SEMINOLE —Longtime city councilor Bob Matthews died of gastric cancer March 18. He was 75.
Matthews was first elected to Seminole City Council in 1990 and had held the role for nearly three decades.
Originally from Texas, he moved first to Alabama and eventually, when he was 13, to Miami with his family. After high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, serving from 1964 to 1968.
Once his service ended, he joined his mother and other family members in Pinellas County. Upon his return to Florida, he earned a two-year electronics degree from Pinellas Vocational Technical Institute and attended classes at St. Petersburg Junior College.
He was a mechanic in the Air Force, said his wife, Pat Matthews. “He was very tech minded.”
His daughter, Diana Beckham, said, “He was very skilled with machinery. He was mathematical minded. Calculus was nothing for him. He was super smart with that.”
Bob met his wife at the former Grace Baptist Church in Pinellas Park.
“We dated and married at the same church and put down roots here and never moved,” Pat said.
In 1971, they moved to unincorporated Seminole, and purchased a home within the city limits in 1978.
For 32 years, he worked for Florida Power Corp. as an instrument technician. By the time he retired, his wife had left her career as a dental assistant to enter the field of floral design. She opened Seminole Garden Florist and Party Store, and Bob eventually joined her at the business. He took classes and discovered he had a talent for creating balloon art and sculptures for customers.
“When he retired, he decided he would help me in the shop, and he became interested in balloons and incorporating that into the flower shop,” Pat said. “He got hooked on balloons and that was his job.”
Bob first became involved with Seminole City Council after bringing a drainage issue in his neighborhood to the city’s attention. Their house backs up against Seminole Elementary School, his wife said, and whenever a drainage ditch near the playground filled up it would spill over into their backyard. So, he brought the matter to then-Mayor Holland Mangum.
Mangum and Bob became “fast friends,” Pat said, and the mayor encouraged him to run for council.
“Holland saw the tenacity in his actions and saw how much he could get done for himself,” she said. “I guess Holland thought he would be a good fit for council.”
She added, “I think (Bob) just saw that there was a need there that he could fill in by helping other people and being of service to the city.”
He was first elected to council in March 1990. He was narrowly defeated by a handful of votes in the March 2006 election but was re-appointed to council in November of that year when Mayor Dottie Reeder resigned to run for the Florida House of Representatives. He continued to serve the city through his death for a total of nearly 30 years in office.
Pat said her husband was proud to serve the city. He served on council when the city transitioned from a strong mayor form of government to one run by a city manager. He helped hire Seminole’s first city manager, Frank Edmunds, in 1995.
Other projects of importance to Bob include the creation of the Holland G. Mangum Recreation Complex on 113th Street in the early 1990s, Pat said.
Council purchased the former church and school property for $1.5 million in 1991, and later spent an additional $1 million to increase the property to 15 acres. The recreation center opened in 1992.
There was a lot of “controversy” surrounding the purchase, Pat said. Not everyone in Seminole was happy with the price tag. Bob stuck to his guns and saw the potential for the property, she said. “I feel that he had a sense of pride in what they accomplished purchasing that property, even though people around here didn’t feel it was necessary and maybe wasn’t a good purchase at the time. …But he saw a future there.”
He was also proud of being part of the council that facilitated the agreement between the city and St. Petersburg College to build a joint-use library at SPC’s Seminole campus in 2000.
“He felt very proud of that. He felt that they have something unique there that provided a lot for the city and a lot for the college,” she said.
Bob also represented the city on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council for more than 20 years. This was a role he “enjoyed,” Pat said, as it offered a behind-the-scenes look at “things that were going on in the world and what people were doing environmentally around the nation…It was very interesting for him to hear what was going on, things the normal person doesn’t hear in the news about how building up of the community was affecting the environment. He found it very interesting and would go back to council and report on these things.”
Bob was involved in other aspects of the community as well, including holding leadership roles at the Rotary Club of Seminole for many years.
His faith was also important to him, Pat said. “It was a big part of his life.”
They attended Starkey Road Baptist Church, where he previously served as a deacon. He volunteered at the church in other ways, too, including as mechanic for its Sunday school busses, which he would use to pick up children for weekend lessons.
Bob was “a hands-on guy,” said his daughter. Whether for himself or for others, he was often found working on mechanical projects. “Brake jobs, carburetors, it was always something. …He was the epitome of the do-it-yourselfer type.”
Because of his years of service to the Seminole community, Bob was honored as the 2020 Mr. Seminole at the Greater Seminole Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards ceremony Feb. 22.
