• Oct 15 2013

    Dottie MacKinnon remembered as a 'tireless' advocate for kids

    by Fox 13

    TAMPA (FOX 13) -A Tampa Bay woman who worked hard fighting for children has lost her battle with cancer. Dottie Berger MacKinnon died from liver cancer Sunday.

    When Dottie was diagnosed three and a half years ago, doctors said she had months to live. Her husband Sandy MacKinnon says she outlived their every expectation.

    "She was given eight months to live, and she kept saying to her doctor, ‘I'm going to be your miracle,' " Sandy MacKinnon said.

    Dottie, a former Hillsborough County Commissioner, was a fearless advocate for neglected and abused children. She founded A Kid's Place in Brandon. Outside of the building, there's a life-sized statue of Dottie reading to a child.

    "Dottie had a passion for children and she worked tirelessly to make sure that the right things were done for the children of our community," said A Kid's Place Executive Director Virginia Johnson.

    Dottie founded Joshua House, as well. It's also a safe haven for abused and abandoned children.

    She dedicated herself to charitable causes across the area, including Hands Across the Bay and its Dancing with the Stars fundraiser. Hands Across the Bay Founder Julie Weintraub says Dottie's imprint will be felt always.

    "Dottie didn't have to work. She didn't have to do charity work, but she took her passion and her blessings, and she fought for those who couldn't speak for themselves," Weintraub said.

    MacKinnon says his wife introduced him to the world in those last three years. They globetrotted, took family trips, and went out to dinner often. He says they lived life. When asked what he'll miss most about her, MacKinnon says "everything."

    Dottie leaves behind her husband, a blended family of five children, 17 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild on the way. Dottie adopted one of her children from foster care.

    She also leaves behind a thankful Tampa Bay community. She was 71 years old.

  • Oct 15 2013

    Forceful child advocate, Dottie Berger MacKinnon, dies

    by Kathryn Bursch, WTSP 10 News

    Brandon, Florida - Inside the doors of A Kid's Place and just past the giraffe, there's a portrait of founder Dottie Berger MacKinnon. But it's the cheery, home-like atmosphere at the children's shelter that really portrays the spirit of Berger MacKinnon.

    "She really believed we needed to do the right thing by the children in our community," said A Kid's Place Executive Director Virginia Johnson. "She knew they had been traumatized by what they had been through and she really wanted a safe place."

    A Kid's Place shelters children who have been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect; with an emphasis on keeping siblings together. Berger MacKinnon, who had nine siblings herself, saw the need of keeping children together and helped raise millions to open the shelter doors in 2009.

    "The only thing they have is each other- those kids- and she changed it," said an emotional Julie Weintraub, a friend of Berger MacKinnon's. "She said, 'That's not right.'"

    And children's causes were nothing new. Before A Kid's Place, Berger MacKinnon helped found Joshua House, another safe haven for kids in crisis. And she continued to be a relentless fundraiser for both shelters.

    "She used to tease that her friends didn't want to see her coming anymore, because they knew she was going to be asking for more support," said Johnson with a chuckle.

    The former Hillsborough County Commissioner survived breast cancer and on Sunday lost her battle with intestinal cancer. She was 71. But even in the end, her focus was on the kids.

    Johnson said, "Within 10 days of her death, she was still calling meetings. She was just a force."

  • Oct 15 2013

    Dottie Berger MacKinnon leaves a lasting legacy

    by Editotial, The Tampa Tribune

    Dottie Berger MacKinnon, who died Sunday after a three-year battle with cancer, leaves behind a legacy of selfless public service characterized by both grit and compassion.

    Her efforts to help abused and neglected children is unsurpassed in the Tampa Bay area. As a Hillsborough County commissioner, she managed to blend concern for her constituents with fiscal conservatism.

    By sheer force of personality, and with an unending source of energy, she raised millions of dollars for institutions that make our community better.

    She was one of the founders of Joshua House, a place in Lutz for abandoned and abused kids that survives in part on the endowment Berger MacKinnon built. She founded A Kid’s Place in Brandon for siblings removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect.

    Her dedication to those institutions lasted to the very end, as she spent her final months making certain their missions would continue for many years to come.

    “She fought hard for children who had been abused and neglected and for children who really didn’t have a voice.” said Virginia Johnson, executive director of A Kid’s Place.

