State Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, chair of the Senate Education Committee, died peacefully Tuesday in hospice care, surrounded by her family. She was 72.
It was only on Friday that she announced on Facebook an aggressive recurrence of the cervical cancer that kept her away from the whole of 2017's legislative session. She said she had decided to end her re-election bid and not fight the disease a second time.
"Dorothy was many things," her family posted Tuesday morning. "Before everything else, she put her family first. She was a faithful daughter, a loving wife, and a caring mother. She also took great pride in her work, the work of improving the lives of people she cared about. Whether as a schoolteacher helping young children, a legal advocate for those who needed help, or a public servant fighting on behalf of her constituents' causes, she threw herself completely into serving others."
On Friday, Hukill had left on her Facebook post heartfelt thanks to all in her life.
“I have so enjoyed serving you and the people of Florida,” Hukill wrote. “To all of my friends, supporters, constituents, colleagues, and my dedicated staff who have all done so much on behalf of the people we've served: thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Hukill was born Sep. 20, 1946 in New York City and moved to Florida in 1988. Her public service career began as a council member for Ponce Inlet, and from 2000 to 2004 she was the popular mayor of Port Orange. She was first elected to the Florida House in 2004, then moved to the Senate in 2012.
Facebook was swamped Tuesday with messages of condolences from hundreds of Hukill's friends and admirers. Many of her colleagues distributed tribute emails. Here are excepts from a few:
Senate President Joe Negron: "I personally admired her passion for education and was proud to have Dorothy serve as chair of the Committee on Education during my service as Senate president. She worked closely with Senator Galvano, myself, and many others on the Senate’s legislation to expand the Bright Futures Scholarship. We all remember her commitment and dedication to teaching financial literacy in Florida schools.
"Whenever I was in District 14 with Senator Hukill, I could literally feel the affection and admiration of her community. Even after her election to the Florida House and Senate, many constituents still warmly called her “Mayor,” in fond recognition of her term as Mayor of Port Orange ... In recent years, Dorothy faced her medical challenges with tremendous courage. She will be greatly missed by all who knew her. The prayers of the entire Senate family are with Senator Hukill’s family and friends, and we join in their grief over this terrible loss."
Incoming Senate President Bill Galvano: “Dorothy was an amazingly charismatic and passionate person. I will always remember her quick wit and tremendous sense of humor. She was as fierce as she was loving. You could see Dorothy across the room and know in an instant whether she approved or disapproved of the issue at hand. In recent years, Dorothy served as a role model for all of us as she battled her illness with optimism and bravery. She demonstrated grace and beauty in suffering and maintained her fighting spirit until the very end.
“... I will personally never forget the words of her prayer at my designation ceremony, one year ago this month. Dorothy eloquently spoke of the honor and privilege of public service, the sacrifice made by the families of those who serve, and the aspirational goal of servant leadership. She prayed fervently for blessings and protection for our families and that God would instill wisdom, understanding, and grace on all who serve the Florida Senate. While those words were so meaningful at the time, they are even more special now and serve as a lasting memory of Dorothy’s love for those she served with here in the Senate."
Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) Chairman Blaise Ingoglia: “Today we mourn the passing of a truly passionate conservative voice, Senator Dorothy Hukill. Senator Hukill has been a dedicated public servant to the State of Florida for decades, and she has shown great strength, immense grace and steadfast leadership in every battle she’s fought. To the family and friends of Senator Hukill, we extend our deepest condolences and thoughtful prayers during this most difficult time.”
Florida Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jimmy Patronis: “Katie and I are saddened to hear of the passing of Sen. Hukill. She was one of the most passionate and honest legislators I had the opportunity to work with during my time as a state representative and as CFO. Her kind heart and positive attitude was a guiding light, a north star for all of us.
“I met Dorothy when I first was elected in 2006. She was a huge advocate for consumer rights and she fought for Florida families. Whether it was keeping the cost of living low or ensuring access to affordable insurance, Dorothy was a force to be reckoned with. My heart aches for her family, loved ones, and friends. Florida has lost a truly incredible and dedicated woman, a woman who loved her community and her state.”
Incoming Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson: “My heart is aching. Senator Hukill was not only a colleague, she was a good friend. We shared our thoughts, our passions on issues, and never-ending conversations. From passing little trinkets to each other, to our love of Chinese food, her loss is profound and I will miss her dearly.”
Hukill's district, SD 14, is Republican-leaning. It covers southern Volusia County and northern Brevard County, including DeLand, Deltona, Titusville and Cocoa.
She had been set to face Cocoa Democrat Melissa Martin, a retired Marine Corps major and an organizational leader on anti-corruption and environmental issues.
Local Republican officials are following procedure after a resignation, meeting to determine who will stand in her place. The ballot won't change, Hukill's name will still appear, but voters will receive a notice saying a vote for Sen. Dorothy Hukill will count for her replacement.
Hukill's family members ended their own Tuesday Facebook tribute with this:
"When Dorothy first shared the news of her health on Friday, a close friend spontaneously came up with a wonderful hashtag that we found so touching: #HukillForever. If you also find it meaningful, please feel free to use it as you remember Dorothy in the coming days. Her family is comforted to know that her legacy will indeed carry on forever through so many others whose lives she impacted."
And about services: "A private, invitation-only family service will be held, while public services will be announced at a later date. In lieu of flowers, Dorothy's family asks that you consider a donation to the Halifax Health Hospice facility in Port Orange, whose dedicated and caring staff took such wonderful care of her in these last days."
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith