TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Former Sen. Larcenia Bullard, a popular and gregarious figure in the Capitol whose husband and son followed her into the Legislature, has died, according to an aide to her son. She was 65.
Sen. Bullard, a Miami Democrat who was replaced in the Senate last fall by her son, Dwight, had health problems in recent years but was in the Senate on March 5 for the opening of the legislative session. She took the microphone and paid tribute to lobbyist and former Sen. Ken Plante, who is battling ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, and was in the hospital.
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, sent a memo to senators and staff Saturday night noting that Larcenia Bullard had been on the Senate floor to be with her son on the session's first day.
"Larcenia Bullard had the biggest heart in the Senate,'' Gaetz wrote. "A proud Democrat, she was never an uncompromising partisan. A political pioneer among African-Americans, her passion for fairness and justice extended to all people. Every hard fight in committee or tough debate on the Senate floor always ended with her warmly embracing those with whom she disagreed and assuring them of her love."
Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, issued a statement saying he was "incredibly saddened" by the former senator's death.
"On the Senate floor, she spoke of things that gave inspiration to many; she never shied away from controversial issues,'' Smith said. "And she never shied away from standing up for issues she believed were right."
Gov. Rick Scott issued a statement that said Bullard represented the families of South Florida with "passion and integrity.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to those close to her and the rest of Florida as we honor a woman who put her constituents first," Scott said. "We remain grateful to Senator Bullard for her service to this great state and pray that her family can find peace during this difficult time."
Details of Larcenia Bullard's death were not immediately available Saturday night. But Aaron McKinney, a legislative assistant to Dwight Bullard, sent an email to lawmakers and staff informing them of her death.
"It is with great sadness that I inform you of the passing of Florida State Senator Larcenia Bullard,'' the email said. "Please keep Senator Dwight Bullard and the Bullard Family in your prayers during their time of bereavement."
Larcenia Bullard served in the House from 1992 to 2000 and in the Senate from 2002 to 2012, when she was term-limited. Her husband, Ed, replaced her in the House and served from 2000 to 2008. Dwight Bullard then won the House seat, serving until 2012, when he was elected to the Senate.
Though she lived in Miami, Larcenia Bullard represented a sprawling Senate district that started in the Keys and went all the way to Hendry and Palm Beach counties. She easily won her House races and prevailed in tough Senate primaries in 2002 and 2004. In 2002, she beat four other Democrats, while in 2004 she held off former Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West.
A South Carolina native, Larcenia Bullard was a friendly figure in the Capitol, smiling and having a good word for people she saw in the hallways. She also could be amusing, sometimes giving long-winded, offbeat, speeches on the Senate floor that veered into unexpected topics.
As word spread of Larcenia Bullard's death Saturday night, lawmakers and others posted messages on Twitter that praised her.
"Rest in peace, Senator Bullard,'' wrote Kathy Mears, chief of staff to House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. "We will miss you terribly. Our loss is heaven's gain."
Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, wrote: "Words can't express the sense of loss the entire Fla Legislative Family is feeling (with) the loss of Sen. Larcenia Bullard."