    She also inspired the community by bravely confronting her terminal illness and never slowing down. She defied the odds and lived years beyond the initial diagnosis, giving many people she had touched a chance to say how much she had meant to them.

    She leaves behind a more compassionate community than the one she found when she arrived nearly 50 years ago.

    It’s a legacy that should humble and inspire us all.

  • Oct 15 2013

    Thank God for people like Dottie Berger MacKinnon

    by Chris Ingram, Commentary, The Tampa Tribune

    To say that Dottie Berger MacKinnon had a big heart for kids is like saying Santa Claus is a jolly old fellow.

    Berger MacKinnon, who died Sunday of cancer, served a single term on the Hillsborough County Commission from 1994-98. She was defeated for re-election in the Republican primary when conservative activists in the eastern part of Hillsborough County got upset with what they viewed as her liberal leanings. Her name occasionally came up in political circles, even six years later when I moved to Tampa.

    But people who really knew her, knew her not for politics, but for her concern for kids.

    My path didn’t formally cross with Berger MacKinnon’s until this year when I reached out to her to talk about child welfare issues. She graciously agreed to meet and invited me to her home, where we chatted for a few hours. A few weeks later, she took me on a tour of A Kid’s Place, the youth home in Brandon she was instrumental in founding.

    “Martha [Cooke] is the reason for A Kid’s Place,” Berger said of her friend, who is a Hillsborough Circuit Court judge. The “Department of Children and Families wanted an emergency shelter. For a year and a half, Martha asked me to build it. She encouraged us to form A Kid’s Charity of Tampa Bay, and so we did. When we did, everyone was surprised. I didn’t know you had an option to not do something you said you would do,” she said during my visit to her home.

    Countless planning meetings, fundraisers and months of construction later, A Kid’s Place was built in Brandon. Its five houses can accommodate children from birth to age 18. The purpose of A Kid’s Place is to keep siblings who are in the system from being split up. Oftentimes, siblings entering foster care have to be separated because there are not enough homes available for a large number of kids under the same roof.

    “We don’t have the behavioral problems with these kids when we give them the emotional support and stability they need by keeping [siblings] together. We wanted to raise the bar on how we treat foster kids. Before, it was about numbers and money. We wanted it to be about the kids’ well-being,” Berger MacKinnon told me.

    To understand how big Dottie Berger MacKinnon’s heart was, and how dedicated to children she was, you had to see her in action, as I did, at A Kid’s Place.

    Unlike some children’s facilities or battered women’s shelters I have seen, A Kid’s Place doesn’t attempt to conceal what it is. The facility even has a welcoming sign on the side of the road. But the welcome ends there, as the buildings are surrounded by a fence and an electronic gate for the protection of the residents. As you walk up the main entrance, Berger MacKinnon’s name is on the building, and there is a bronze statue of her sitting on a park bench reading a book to a child.

    She took me on a tour of the sprawling campus, which includes classrooms, an activity area, a spacious indoor recreation area with a huge play tree, a grassy yard with a gigantic play-set, and residential housing units. We went through classrooms, and she pointed out features the way you would expect a proud principal to show off her school. The classrooms were colorful and sparkling clean, and well-stocked with books, desks, toys and learning centers.

    She told me that most children who arrive at A Kid’s Place or any foster care environment have little more than the clothes on their backs and perhaps a few items stuffed in a garbage bag that they carry with them when a child protection investigator removes them from their home. So when they arrive at A Kid’s Place, they go to a giant clothes closet where they pick out new or “gently used” clothes, shoes and other personal items that have been donated.

    On the day I visited, there were dozens of kids playing around the courtyard, while others participated in craft projects in a giant playroom. Most of the kids recognized Dottie, and several ran up to her and gave her hugs. Not only did they know her, she knew many of them by name as well.

    Kids at A Kid’s Place live in one of five group houses, which can have up to 12 kids along with a house parent. From the outside, the houses look like any home you might find in one of the county’s middle-class neighborhoods. Elementary school children attend classes on campus, and older students attend regular county schools while living at the facility.

    As we walked around the campus, Berger MacKinnon’s attention turned to the people who work and volunteer at A Kid’s Place. She spoke glowingly of their dedication to the children. She told of a child who had arrived with a physical problem in his neck and how a physical therapist visited to show the staff how to massage it. Doctors said if he didn’t get a daily regimen of physical therapy, he would end up with permanent disability. The staff and volunteers massaged the boy’s neck daily for a year. When he left, it was almost 100 percent normal.

