Mary Ellen Hawkins – Thanks for the memories

by Lois Bolin
Old Naples Historian

mary ellen hawkinsBob Hope, who is perhaps best know for his melody, “Thanks for the Memories”, said that when we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things-not the great occasionsgive off the greatest glow of happiness. This December 9th, in Downtown Old Naples, we will find a glow of happiness among young and seasoned alike at the annual City of Naples Christmas Parade.

For the past five years, my glow of happiness has come from working with the City of Naples Community Services Department, hosting the duties of developing a yearly theme, gathering judges and collecting prizes for the parade contest winners, who are announced at the televised City Council meeting the week following the parade on December 17th at 8:30 a.m. With my duties comes the pleasure of submitting candidates for The Honorary Grand Marshall, whose life radiates the theme within our community and its history.

Community Services and Mayor Sorey agreed that former House of Representatives, Mary Ellen Hawkins, is most befitting as the Honorary Grand Marshall for our theme, Memories of a Naples Christmas. Mary Ellen began making her Naples memories in 1972.

Two years later she began making history as the first Republican and the first female elected to the Florida House of Representatives from Collier County. She served for ten consecutive terms and retired undefeated in 1994.

Hawkins legislatorRep. Hawkins still remains the longest serving State Representative from Collier County, whose success lies in her guiding motto: To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.

Someone in her Alabama heritage must have shared advice on how to live life well, just like Shakespeare’s character, Polonius shared with his son, Laertes, although thankfully for Collier County; Mary Ellen fared better than Laertes and Polonius.

Lewis Andrews, author of To Thine Own Self Be True, addresses the value how psychologically healthy it is to act ethically, to treat others well, to conduct yourself with very little pretense, to try to do what’s right and to tell the truth. In a world where the lines of pretense and truth telling can be blurred, this single mother with three small children entered the political fray in an area known as Florida’s ‘final frontier.’ Staying true to her ‘self’, she soon earned the respect of her colleagues and constituents.
Rep. Hawkins played a major role in securing many legislative initiatives, which still enhance our Quality of Place and economic sustainability today. Her foresight to establish the Big Cypress Basin within the Southwest Florida Water Management District allowed our community to become the world-class destination that it is today. Why?

Now resident’s tax money taken for water management purposes would stay in Collier County. After her retirement, the Big Cypress Basin administrative building was named in her honor.

Florida Southwestern State College (FSW) is now benefiting from her steadfastness to achieve equality in athletics for girls. FSW Softball Coach, Robert Iamurri, who was recently inducted into the Florida High School Athletic Association Coaches Hall of Fame, said that because of Rep. Hawkins’ efforts in 1988 to provide the same educational opportunities given to boys, approximately 1000 girls in Florida have earned softball scholarships.

Shortly before leaving office in 1994, the University of South Florida called Rep. Hawkins to inform her that they had just awarded its first full athletic scholarship to a female softball player from Naples. This past June, the Florida State Gators won their first NCAA softball championship.

With an ever-watchful eye over Collier County, Rep. Hawkins heeded the cultural call in 1989 to help secure $3.4 million dollars from the State of Florida to launch the Naples Philharmonic, now ARTIS-Naples.

After retirement, she continued to have a strong influence on Southwest Florida and for those of us who are fortunate enough to speak with her from time to time, we feel better knowing she still has her fingers on the pulse of issues impacting our community.

To pay tribute to a woman whose courage, character and competence has inspired so many, we will film the parade-live-to the City of Naples television channel (Comcast 98). It’s a big step for all involved but in light of this year’s theme, the best and worst that can happen is we will create a glowing ‘Naples Memory’ inspired by our Honorary Grand Marshall, to whom we say, “Thanks for the memories and your service.”

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