Bill McBride's life is celebrated in moving memorial service

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McBride is survived by his daughter Lexi, his son Bert, and his wife, former Florida Chief Financial Officer and 2010 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink.


Both Lexi and Burt spoke lovingly of their father at the ceremony. "If you knew him, it doesn't matter whether or not you were best friends with him or merely acquaintances," said Bert McBride, who is following his father's footsteps currently by attending the University of Florida law school. "The minute you said hello...he would do anything for you. And that's the way I hope to live my life going forward. To do what is right. ..that's what matters to me now."


The highlight of the service, however, was Bob Bolt, who first encountered McBride when they were high school football rivals, before becoming fraternity brothers and roommates at the University of Florida. In 2003 they became law partners at the Tampa law firm of Barnett Bolt Kirkwood Long & McBride, McBride's first job after his unsuccessful stint running as the Democratic nominee for governor in 2002.


Bolt spoke for nearly half an hour, frequently busting up the crowd as he recounted various tales of the two friends, going back to their high school days and beyond. He began by saying that he felt like a scriptwriter who had been handed a 1,000-page epic novel that he had to convert into a 15-minute film trailer.


Although Bolt said he would try to stay away from the biographical details of McBride's life that have been well recounted in the press, he did refer to the fact that after McBride injured his knee playing football at UF in 1964, he announced he was giving up his athletic scholarship. "He said, 'You know, I just don't feel right about it.'"


Bolt said that decision was the major turning point in McBride's life.


After graduating from Florida in 1967, both Bolt and McBride then enrolled at law school at UF. But after losing a bid for student body president, McBride announced he would volunteer for the Marines and fight for his country in Vietnam, where he would be awarded a Bronze Star for leadership under fire.


In 1970, McBride returned from combat tour and visited Bolt in New York, where he was attending New York University. "This was the peak of the anti-war movement," Bolt said, adding that the epicenter of the movement was "right out my front door in Washington Square Park."


He said that he and McBride went out to walk in that atmosphere. "I said, 'Bill, you want to take off that uniform.' Bill said, 'No.' I said, 'This is going to be a really interesting experience.'" Bolt said that as McBride walked through the park, the raucous party atmosphere quieted, as "all those hippies just looked at that audacious Marine."


McBride was always a big man. But according to Bolt, he wasn't after leaving Vietnam. To demonstrate this, Bolt, a slight man, put on McBride's camouflage jacket he wore in the war given to him by McBride in 1970. It was noticeably too big for Bolt.


Finishing up the round of speakers was Buddy Schulz, another longtime friend and political partner. He said that McBride showed him from the very first time they met that to make a difference in the world, "You had to dare to be different. That was Bill McBride."


Recounting his service as a Marine in Vietnam, Schulz said that McBride didn't talk much about those days, but said over the years he met guys who served under his command, including one Ohio man. "A huge man, " Schulz said, with only one leg.


"He told the story of a firefight ... leaving his other leg behind on the battlefield in Vietnam. And the only reason he was standing there talking to me, was Bill McBride carried him out on his back, three miles," Schulz said.


In 2002 statewide Democrats fretted that their leading gubernatorial candidate that year, former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, had no chance against Jeb Bush in his bid for re-election. Enter McBride, who had built up a solid reputation as the managing partner of the Holland & Knight law firm, but had never run for elected office. He ended up winning a narrow decision over Reno in the Democratic primary that was so close it took days before the decision was final.


But he ended up losing 56-43 percent to Bush that November.


The more you learn about this man and how he affected others, as well as the significant achievements in his own career, you realize that campaign was merely a blip in an incredible life, a life cut short last weekend in North Carolina, but richly celebrated on this last Friday of 2012.

Although the majority of Floridians knew the late Bill McBride solely from his unsuccessful 2002 race to unseat Jeb Bush as governor, there was just one brief mention of that campaign in a 95-minute funeral service that honored his life Friday afternoon in South Tampa.

Lexi McBride Crawford, McBride's 23-year-old daughter, mentioned the fact that her father made sure to come home every night along the campaign trail a decade ago, no matter the distance he had to travel. "Not only to sleep in his own bed, but to wake me up, tell me how much he loved me, and sincerely asked about the favorite part of my day."

Bill McBride died of a heart attack on Saturday, December 22, in Mount Airy, North Carolina. He was 67. Speakers honored him for his work as a lawyer, a war hero, a philanthropist, a leader and as an overall good man.

An overflow crowd filled not only the 542-seat sanctuary of the Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church for the service honoring McBride's life, but dozens of others had to stand in the 200-seat overflow area in the church fellowship hall as well to watch the ceremony.

The crowd included a who's who of local and state-wide politicians - both Democrats and Republicans - including state Senator Tom Lee, former Hillsborough County Commissioners Rose Ferlita and Pat Frank, former Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman, St. Pete City Councilman Charlie Gerdes, Tampa City Councilwoman Mary Mulhern, Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober, Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, and current Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. Noted attorneys such as Barry Cohen, Ralph Fernandez and John Morgan were also in attendance, as was Tampa Republican political consultant Adam Goodman.

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