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Politics / Issues

Fred Karl, "Born to be a Public Servant," Dies at 88

karl.jpg
Courtesy Wikipedia

Longtime Hillsborough County public servant Fred Karl died early this morning. He was 88.

Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio announced his death in an email to the media. The details surrounding Karl's passing are not clear, but Iorio says his wife Mercedes and his family were by his side.

"Fred Karl was born to be a public servant," Iorio writes. "He tackled issues with a sense of fairness, respect and honesty, always reflecting his personal and professional high standards. His values and character were shaped in large part by his generation that viewed duty, sacrifice and civic engagement as necessary components of a full and meaningful life.

Karl's career as a public servant began in the 1950s. He served as a state legislator in both houses, Florida Supreme Court Justice and Hillsborough County administrator and attorney.

When Iorio was elected mayor in 2003, she brought Karl out of retirement to become Tampa City Attorney. In her email, Iorio describes Karl as a friend, and recalls his leadership.

"I got to see firsthand the leadership qualities of Fred Karl because he demonstrated it every day," Iorio told WUSF. "He taught me a lot about how to treat people, about leadership, about getting things done, about respecting other[s], [and] about integrity."

After stepping down as county administrator in 1994, Karl was brought in as president of Tampa General Hospital. Hospital spokesman John Dunn says it was a "very turbulent time in the hospital's history," in which it was losing money and laying off employees.

"[Karl] was able to come in and put everyone at ease that things were going to get better," Dunn says. "He had this way about him that put the staff at ease. It was very much a calming effect for everyone. He was able to stabilize the hospital at a critical point and he managed to transition to a new management team that eventually led to Tampa General becoming a private not-for-profit."

Dunn says Karl's legacy extends beyond his work in Tampa.   

"If you look at all the things he's done throughout the region and the state, he has a legacy that stretches across political boundaries, social boundaries. Everything he did, he put his heart and soul to it. And things always came out better than when he went into them."

Prior to public life, Karl served in World War II. He earned a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Silver Star after being wounded during the Battle of the Bulge. In 2010, he released an autobiography titled "The 57 Club: My Four Decades in Florida Politics."

Iorio says a memorial for Karl will be held soon at the Frederick B. Karl County Center, a pink glass skyscraper in downtown Tampa that was named after him in 2000.

Karl had been ill for several years. He suffered progressive Parkinson's disease, heart problems and diabetes.