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Former Florida First Lady Remembered During Tallahassee Service

Former Florida First Lady Rhea Chiles, 84, remembered during her funeral service Monday.

A Former Florida First Lady was remembered Monday during her funeral service in Tallahassee.

Last week, surrounded by friends and family at her Anna Maria Island home, 84-year-old Rhea Chiles died. She’s the wife of former Governor Lawton Chiles, the last elected Democratic Florida Governor.

Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Major Harding—one of Governor Chiles’ first appointments—gave the Eulogy at Faith Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee.

“We are gathered here today to honor and say goodbye to Rhea Chiles, a most remarkable woman of faith, grace, vision and compassion who alone and with her husband made a great impact on the entire state of Florida—and as I look out over this audience—many individuals, including me,” said Harding.

Creating a “Florida Embassy” in Washington D.C. and helping her husband throughout his political career are some of the major contributions Harding highlighted.

Several of her eight grandchildren also spoke about the impact Rhea Chiles had on their lives, includes Katie Ottenweller, who remembers her as a lover of Downton Abbey as well as an unconventional grandmother.

“I remember a little while ago, I sent her an e-mail with a clip from a newspaper that I had been quoted in, and the typical grandmother response would be ‘I’m so proud of you. That’s such a great quote.’ She didn’t send me any of that. It was just a one-line e-mail in all caps. And, it said, ‘an idea whose time has come.’ And, that was really high praise from her, because she really had this killer intuition about ideas and she believed in the contagious power of an idea,” she said.

Her grandson, Jay Lawton Barrett, even recalls sharing her last few moments.

“During our visit, an eagle that Rhea had hanging above in her kitchen captivated me,” he said. “I’ve seen this eagle many times over the years, but something about that eagle calmed me that day. I began to reflect on how this eagle came to land in Rhea’s kitchen. She named the eagle, Isaiah, and shared with me that she had purchased this large piece of driftwood from a shop on the Island, and that she had it crafted with an eagle’s head. It had created a large centerpiece with an appearance of an eagle, showcasing its magnificent wingspan.”

Lawton Barrett says he found peace, after envisioning his grandmother souring like that Eagle she had in her kitchen.

Others who attended the service included Lawton Chiles’ Lieutenant Governor and former Florida Governor Buddy McKay and current Florida Governor Rick Scott.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.