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Farewell to these famous Floridians

MAY 20
Randy Savage, 58

Before he changed his name and became WWF wrestler Randy "Macho Man" Savage, Randy Mario Poffo played minor league baseball for the Chicago White Sox, the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals from 1971-74. As the Macho Man, he won two WWF championships and 18 other championships. The flamboyant grappler was also a corporate pitchman for Slim Jim, using his signature catch phrase "ohh yeahh!" in TV ads. He died in a car accident in Seminole after suffering a heart attack while behind the wheel.

Randy Savage
[Photo: WWE]


Bill Haast, 100

For nearly 40 years, from 1947 to 1984, legendary snake handler Bill Haast ran the Miami Serpentarium, a tourist attraction where he milked venom from some of the world's most dangerous reptiles. Haast maintained the snake show to support his venom research, often using himself as a guinea pig. Bitten more than 170 times, he developed immunities to the toxins by injecting himself daily with a mix of venoms. Transfusions of his blood saved the lives of nearly two dozen snakebite victims around the world. The Miami Serpentarium remained the world's premiere venom production center at the time of his death.

Bill Haast
[Photo Courtesy: Bill Haast]

"Aging is hard. Sometimes, you feel useless. But I always felt I would live this long. It was intuitive. I always told people I'd live past 100, and I still feel I will. Is it the venom? I don't know."

— Bill Haast, in an August 2008
interview with Florida Trend


AUG. 27
Stetson Kennedy, 94

Stetson Kennedy, a folklorist, writer and civil rights crusader, infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s and exposed its secrets, rituals and activities. His actions led to Georgia revoking the Klan's national corporate charter and helped weaken the extremist group he referred to as "homegrown racial terrorists." A Jacksonville native, Kennedy landed his first writing job in the midst of the Great Depression, when he was hired by Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Projects Administration to write a guidebook about Florida. He authored numerous books, including "Palmetto Country," "Southern Exposure," "The Klan Unmasked" and "Jim Crow Guide: The Way It Was," which was published by his friend, Jean Paul Sartre.

Stetson Kennedy
[Photo: Kelly LaDuke]

"On the wall we have a literary landmark plaque out front, the Friends of Library USA commemorating Woody (Guthrie's) work, and as soon as I drop dead, they said they'd put up one next to it about my work, so it will be a double dip."

— Stetson Kennedy in a July 2006 interview with Florida Trend


AUG. 31
Space Shuttle, 30

The final space shuttle mission concluded on July 21, as Atlantis rolled to a stop at its home port, NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The program's official end followed a few weeks later on Aug. 31. During its 30-year career, the space shuttle fleet deployed the Hubble Space Telescope and helped build the International Space Station. Hundreds of astronauts went into orbit during the shuttle's 135 missions, two of which ended in disaster. On Jan. 28, 1986, the Challenger exploded and seven crew members were killed when an O-ring on one of its boosters failed. On Feb. 1, 2003, the Columbia broke apart during re-entry on its 28th mission, killing all seven astronauts on board.

[Photo: NASA]

Lee Roy Selmon, 56

[Photo: St. Petersburg Times]

A two-time college All American for the Oklahoma Sooners, Lee Roy Selmon was the No. 1 pick in the 1976 draft, the first selection of the brand-new Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise. The defensive lineman went on to the NFL Hall of Fame, posting 78½ sacks and earning six consecutive Pro Bowl selections during his nine-year career with the team before retiring after the 1984 season because of a back injury. He remained in Tampa and helped establish the University of South Florida's football program, serving as associate athletic director from 1993-2001 and athletic director from 2001-04. He also served as a bank executive and started his own restaurant chain, Lee Roy Selmon's. In 1996, Tampa's Southern Crosstown Expressway was renamed the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway. Selmon died of complications from a stroke.

E. Thom Rumberger, 79

Thom Rumberger was a charismatic trial attorney, environmental advocate and political strategist. He helped build one of Florida's leading product liability law firms, Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell, and was a tireless champion of the Everglades, serving as a key player in the multibillion-dollar Everglades restoration plan. A one-time candidate for attorney general, Rumberger was also passionate about politics. He chaired Florida Lawyers for President Bush and served as Florida general counsel for President George H.W. Bush in the 1988 and 1992 presidential campaigns, as well as in the Bob Dole campaign. He was a key player in the Republican Party's 1992 redistricting efforts.
He died of complications related to diabetes.

Thomas Rumberger
[Photo: Mark Wallheiser]


Donald Charles McClosky, 84

Donald Charles McClosky
Broward County attorney Don McClosky was a founding member of the Ruden McClosky law firm and was one of the pre-eminent land-use attorneys in south Florida. He played a role in the development of countless high-rises and worked for such notable developers as H. Wayne Huizenga, Charlie Palmer, GL Homes and Lennar. His firm, Ruden McClosky, filed for bankruptcy last month, less than two months after McClosky's death. In a 2004 interview with South Florida CEO magazine, McClosky was asked how he'd like to be remembered. His answer: "I would like to be loved in life, and I would like to be respected, but if there comes a time when I have to choose, I'll choose respected." He died of cancer.


Dave Bitner, 62

Dave Bitner
The chairman of the Republican Party of Florida died following a battle with Lou Gehrig's disease. The Tallahassee lobbyist and former state House member representing Charlotte County was elected Florida GOP chairman in January 2011 following a financial scandal that took down the party's previous chairman, Jim Greer. Just three months after being elected, Bitner announced he had ALS, a neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He stepped down from his post on Sept. 1 and died the following week.

SEPT. 16
James Kent "Jimmy" Leeward, 74

Veteran air racer and stunt pilot Jimmy Leeward was killed Sept. 16 when his modified P-51 Mustang crashed during an air show near Reno, Nev. Ten spectators were also killed and 69 were injured when the plane crashed into the grandstands after an apparent mechanical failure. Leeward was a thrill seeker whose skills as a stunt pilot were featured in films such as Amelia and Cloud Dancer. He owned the Leeward Air Ranch in Ocala.

James Kent Leeward
[Photo: The Reno Gazette-Journal]


SEPT. 28
Gov. Claude R. Kirk Jr., 85

In 1967, Claude Kirk became Florida's 36th governor and the first Republican since Reconstruction to hold the office. He helped draft and enact a new state constitution, signed legislation that helped bring Walt Disney World to Florida and created a statewide environmental protection agency. A colorful figure with a penchant for shaking up the establishment, he sparked considerable controversy when he hired the Wackenhut private detective agency to help wage his "war on crime" in Florida — an effort that led to the creation of the agency known today as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Claude R. Kirk Jr.
[Photo: AP]

"I'd like to be remembered, period. I would hope as somebody who saw the opportunity to change government if it needs to be changed."

— Former Gov. Claude R. Kirk Jr. in a May 2010 interview with Florida Trend


SEPT. 28
Nick Navarro, 81

Nick Navarro
Former Broward County Sheriff Nick Navarro achieved celebrity status when he allowed film crews from the television show "Cops" to trail his deputies during the show's inaugural season and ordered the arrest of rap group Two Live Crew on obscenity charges. During his eight years in office (1985-92), the controversial lawman doubled the size of Broward's deputy force and increased its budget from $75 million to $200 million. After retiring, he founded and ran Navarro Security Group, a private security firm. He died of complications from cancer.


OCT. 8
J. Crayton Pruitt, 79

J. Crayton Pruitt
J. Crayton Pruitt, a St. Petersburg cardiothoracic surgeon, developer and philanthropist, invented important medical devices — the Pruitt-Inahara Carotid Shunt that maintains blood flow to the brain during carotid artery surgery and a device called the Pruitt Occlusion Catheter that flushes out blood clots and arteries in the lower extremities. In 1995, Pruitt suffered a heart attack and received a heart transplant at Shands Hospital at the University of Florida. He showed his gratitude by making several large gifts to the university, including a $10-million endowment for two professorships at the Department of Biomedical Engineering. At the time of his death, Pruitt was building a golf resort development called the Reserve at Sweetwater Estuary on 1,291 acres he owned in Taylor County. He died after a heart attack.

OCT. 18
Dan Wheldon, 33

Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and 2005 Izod IndyCar Series champion Dan Wheldon was killed in a crash during the finale of the 2011 IndyCar season at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. A native of England who started racing go-carts at age 4, Wheldon moved to the United States in 1999 and won the "Indycar Series Rookie of the Year" award in 2003. He won the Indy 500 in 2005 and 2011, making him the 18th driver in history to win the race more than once. He won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in 2005. Afterward, Wheldon, his wife and two young children adopted St. Petersburg as their home.

Dan Wheldon
[Photo: Getty Images]