Thomas Rawlins

81, old-fashioned newspaper editor served on Mountain Medical board

Tom Rawlins, who fulfilled a childhood dream of being a newspaper editor and spent nearly four decades with the St. Petersburg Times, died Dec. 19.

Rawlins died at Suncoast Hospice and had moved back to Clearwater about 2 years ago to be near family after spending his retirement years in Buena Vista.

Rawlins was born Oct. 10, 1939, in Winchester, Kent. Two years later, his family traveled by train to look for work in Florida and arrived to the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

The family settled in Miami, where Rawlins graduated from Miami Senior High School in 1958. He followed the advice of a church youth director and joined several friends in attending Mississippi College, a small private Baptist college.

As early as junior high school, Rawlins dreamed of being a writer and editor. He was the editor of his school papers in junior high, high school and college.

One of his most influential professors had worked for The Associated Press at the end of World War II, and Mr. Rawlins worked on weekends in sports and advertising for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. He graduated in 1962 with a Bachelor’s degree in history and political science, with a minor in English, and never took a journalism class.

Rawlins met his future wife, the late Shirley Stone Smith Rawlins, in college and they married in 1961. The couple moved to St. Petersburg when he was hired in 1962 by the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times), which by then also owned The Evening Independent. Over the years, he served as a reporter and editor as he increasingly took on more responsibility. Among his roles were associate editor for the Sunday magazine, opening the Times bureau in Clearwater, and managing editor of The Evening Independent.

He then served as both associate editor and senior editor at the Times, reporting directly to the company’s top executives. He also served as a trustee for the Poynter Institute, the school for journalists that owns the Times. In typical low-key fashion, Rawlins once said the titles themselves held little meaning and described himself as simply a problem-solver.

In many ways, Rawlins remained an old-fashioned newspaper editor. His favorite quote was, “Get it right and get it on time.’’

He preferred manual typewriters in the days before computers, recalling, ‘’You can’t be properly indignant on an electric typewriter.’’ He had a ready smile, a direct speaking style – and a strong belief in the importance of an independent press.

In every aspect of his life, Rawlins was guided by an unerring moral compass. That compass steered him in every role, from a meticulous journalist, to a loving husband and father, to an involved community leader in his later life.

After 39 years at the Times, Rawlins retired in 2001 and moved to Buena Vista. He served on the board of the Mountain Medical Center from 2002 to 2014, worked with Habitat for Humanity and was active in the Congregational United Church of Christ in Buena Vista. He also was among the founders of the People’s Clinic.

Rawlins is preceded in death by his wife, Shirley Stone Smith Rawlins, who died in 2016. He is survived by a sister, Darlena Kelly; three children, Beth (Paul DeFazio), Patty, and Andy Rawlins; and two grandchildren, Devon and Mia DeFazio.

Due to the pandemic, a celebration of life will be held at a later date in Colorado.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests those who are inclined can make a donation to Tom’s favorite charity, Chaffee County Habitat for Humanity.