    Most of the staff and volunteers are driven to give back and to help kids in need because they have either experienced or witnessed abuse or neglect, Berger told me.

    I rather bluntly asked her, “So, what drives you, Dottie?”

    “I don’t know,” I recall her saying softly. She then looked the other way, and I saw her eyes start to tear up. But she stopped herself from letting any more emotion show and quickly changed the subject to the artwork in the empty classroom where we were standing.

    For that brief moment, her body was there, but her mind was miles away. There is a story to be told, and she’s told it to others, but not there. Not that day. That day was about showing off A Kid’s Place, not what drove Dottie Berger MacKinnon to build it.

    As she concluded my tour, she named some of the groups and individuals who have been particularly helpful in the effort to make the world a better place for kids who are in the system. She named Sheriff David Gee, the Guardian ad Litem program, the volunteers at A Kid’s Place, teachers and social workers in the schools, among others. She also called out Judge Martha Cooke, telling me, “Martha is a hard worker. She is dedicated and really, truly has an interest in the kids.”

    Martha told me the same thing about Dottie.

  • Oct 15 2013

    Icon, devoted children's advocate dies at 71

    by RaeChelle Davis, Bay News 9

    TAMPA -- 
    The Bay area has lost an icon and devoted children’s advocate.

    Dottie Berger MacKinnon, 71, passed away Sunday morning surrounded by her husband and family. The former Hillsborough County Commissioner worked tirelessly for the most vulnerable children.

    "Very giving, very determined, very much a fighter,” said Virginia Johnson, executive director of A Kid’s Place. "She was a leader. She could get you to do anything."

    When MacKinnon saw a need for a home that would comfort and support abused, neglected, and abandoned children, she personally took on the challenge of filling it.

    That is how A Kid’s Place became a reality and MacKinnon’s footprints are everywhere.

    "She just had a way of being very direct, no nonsense, and getting the job done," Johnson said. "As someone said, she would move mountains to make things happen for the kids."

    “What was done by one woman will now be done by many,” MacKinnon’s good friend Dede Grudel recalls telling her the week before she passed.

    “She said, ‘Of course,’” said Grudel, who added that MacKinnon was true to herself until the very end.

    The two did not want to say good-bye, so, instead they stuck to business.

    Grudel serves as the Friends of Joshua House Foundation executive director, another home for abused, neglected, and abandoned children that was co-founded by MacKinnon 21 years ago.

    “We have lost such an iconic person to the Tampa Bay community,” said Grudel.

    Leah Meltzer, the executive director of Joshua House, agrees.

    "Well, I think if every community had a Dottie around they would be a much better place for all of the kids that are in care that are special kids that need that extra attention and help," Meltzer said.

    MacKinnon had successfully beat breast cancer but was diagnosed with bile duct cancer three years and two months ago.

    It was not in MacKinnon’s nature to let cancer slow her down. She continued to support both homes until the very end.

    "She was so courageous in her battle, both to live and to die, that she just really is a fabulous example for all of us,” said Johnson.

    Funeral services will be held Thursday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Tampa.

    A private celebration of life will follow for immediate friends and family at the Tampa Bay Yacht Club.

  • Oct 14 2013

    Founder of Joshua House, Dottie Berger MacKinnon, dies at 71

    by Mike Deeson, WTSP 10 News

    Lutz, Florida -- The woman who raised millions to build Joshua House, a haven in Lutz for children removed from their families, died Sunday at the age of 71 after a battle with cancer.

    In the late 1980's, Dottie Berger MacKinnon said having heard several stories involving children who were killed in the Bay area left her with a heavy heart.

    It was then she decided to do something to make sure as many children as possible have a safe place to live while in foster care. It’s how she got the idea for the Joshua House which she opened in 1992.

    After launching Joshua House, MacKinnon then started Friends of Joshua House Foundation to raise more money.

    MacKinnon then served on Tampa General Hospital's Board of Directors for more than a decade and was instrumental in its transformation from a county hospital to a not-for-profit.

    In 2005, she started the foundation that now manages A Kid's Place, a 60-bed emergency shelter in Brandon for children waiting to be placed with a foster family, which is the only one of its kind in the state. The shelter, built by private dollars in 2009, helps keep foster siblings together.

