TAMPA, Fla. -- Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church is where longtime Congressman Sam Gibbons attended. Friends say he sat in the pews the Sunday before his passing on October 10.
On Saturday, family, friends, and colleagues packed the church for an emotional ceremony to honor Gibbons' lifetime of service, starting as a paratrooper during World War II.
"His example inspired me, and I thought, how fitting to have a paratrooper pin wings on his grandson. I was blessed enough to have him arrive the day of my graduation and pin me," his grandson, Second Lieutenant Hanley Gibbons, said during the service. "All he could tell me was how proud he was of me. I've never been so proud of a man in my life as my grandfather."
He later served in Florida's Legislature for a decade, sponsoring the bill that would create the University of South Florida. He became known as the "Father of USF."
"It's having a passion and following your dream and making sure you never give up, and also being kind to others and respecting others. I think those are all some of the characteristics he embodies," said USF President Judy Genshaft.
He was elected to Congress and represented Tampa Bay for 34 years. During that time, colleagues say he played a crucial role in the creation of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Head Start program for low-income families.
"He just felt what was right was right and he was not ashamed or embarrassed or afraid to speak out and speak the truth," Congressman C.W. "Bill" Young, R-Florida, said.
"He's a role model," added former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio. "He's the person you want to be like, and I did want to be like him, to have that kind of joy in serving the public and always trying to do the right kind of thing."
And over the course of 92 years and 42 campaigns, that core mission never changed.
"He never gave up and never gave up on people, and neither will we," his grandson said.