Wife of USF’s founder dies

Martha Gibbons, wife of Sam Gibbons, a retired U.S. Representative and supporter of USF, died Wednesday morning from duodenal cancer. She was 80.

Martha and Sam both supported USF, which was founded in 1956 by a Florida legislative act as a result of a bill Sam sponsored. The Sam and Martha Gibbons Alumni Center on campus is named in their honor.

Kathy Betancourt, associate vice president of government relations at USF, knew the Gibbons since she was a child and said they were the primary moving force to form USF in the ’50s.

“She will definitely be missed,” she said. “They both had a great deal of affection for USF, and Martha shared Sam’s love for the university.”

Betancourt added that Sam, also known as “Father of USF,” was the one who pressed the Florida Legislature to have USF located in Tampa and not South Florida.

“He got USF in Tampa because he said it was (an) organized and secure location to have a university,” she said.

Throughout her husband’s 34 years in Congress, Betancourt said Martha had a desk in her husband’s office in Washington D.C.

“You never saw (Sam) without Martha,” she said. “They were two sweethearts, always showed affection toward one another.”

Martha helped with her husband’s campaigns by painting signs and accompanying him into the community. While in Washington, Martha would answer phones and interview potential staff members for her husband. She also gave Tampa constituents tours of the capital when they were in town.

“When Sam got elected we got two for the price of one,” Betancourt said. “He didn’t do anything without Martha agreeing to it. She enjoyed it, too.”

Betancourt said Martha probably was active in the founding of USF, as well.

“She was fond of USF and shared that fondness with her husband,” she said.

Betancourt added that because the Gibbons were good friends of her family Betancourt would bring them Cuban sandwiches to eat when she was lobbying in Washington.

“You couldn’t get a good Cuban sandwich up there so I would bring them, and Martha would set up a picnic and we would eat,” Betancourt said.

The Gibbons family will hold a private burial service this morning at Myrtle Hill Cemetery. A memorial service open to the public is planned at 4 today at Palma Ceia Presbyterian Church.

“I have some fond memories and it is a sad passing,” Betancourt said.