George Sheldon, whose long career in state government ranged from serving in the Florida House to running the Department of Children and Families, died Thursday in Miami-Dade County.
The 71-year-old Sheldon died after undergoing surgery this month for a neck injury. The Miami Herald reported Friday that the death came about three weeks after Sheldon fell at his home gym, fracturing a vertebra in his neck.
Sheldon most recently served as president and CEO of Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe, Inc., a community-based care organization that contracts with the Department of Children and Families to provide services in South Florida.
Keith Ward, chairman of the group’s board of trustees, sent out a memo Aug. 6 that said Sheldon had sustained a neck injury while exercising and had surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach. The memo indicated the surgery had been successful.
Sheldon, a Democrat, represented parts of Hillsborough County in the Florida House from 1974 to 1982. He later was a top assistant to former Attorney General Bob Butterworth and served as secretary of the Department of Children and Families from 2008 to 2011.
He went on to work at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 2011 to 2013, made an unsuccessful bid for Florida attorney general in 2014 and then headed the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
Sheldon was praised Friday on social media by people who worked with him over the years.
“Just a wonderful man. He was a big help to me when I was a kid trying to get a foot in the door,” political consultant Steve Schale wrote.
Judi Skelton, who worked with Sheldon at the Department of Children and Families, posted on her Facebook page that she was heartbroken. “What a larger-than-life figure in Florida!” Skelton wrote. “A great humanitarian who never had an unkind word for anyone. He did so much for children and those less fortunate.”
Political activist Linda Miklowitz posted on her Facebook page: “Well done, faithful servant. You made the world kinder with your advocacy for children and persons with disabilities and mental illness. Rest In peace.”
Sheldon became the chief executive of Our Kids after a controversial tenure running the Illinois social-services agency.
Sheldon resigned from that position in June 2017, amid an ethics probe into, among other things, nearly $1 million in contracts awarded to Florida companies, according to the Chicago Tribune. His resignation also came on the heels of the death of a 16-month-old Semaj Crosby, after investigators opened and closed four investigations into alleged neglect in her home.