Mike McQuilkin, the 2019 Mr. Seminole, introducing Bob as this year’s winner, said he is “passionate about (his) family … (and) about the community and its best interest.”
McQuilkin added, “This person has contributed time and pocketbook to most every event this chamber, city and many of the civic clubs have put on for many years.”
Upon receiving his award, Bob told attendees to “do what’s best and do it every day.”
He added, “I’ve enjoyed every bit of the trip. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, and I thank you so much.”
Pat said her husband never expected the award.
“He always thought those honors go to people who are volunteers, not a paid council person,” she said. “He didn’t expect anything other than his own satisfaction for what he could do for the community, so it was a really big surprise…It was a very nice surprise for him. He was overwhelmed.”
Councilor Roger Edelman said the honor was “well deserved.”
“Bob and Pat have always been willing to step up and help out regardless of what it was,” he said. “He was always ready to do something for you to help you and never complained one bit.”
Edelman served as president of the chamber for numerous years, which is how he first met Bob. When the chamber office moved from the site of the former Seminole Mall to its temporary home on 131st Street, not far from Seminole Garden Florist, he would often visit his friend’s shop.
“I spent a lot of time talking with (Bob) and Pat,” he said. “I always found Bob to be a very caring, honest and trustworthy individual.”
As a member of council, Edelman said Bob was “the ranking member with so many years of experience,” adding, “I found him to be a fierce defender of the policies of the city. He knew the city charter by heart. He was vocal and had an understanding of the people of the city, its past history and the right and wrong of we should be doing.”
Councilor Trish Springer said Bob “was instrumental not only in his community, but (in) his commitment to his faith, family, fellow businesses and his generous time of helping others. I have learned a lot from him, even before my time on council. We had worked on many projects together and I will cherish those memories. God bless his soul. He is watching over us.”
Councilor Jim Olliver, who served as provost as SPC’s Seminole campus, met Bob in the mid-1990s in the early stages of planning that campus. They worked together on the joint-use library built on campus, and Olliver also got to know him by attending all city council meetings while representing SPC.
“Bob always did his homework. He always asked the good questions. He followed up,” Olliver said, “and, on a personal note, Bob was always a friend to me and encouraged and helped me when I decided to run for city council.”
Olliver said he was sitting at Bob’s table Feb. 22 when he was named Mr. Seminole, “a well-deserved, lifetime achievement award honor for a man who had given so much to his city, his family and his community, especially the business community.”
He recalls telling Bob that evening, “Bob, you don’t know how many people appreciate and love you.”
Other members of council also commented on Bob and his work in the Seminole community.
“It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to Councilor Bob Matthews. Bob was an icon on Seminole City Council and served the city spectacularly for so many years,” said Vice Mayor Chris Burke. “He was an articulate and caring colleague, and a great mentor to me in my beginning years. Bob was a dedicated servant to his city and, equally important, to his country as a U.S. Air Force veteran. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him.”
Councilor Thom Barnhorn added, “Councilor Bob Mathews will be missed. He has been over the last 14 years a mentor and friend and served the city with dedication and heart these last 30 years. He was well respected by the entire community and goodbye Mr. Seminole, you will be missed.”
Mayor Leslie Waters stated, “Councilor Matthews loved his family and his city. May he rest in peace.”
City Manager Ann Toney-Deal said, “Since 1990, Councilor Matthews has played an integral part in the initiation of many programs and projects that will serve our great City far into the future. Councilor Matthews truly loved the city of Seminole and will be greatly missed.”
With a hereditary gene mutation that put him at risk for colon cancer, Bob battled health issues most of his life, Beckham said. He had several major surgeries throughout his life.
He never let this stop him from pursuing his goals, she added. “He was very resilient his whole life…He faced hardship and health problems in his twenties, things that people in their twenties don’t typically have to deal with. That helps you have a little more focus on what’s really important.”
Edelman said, “He had medical conditions probably longer than I’ve known him and I never heard him complain once. He’s gone through heck.”
Even during recent ongoing medical treatments, Bob continued to attend Seminole City Council meetings and was planning to run for office again in November, Edelman added. “Bob was a real fighter.”
The family will host a celebration of life at Starkey Road Baptist Church at a date to be determined.
Bob is survived by his wife, Pat Matthews of Seminole; his son, Rob Matthews of Largo; his daughter, Diana Beckham of St. Louis, Missouri; two brothers, Bill Matthews of Orlando and Jim Matthews of Inverness; and three grandsons, Logan and Ivan Pitts of St. Louis, and Hunter Matthews of Largo.