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Bill McBride Remembered as a Marine and a Leader

Barnett, Bolt, Kirkwood, Long & McBride law firm

Bill McBride volunteered for the Marine Corps and Vietnam in 1968 at the height of the war, an act that defined his character and his life.

Tampa attorney McBride died Saturday while spending the holidays in North Carolina. He was memorialized by family, friends and colleagues at a Tampa service today.

McBride was a loving father and husband and will be remembered for the strides he made as a former managing partner of Holland & Knight and more recently as senior partner of the law firm of Barnett, Bolt, Kirkwood, Long & McBride.

As a novice political candidate, McBride also will be remembered for his relentless spirit yet unsuccessful campaign against incumbent Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

It was during that 2002 campaign that a fellow Marine and Vietnam veteran Ralph Quallen, nicknamed "Heavy," came to Florida on his own to campaign for McBride.

A Marine’s Loyalty and Leadership

As a new lieutenant in Vietnam, McBride took command of platoon Mike-3-7 where Quallen handled the machine gun. Quallen said McBride won the respect of his of his men by going along on patrols.


Quallen lost his left leg above his knee during a  night patrol and ambush. Hit by a rocket propelled grenade, he was trapped in a ravine surrounded by the enemy.

“I just kind of backed myself up against a tree and accepted the fact,” Quallen recounted during the 2002 campaign. “The next guy who came busting through the bushes was Bill McBride.”

McBride pulled Quallen to safety and visited him the next day in the hospital to give Quallen a Purple Heart. That was the last time they saw each other until Quallen learned from a reporter about McBride’s run for governor. He left his farm in Ohio to campaign for his former commander.

“It upsets me terribly when Jeb Bush questions Bill’s leadership abilities because Bill McBride was only 25 years old and Bill McBride was making life threatening decisions at 25 and was trying to keep 30 Marines alive,” Quallen said objecting to the tone of the 2002 campaign.

Recognized by a Legal Legend

A decorated Marine Corps Captain McBride traveled from the Vietnam back-country to the American Bar Association boardroom when legal legend Chesterfield Smith, ABA president-elect, handpicked McBride to be his assistant.

Smith, a founding partner of Holland & Knight, hired McBride when he graduated law school and mentored him to eventually become managing partner. Under McBride, the firm grew to be the fifth largest in the U.S.

“He’s totally unselfish,” Smith said during a 2002 interview. “He’s not looking for things for himself, but what other people deserve to get. He’s always been concerned about poor people.  He’s never been a money grubber.”

Smith objected to criticism of McBride because the firm’s profitability didn’t match its size.

“He [McBride] wanted talented senior partners to make a living wage but some of them weren’t satisfied with a half-million [dollars] a year, they wanted to make $800,000 a year,” Smith said in 2002.

McBride is survived by his wife of 26 years, Alex Sink; his son, William Albert "Bert"; daughter, Lexi McBride Crawford and her husband Douglas; mother, Patricia Sweat; sister Cheryle McBride; brother, Paul McBride and his wife Pat; and nephew Chris McBride.

Bobbie O’Brien has been a Reporter/Producer at WUSF since 1991. She reports on general news topics in Florida and the Tampa Bay region.
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