‘Don’t mess with the virgin.’ Painting of Mary on Bradenton mobile home will stay

An 85-year-old refuses to take down her painting of the Virgin Mary

An 85-year-old Bradenton woman refuses to take down a painting of the Virgin Mary at her mobile home park after management threatens to do it for her.
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An 85-year-old Bradenton woman refuses to take down a painting of the Virgin Mary at her mobile home park after management threatens to do it for her.

A painting of the Virgin Mary on the front of an elderly woman’s trailer at the Tropical Palms Mobile Home Park in Bradenton that her landlord wanted taken down, will remain right where it is after the two sides settled their dispute.

The terms of the settlement were not disclosed and all sides have gone silent, an indication that some type of gag order was placed on the parties involved, which is not unusual in such cases.

Attorney Bryan Levine, of Knox Levine, represented the Tropical Palms Mobile Home Park’s board of directors in trying to force 85-year-old Millie Francis, a devout Catholic, to remove the painting. Levine declined to answer whether a gag order was preventing comment about a possible deal.

However, a letter to the state obtained by the Bradenton Herald states that a settlement has been reached. The letter was dated March 8 and sent to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which oversees arbitration cases for the Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes.

“Please be advised that I am in the process of finalizing an acceptable settlement to the referenced matter and do not anticipate having to participate in arbitration,” the letter signed by Francis notes. “It is my understanding that you have received a similar notice from Knox Levine.”

Francis concludes the letter with, “I’m quite pleased with the outcome.”

Virgin Mary finale MY photo 1.jpg
The Virgin Mary painting on the front of an elderly Bradenton woman’s trailer will stay after the two sides reached a settlement agreement. Mark Young myoung@bradenton.com

At Francis’s trailer on Thursday, the only visible change was that a new awning had been installed to help protect the painting from weather. While Francis has not spoken to the Bradenton Herald since a settlement was proposed, she had previously said she planned on putting up an awning from the beginning of the controversy.

L.A. “Tony” Kovach, a manufactured home expert with 25 years in the industry and publisher of two trade publications, has been following the issue closely.

“Days prior to what is an apparently confidential settlement agreement, Millie Francis told MHLivingNews, ‘Don’t mess with the virgin,’ Kovach said in an email to the Herald. “Mrs. Francis did not go into details or elaborate on the meaning of the statement when I called her.”

The saga began in October when Francis wanted to replace her front window because security personnel were shining flashlights into her home late at night. Francis received permission to do the work and after replacing the window was inspired while at church to commission an artist to paint Our Lady of Guadalupe, one of Mary’s many titles, on the space.

By early November, the park’s manager tried to force Francis to take the painting down, to which she replied, “They’ll have to kill me first.”

The park’s law firm got involved the next month and by January it had filed paperwork with the state announcing Francis “has been sued in this proceeding.”

Francis remained defiant and with some outside help began to mediate the case, which has now been resolved.

“In such disputes between residents and management, it is common for the parties to agree to a non-disclosure to settle a case,” Kovach said. “Certainly, the Bradenton Tropical Palms, Vanguard, and Knox and Levine wanted this to go away quietly. There were too many problematic issues that pointed back to their management’s handling — or purported mishandling — of the matter with Mrs. Francis from the start.”

Kovach said it was a victory for all mobile home residents, not just Francis.

“It also puts a sad chapter to rest with what appears to be as happy an ending for all involved as possible,” he said. “Those who negotiated this should feel good about their efforts. For almost a year, this off-and-on dominated the news, including links from the Drudge Report, which made it a global issue.”