Former Palmetto city commissioner Mary Lancaster dies. She’s remembered for her dedication to city

The city of Palmetto will say goodbye to a long-time advocate and voice for residents in City Hall.

Mary Lancaster, a former Palmetto city commissioner and revered resident, died on Sept. 7 at her home in Havana, Florida, near Tallahassee. She was 84.

Her only child, Henry Jones, said his mother moved there a few years after leaving her city commission seat and he followed to be nearby.

“My mother had a great life, a blessed life. She had 80 great years and she got sick four years ago and that’s what happened. She was blessed and she didn’t go through all that suffering,” Jones said.

Jones remembered her as a very good mother to him and was always there as a grandmother for his children.

Born Feb. 23, 1935, in Tampa, she retired from Raymond James and Associates, according to Bradenton Herald archives.

Lancaster was a petite woman but had a big presence in Palmetto. She often described herself by borrowing a quote from her own mother, who she called Ma Fannie: “I’m a small piece of leather but I’m well put together.”

“She had such a big heart and such a big growl and people took that growl as she might bite,” Jones said.

It’s clear, Lancaster left her mark on her family and in Palmetto.

Lancaster served as the first African American woman commissioner for the city of Palmetto from 1997 to 2011, when she retired prior to the end of her term, citing health reasons, according to Bradenton Herald archives.

“It has been my privilege to serve as the representative for Ward 1 since 1997. During that time, I have worked diligently to address the concerns of my constituents and along the way I have developed some enduring friendships and partnerships. The work continues, and I regret that I will no longer be serving as an elected official, but my love for my community and desire to see it flourish and fulfill its potential will always be in my heart,” Lancaster said at the time of her resignation in 2011.

She was proud of many accomplishments during her time as commissioner, including getting streets that didn’t have curbs in her ward swept by the public works department.

Jones remembered the first time a street sweeper went down the road and how shocked residents were that it was happening.

“She had a big heart and a big love for the city of Palmetto I think she showed it every day on that commission how much she cared about the city of Palmetto and the people,” Jones said.

Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said Lancaster seemed to enjoy serving the community and played a key role in local leadership. Bryant recalled her as being “outspoken, standing up for the whole community.”

“She was very faith-based. And she was close to her family. They were always a priority for her,” Bryant said.

At Monday’s city commission meeting, a moment of silence was held for Lancaster.

Making sure injustices were called out, working to make things fair all for the people in town was his mother’s passion, Jones said. For that, he fiercely admired his mother and was very proud of her.

Her nephew, former Palmetto police chief Garry Lowe, recalled Lancaster as someone who left a legacy in City Hall and never feared a challenge.

“She did a lot in the city, got a lot of stuff done for her ward and she really had a heart for the people,” Lowe said. “She stayed on top of it. If someone called her about an issue, she followed it to the end.”

With such a reputation, Lancaster was often reached by those not in her ward because they knew she would speak up for them, too.

Even when he was police chief, Lowe said his aunt “stayed on top” of him to make sure everything was fair.

Lowe laughed when he remembered being 18 years old when Lancaster took him to get his first pair of police shoes at Smith department store in 1981.

“And she said, ‘I’m going to buy you a pair of police shoes and when you make enough money I want you to pay me back,’” Lowe said.

Twenty years later, he stood up at a city commission meeting and announced he had paid her back for the shoes. Lowe said Lancaster laughed, then asked where was the interest.

Current Palmetto Police Chief Scott Tyler remembered Lancaster as a friend and, in some ways, a teacher who made an impact on the police department and how Tyler approached his job.

“Mary taught this young officer how to relate with people and how to talk to people,” Tyler said. “And that people’s concerns go way beyond crime stats for that area.”

“I know as I came up through the ranks many things that Mary and I talked about, I made sure our officers were aware of,” Tyler said.

And Tyler believes Lancaster taught the community something as well.

“She was a good communicator and I like to think she motivated more people in Ward 1 to be more aware of government,” Tyler said.

Lancaster’s services will be held at 1 p.m. Sept. 21 at Bible Baptist Church, 1720 Sixth Ave. W., Palmetto, with a burial to follow. Westside Funeral Home, 204 Seventh St. W., Palmetto, will receive cards and flowers for placement at the church and burial.