MLK honoree was 'intricate part of Gainesville'


Published: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 13, 2007 at 11:07 p.m.

Some people don't just live in a community, they help to shape it.

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The late Hertercene Dee, who is described as having been a "tenacious advocate of justice," is seen here accepting the Ida B. Wells Award in 1998.

Special to The Sun

In Gainesville, one such person is the late Hertercene Turner Dee, this year's recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission of Florida's Hall of Fame Award. Dee will be recognized at tonight's 22nd Annual MLK Commission Hall of Fame Banquet.

Those who knew Dee remember her for the fierce determination and commitment to justice that belied her gentle, dignified exterior.

"Hertercene Dee was an intricate part of Gainesville," says Joel Buchanan, local African-American historian and one of six people who nominated Dee for the award. "She was the epitome of giving back to her community."

In her professional life, Dee served as nursing supervisor at Shands at the University of Florida and UF's Department of Child Psychiatry. Her contributions as a volunteer, however, extended throughout her life. She was involved with the Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters, the local African-American women's group The Visionaires and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, among other organizations. She also served on city advisory boards for various civil rights causes.

Buchanan says Dee could always be counted on to donate time and money to community causes and events, from working at the first Equal Employment Opportunity Office to sending college students to Washington, D.C., to witness the swearing in of Florida's first black congressman.

"She lived her life as a servant," says MLK Commission President Rodney Long, who likens Dee's quiet courage to that of Rosa Parks. The two served on advisory boards together in the 1980s, and Long remembers her as a soft-spoken, silver-haired lady who was never afraid to stand up to the County Commission.

"She was just a tenacious advocate of justice," Long says. "If it's wrong, it's wrong, regardless of color."

Born in Mississippi in 1918, Dee was the oldest of 12 children. She attended college in St. Louis, Mo., Costa Rica and Mexico City. Her husband, Bleecker

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was a diplomat with the U.S. State Department. Prior to moving to Gainesville, the couple was stationed in Haiti, where they were honored for community service by the American embassy.

After a lengthy illness, Hertercene Dee passed away in July.

Buchanan remembers Dee's dedication to her daughter Ruby, a young handicapped girl she adopted after she was well into her 70s. Though in terms of age she was more like a grandmother to Ruby, the mother and daughter were inseparable, Buchanan says.

"They were like two of the musketeers," he says. He fondly recalls how the duo would arrive at events by taxi, since in later years Dee didn't drive. Regardless if it were a $50-a-head dinner or simply a meeting, Ruby accompanied Dee everywhere, and they always arrived at least a half hour early, Buchanan says.

"She adopted Ruby because she could give her a better quality of life," he says. "And she did just that."

Ruby, now a teenager, lives in California with Dee's family. She and several other family members will attend tonight's banquet, where they will accept a plaque acknowledging Dee's place in the Hall of Fame.

It's the appropriate addition to Dee's legacy, which Buchanan says is to not allow obstacles to stand in the way of giving back.

"A little bit of effort goes a long way," he says.

Sarah Stewart can be

reached at 338-3103 or Sarah.Stewart@gvillesun.com

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