Contagion was not fully understood, and entire families were wiped out when one got sick. 


My father, who was twenty years old at its 1918 height, remembered with horror that he helped build a big house for a big Minnesota farm family, and by the time it was finished, almost no one was alive to inhabit it. Those who lived through this fearsome time never forgot it.  Although she was just seven years old, Bendita Lunsford Mitchell remembered it clearly.  Her younger sister, Thalia Lunsford Potter, shared this with me when I wrote "Real Women of Tampa and Hillsborough County." Bendita said:

         "I experienced the 1918 flu while living on Nebraska Avenue, surrounded by neighbors who were vomiting blood and dying every week.  We – my parents and siblings – were spared by our dad's knowledge and strategy.  None of us were allowed to leave the house at any time.  Our 'yard man' and cook were asked to stay with us until the emergency was over, for their safety.

         "Our downstairs doors and windows were closed for the duration while upstairs sleeping porches and windows remained open.  No deliveries were made to our home…  Dad conducted his business on the telephone…

         "These precautions may seem outdated now, but they worked in 1918.  After all, the strain of influenza that reigned was only transmitted by sneezes, coughs, and transfer of germs through touch. 

         "Many funerals were postponed until the emergency abated, and the entire city was almost paralyzed for weeks… I thank my dad that I'm alive today!"

         She was alive because of her family's self-imposed lockdown, and the idea is far from outdated.  Those nations – often led by women – that mandated strict lockdowns early in today's pandemic are the nations that have suffered the fewest fatalities.  Today's transmitters remain the same:  breathing and touching, with the virus preventable by using vaccines, masks, and isolation.  Instead, we have seen more than three million cases and 42,000 deaths just in Florida.  That's almost as many fatalities as the entire nation endured from the Vietnam War.  Pick up a clue, Governor Ron BeGone. 




I frequently criticize our declining Tampa Bay Times, but I must acknowledge that it has done a good job with reporting the pandemic.  I found its recent stats on rates in schools to be especially interesting.  According to the Hillsborough County school system, the highest number of cases are not where you would expect.  Maybe it's flawed testing and/or reporting, but the greatest degree of sickness is not in the crowded precincts of the inner city nor in the communities of poor farm workers, but instead among the relatively privileged.


The district's downtown office, in fact, has the second-highest rate of COVID, probably because of the prevalence of adults there.  Still, they are not seniors, so that also is intriguing.  Among the facilities with students, the six sickest schools, in order, are Sickles, Waterset Charter, Durant, Winthrop Charter, Plant, and Newsome.  That's four public schools and two charter ones.  Charters are schools that get public money, but are exempt from many public rules.  They also can pick and choose their students, which makes their infection rates especially appalling.  Winthrop is in an affluent section of Riverview, while the newer Waterset is in Apollo Beach.  Neither has a high school, which means COVID has spread to very young people in exclusive schools.


The four public schools are high schools that also are in affluent areas.  Sickles is in the northwest part of the county, on Gunn Highway in Citrus Part.  Durant and Newsome are in new and relatively wealthy East Hillsborough neighborhoods.  Plant, as everyone knows, is a historic high school in old-money South Tampa.  Of course, all of these neighborhoods have pockets of poverty, but none has a student body as poor as those at King, Chamberlain, Middleton, and other high schools.


How to account for this?  As I said, it may be misreporting or a lack of data.  I don't know, but I hope some aspiring sociologist digs into it.  I would so like to assign thesis topics to USF students.




After the death of longtime president Richard Trumpka, the AFL-CIO no longer has a white man in a top office.  It recently elected a woman, as well as two minority men, as its chief leaders.  Liz Schuler is president of this 56-union coalition, with 12.5 million members; she came up through the now misnamed International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Tefere Gabre, a native of Ethiopia, is vice-president; he began his career by working the night shift for UPS as a Teamster.  The secretary-treasurer is Fred Redmond, a longtime leader of the Steelworkers and an African American. 


This is truly transformative news, which I learned only by reading the AFL-CIO's online newsletter.  Neither of my regular papers, the Tampa Bay Times and the New York Times, ever has reported labor news in its business section.  As if workers don't matter.  The traditional section should be retitled "Economy" and include more than business – whose leaders, by the way, are not elected.


I also learn a lot about the economy from Morning Brew, a free online daily.  It tends to be a more conservative than I, and much of that is the wild cowboy kind of conservatism fashionable among Young Republicans today.  This is especially apparent in their fascination with "money" such bitcoin.  Let me quote:  "31-year-old crypto mogul Justin Sun spent $611,710 to buy an Ether Rock NFT [non-fungible transaction].  And he can't even take it home to pet it.  Because it is literally just part of a Clipart of a rock." 


Microsoft Word recognizes "Clipart," and Google tells me that it is simply a pretentious (and probably patented) update of "clip art."  In other words, this too-dumb-to-live kid tossed more than a half-million dollars on a picture of a rock.  Stop the world and let me off.



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