    She also served as a Hillsborough County Commissioner (District 4) from 1994-1998. The community investment tax led to her defeat to Republican Tim Curtis. MacKinnon had voted in favor of allowing taxpayers to decide by referendum whether to foot the bill for Tampa's new stadium which Conservative Political kingmaker Sam Rashid vehemently opposed.

    In return, Rashid raised money for Tim Curtis, Berger's Republican opponent, and she lost the primary. When Berger was then offered an appointment as deputy secretary to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Rashid weighed in against her with Jeb Bush's administration.

    MacKinnon was recently selected for induction into the 2013 class of the Hillsborough County Women's Hall of Fame. She was awarded the inaugural Woman of Influence Award, presented by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. In addition to this year's WOI award, MacKinnon was also the recipient of the H.L. Culbreath Jr. Profile in Leadership Award in 2010.

    "Dottie truly embodies the outstanding professional values that characterize this award. Her servant-leader manner, coupled with tenacity and a heart for children, serves as a powerful testimony to the impact of one person on a community," stated Dr. Ronald & Renee Vaughn.

    The Woman of Influence Award recognizes a woman whose leadership has made a positive impact in Hillsborough County. It pays tribute to an individual who exemplifies outstanding professional values; demonstrates the ability to go above and beyond the normal expectations of a leader; and serves as an inspiration to the community.

    Dottie Berger MacKinnon leaves behind husband, A.D. "Sandy" MacKinnon and their blended family of five children and 17 grandchildren.

  • Oct 14 2013

    Children's advocate Dottie Berger MacKinnon dies at 71

    by FOX 13 Staff
    TAMPA (FOX 13) -

    Former Hillsborough County Commissioner and longtime children's advocate Dottie Berger MacKinnon passed away Sunday morning of cancer. She was 71.

    Berger MacKinnon was a tireless advocate for women and children as the founder of Joshua House, Friends of Joshua House Foundation, Kids Charity of Tampa Bay and A Kid's Place.

    She was a county commissioner in District 4 from 1994 to 1998.

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn released a statement Sunday in regards to her passing.

    "Dottie was tenacious and dogged in her pursuit for doing what was right and fighting for children. To the hundreds of neglected or abused children whose lives she touched, she was not just their advocate, she was also their friend. Dottie listened to them and gave them a voice. She was a living testament to the fact that one person can really make the difference in someone else's life. Tampa is a better place because her," Mayor Buckhorn said.

    "My thoughts and prayers are with her husband, Sandy, and the entire MacKinnon family," he said.

    Berger MacKinnon's family told the Tampa Bay Times a memorial service should be held later in the week.

  • Oct 14 2013

    Dottie Berger MacKinnon, child advocate, dies at 71

    by PAUL GUZZO, The Tampa Tribune

    TAMPA - Hillsborough County's abused, neglected and abandoned children lost their biggest supporter over the weekend.

    Dottie Berger MacKinnon, former Hillsborough County commissioner and longtime children's advocate who raised millions in establishing safe havens for at-risk kids, died Sunday morning. She was 71 and had been battling intestinal cancer for more than three years.

    “She has touched a lot of people,” said her husband of 17 years, A.D. “Sandy” MacKinnon. He talked Sunday morning about the stream of people who came to visit his wife over the past several weeks, to say their farewells to a woman who had battled cancer on and off for more than a decade, but who never let that get in the way of her advocacy.

    “A lot of great people have been by, loving family and friends,” he said. “It's been a real celebration, really.

    “It's been an honor to have been a part of her life.”

    Besides the survivors in her immediate family, including a blended family of five children and 17 grandchildren, Berger MacKinnon leaves countless other, unrelated children whose lives she improved after they were abused, neglected or fostered.

    “Dottie was tenacious and dogged in her pursuit for doing what was right and fighting for children,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn in a statement released Sunday afternoon. “To the hundreds of neglected or abused children whose lives she touched, she was not just their advocate, she was also their friend. Dottie listened to them and gave them a voice. She was a living testament to the fact that one person can really make the difference in someone else's life. Tampa is a better place because her.”

    Berger MacKinnon was the driving force behind the 1992 opening of Joshua House — a temporary safe haven in Lutz for abused and unwanted children. She then helped create a $1.2 million endowment to ensure its continuation.

    “It always came down to one simple rule with Dottie,” said DeDe Grundel, executive director of the Friends of Joshua House Foundation. “Do the right thing and do it in the best interest of our children.

