Terry Hamilton-Wollin, right, with BIG-C president George Cretekos, the mayor of Clearwater.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Chances are Pinellas County residents who don’t live in beach communities have no idea about the BIG-C. Perhaps many beach residents don’t either.
The Barrier Islands Governmental Council is made up of representatives from all 11 beach communities and it exists to present a unified force before county and state governments to make sure the small communities that go from Clearwater Beach in the north to St. Pete Beach in the south get their fair share of whatever their tax dollars provide.
A leading advocate of the BIG-C is Terry Hamilton-Wollin, the vice mayor of Indian Rocks Beach and the secretary-treasurer of the BIG-C.
“The BIG-C has grown into a very powerful force,” she said. “We have managed to hold the county’s feet to the fire on such issues as beautification and burying utility wires along Gulf Boulevard. Such things are easy to let go when times get tough, but they are still there thanks to the BIG-C.
Hamilton-Wollin is used to taking on tasks and opponents bigger than herself. Her career outside of politics was that of a ship’s agent. In fact she was the first female cargo agent in Florida.
“That meant I had to deal with federal and state rules and regulations regarding ships from other countries,” she said. “There were immigration and customs issues, and issues involving agriculture. I would have to make sure an incoming ship that I represented had a berth reserved. Time was money and everything had to be done as efficiently as possible, including getting water for the ship, getting the cargo unloaded and a new cargo loaded.”
She did that for 20 years until she tripped on a hose coming down a gangplank and tore a tendon in her foot. She was never able to negotiate a gangplank after that. For her it was a sad day.
“I loved that job and I was great at it,” she said.
Then she began working as a guardian for mentally incapacitated adults in Pinellas County. That stopped in 2006 when she was elected to the Indian Rocks Beach Commission. A dream come true for a native Floridian. Hamilton-Wollin, 66, has a son who lives in Key West and two grandchildren.
“The oldest just got his driver’s license,” she declared proudly.
Her life is not just centered around politics however.
“I’m a reader and run a book club in our community,” she said. “I’m one of the founders of the Spring, a domestic abuse center, and have been involved in the Status of Women Commission.”
There is no doubt though her involvement in the BIG-C somewhat drives her political agenda. In fact as secretary-treasurer she is in line to be president of the organization in two years. She considers the BIG-C to be vital to the political leadership along the beaches.
“You can’t realize your dreams without strong leadership,” she said. “We have gotten the attention that we need. Congressman Bill Young was at a recent meeting and often higher up elected officials come to see us because we have a powerful voice and rightly so, deservedly so.”
Hamilton-Wollin continues to stress the need for the beach communities to have a unified voice.
“We have interests here that are not common to downtown St. Pete,” she said. “We’re on the front line of any major tropical storm so we have to protect our communities and make sure we get support from our county to make sure that happens. We send them lots of money through tourist dollars and we want some of it back. We need the county to back us up; we need the county to be a partner.”
To hear her tell it, Terry Hamilton-Wollin intends to be staying put in Indian Rocks Beach, the community she calls home.
“I love it, I love life,” she said. “I can give my rescued animals a safe and loving home. I try to make a difference in the life of my constituents and I’m grateful to be able to begin some volunteer work at the VA.”
Any thoughts of slowing down are as foreign to her as the ships she used to represent.
“As long as I’m going forward, I’m going forward. There is never going to be a time when I don’t have time for somebody else.”