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Former Miami state Sen. Larcenia Bullard, 65, passes away


Former state Sen. Larcenia Bullard was the rarest of politicians in the state Capitol: She seemed to make everyone happy and had no apparent enemies.

Bullard was the lady with the big bear hugs, the woman from Miami who made you feel special. She was funny. Often on purpose. Sometimes not.

And she'll be missed by many in the state Capitol and those she served from Miami to Key West.

"It is with great sadness that I inform you of the passing of Florida State Senator Larcenia Bullard," Aaron T. McKinney, legislative assistant to Bullard's son and successor, Dwight Bullard, wrote in a Saturday email to Senate staff.

"Please keep Senator Dwight Bullard and the Bullard Family in your prayers during their time of bereavement. Funeral arrangements will be announced once details are finalized."

Sen. Dwight Bullard and his father, former state Rep. Edward Bullard, couldn't be reached.

Larcenia Bullard had health issues in her final years in the Legislature, where she left in 2012 due to term limits.

"She lived to see her son take her place in the Florida Senate. That meant so much to her. It was special," said Sen. Jack Latvala. The St. Petersburg Republican carried one of Bullard's bills, designating Key West's Western Union schooner as the state's flagship, when she was ill in 2011. 

Since then, Bullard's health seemed to improve, friends say. Latvala said she looked in great spirits and health on the opening day of the lawmaking session, March 5. On Tuesday, she appeared in a Florida Senate video featured in Tallahassee's annual Florida Press Skits in which she kicked off a Harlem Shake dance on the Senate floor.

"Larcenia Bullard was a personality -- always happy, a joyful person, someone who gave everybody a great big bear hug. It didn't matter who you were," said Oscar Braynon, a fellow Democrat from Miami Gardens.

"When she came on the Senate floor and hugged everybody, she still made you feel so special, like she was there for you."

Bullard was sometimes unintentionally funny, though she'd laugh at herself in the end.

During a 2009 Senate committee discussion about a bill to make bestiality a crime, Bullard cracked up everyone in the room, and received national TV attention, when she was tripped up by the mention of the phrase "animal husbandry."

“People are taking these animals as their husbands? What’s husbandry?” she asked. A few laughs ensued. And soon Bullard rolled along with it.

Bullard first served in the state House, from 1992-2000 and then the state Senate, from 2002-2012. Her Wikipedia page says Bullard was born July 21, 1947 in Allendale, S.C.

Bullard was ultimately a reliable Democratic vote, but she could also be unpredictable and independent. Her fellow Democrats struggled, at times, to keep her on board. In 2005, during the nationally watched Terri Schiavo euthanasia case, Florida Democrats battled to keep her from backing a Republican bill to keep the brain-damaged woman's feeding tube inserted. Bullard ultimately voted against the bill.

"Let Terri Schiavo die with dignity," she said at the time.

In a written statement, Senate President Don Gaetz summed up the life, and the loss, of Bullard.

"Larcenia Bullard had the biggest heart in the Senate.  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," Gaetz said.  "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.  Every senator with whom she served can share stories of her compassion and good humor."

Though her health had been poor, her loss was crushing to many of those who were close to her.

"I grew up politically with Larcenia - have known her almost 30 years," longtime Miami lobbyist Bob Levy said in an email. "Her daughter calls me Uncle Bob. Her son - now Senator - worked four years for me while he went to FAMU. I went through Hurricane Andrew with them blow by blow literally.  I had dinner with her two weeks ago Sunday when she was here for the opening and all she could do was talk about how proud she was of Dwight - and the love she has for her grandson - my niece Edwina's son."

"She had a heart of gold," he continued. "All of us have hysterical Larcenia stories. But she cared deeply about the people she represented and no one ever got that - why she always got opponents - and why she always blew them away...

"Many, many people will feel as heartbroken as I do by the news - just sad when we lose someone in our political family. But for me it was personal family."