FORT MYERS, Fla. – Fort Myer’s first black council member Veronica Shoemaker has died at the age of 86.
A family member said Shoemaker passed around 3:15 p.m. and was surrounded by loved ones.
Her niece, Nikki Stewart, said her first job was at Shoemaker’s flower shop located at the corner of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and a street in her namesake.
“To the public she was Veronica Shoemaker, councilwoman, florist, legendary,” Stewart wrote in an email. “To me, she was just my beloved Aunt Ronnie.”
Shoemaker was a longtime activist in Southwest Florida. She was elected to Fort Myer’s city council in 1982 on her seventeenth consecutive run, according to WGCU.
Former local NAACP president Carletha E. Griffin said she respects Shoemaker, who also held the role as NAACP president, for her ability to overcome adversity.
“Veronica Shoemaker was an inspiration and positive figure for African Americans and the entire Lee County community,” Griffin said in a statement. “She faced a lot of conflicts and was able to resolve them. She was an inspiring motivator and fought hard to make sure everyone was treated equally.”
“You are going to be loved and very missed,” said Fredrick Booker, a close family friend who says there was just something about Shoemaker that brought everyone together. “Her character, her charisma, her goals. When you have a goal in life, and other people see your vision, you become like a magnet.”
Traveling across the city, you will see evidence of Shoemaker’s work. She played a major role in bringing the City of Palms Park and Boston Red Sox spring training to Fort Myers, the Imaginarium to Dunbar, and the Harborside Event Center to downtown.
Sawyer Smith, a lawyer in downtown Fort Myers, said he grew up buying prom corsages from Shoemaker’s floral shop. But he said it was her legacy as both a fighter for equality and lover of people that will leave a lasting impact.
“What she did, she did for the greater good: for black, for white. She did it. She loved everybody she came in touch with,” Sawyer said. “We wouldn’t be here where we are today without Ms. Shoemaker. She is a true legend. She is the true mother of the city of Fort Myers.”
Lee County Sheriff’s Office tweeted their condolences, also calling Shoemaker a “legend.”
A legend has passed but our community is a much better place because of her. Rest in Peace Veronica Shoemaker! https://t.co/F1l6vKUPu2
— Lee County Sheriff (@leesheriff) January 22, 2016
Shoemaker spoke about the importance of working together to combat poverty, which she considered a major contemporary issue.
When she became a recipient of the Hodges University Luminary Award in 2010, Shoemaker spoke about her pride in serving the community and the struggle it took her to get to city council.
“I am proud to have been that vessel running up and down making noise. It took me years, years to get there,” she said. “After 17 long years of knocking on the front door, the back door, whatever door they’d let me – I finally got there.”