    “A simple rule does not always mean it's easy to execute,” Grundel said. “And yet, Dottie could move mountains. She could push through almost any barrier to achieve her goal.”

    Berger MacKinnon later established A Kid's Place, a 60-bed temporary emergency foster-care center in Valrico specifically designated to house siblings and to keep them together after being rescued from neglectful or abusive homes. Hillsborough circuit Judge Tracy Sheehan said Berger MacKinnon single-handedly raised almost $5.5 million for A Kid's Place.

    “She liked to joke that when her friends saw her coming they would run the other way because they knew she would be asking for money,” said Sheehan, who serves on the facility's board of directors. “There is no way to count how many children's lives she has touched. The woman is a saint.”

    Her friends would say that Berger MacKinnon was a woman who believed that one person could change the world and that as long as she had a breath of left in her body it was her duty to continue to try.

    Longtime friend Julie Weintraub recalled a time in 2010, shortly after Berger MacKinnon's cancer diagnosis. She had received the Florida Senate Spirit of Service Award. Former state Sen. Victor Crist was the presenter.

    “Rather than giving a speech about herself, she turned to Crist and said, 'I'd rather have $500,000 in state funds for A Kid's Place,'” said Weintraub. “Only she would say something like that. What a woman. She lived a remarkable life.”

    Berger MacKinnon's journey began as Dottie Crutcher on Feb. 19, 1942 on a farm in Vine Grove, Ky.

    One of nine children, Berger MacKinnon had larger dreams than her small town could offer, so at 15 she moved in with an aunt who lived in Maryland on the outskirts of Washington. It was there that she fell in love with politics and decided she would one day become a part of it.

    In 1966, she moved to Tampa, and while working full time for Two Rivers Ranch, attended the University on South Florida on weekends and evenings, earning a B.A. in political science in 1984.

    The mother of an adopted child herself, she joined the board of directors of the Gulf Coast Division for the Children's Home Society of Florida. In 1985, she became a member of its state board, a move that opened the door for Berger MacKinnon into the lives of the area's abused children. She realized there was a need for a shelter for them, a place where they could heal their minds, bodies and souls and Joshua House was born.

    In 1994, she ran for the District 4 seat on the Hillsborough County Commission and went on to serve as its chairman from 1996-97. She lost her bid for re-election in 1998, a loss she later would say was a blessing; she said if she had won she would never have found the time to receive the breast exam that revealed cancer in July 1999.

    “When I asked what she was going to do, she simply said, 'Live of course,'” said former-Tampa Mayor Dick Greco.

    “She was determined to fight it because she said she had too much more to do for the kids still,” said Sheehan.

    That “more” turned out to be A Kid's Place.

    Previously, siblings removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect would sometimes have to be separated while their situation was assessed and a residence that could house them together was found.

    Children who'd just been separated from their parents should not have to suffer the trauma of separation from their siblings, Berger MacKinnon often would say.

    “She fought such a good fight. She was strong for so very long,” said Virginia Johnson, executive director of A Kid's Place. “She was diagnosed over three years ago and she fought for so long and hard. She still had unfinished things she wanted to do.”

    Up until the end, Johnson said, Berger MacKinnon was calling meetings between board members and other children's advocates.

    “She just never gave up,” Johnson said. Berger MacKinnon had chaired the board of Joshua House up until last month when she resigned.

    “She was our founder,” Johnson said. “She is our visionary and she leaves behind a tremendous legacy. She fought hard for children who had been abused and neglected and for children who really didn't have a voice.”

    Berger MacKinnon continued to chair A Kid's Place board and had chaired Friends of Joshua House from 2003 to 2006. She's been a guardian ad litem for the past 10 years and was a member of St. John's Episcopal Church. She also served on the board of directors at Tampa General Hospital from 2000 to 2007.

    In July 2010, she learned she had intestinal cancer. Doctors informed her that there was little they could do and that she had just a few months to live.

    “She sent an email to all of her friends with the sad news,” said Greco. “And in that letter she said that if it was God's will that she does more for this community, she would live much longer than the doctors projected.”

    She survived another three years, and continued to support the community, until 8:27 a.m. Sunday, when she died in her home, under the care of Hospice.

    Sheehan visited Berger MacKinnon recently and said the long-time advocate had accepted her final days were upon her. But rather than asking for sympathy, she detailed to Sheehan what needed to be done in the coming months at A Kid's Place.

    Weintraub visited her as well. She said when she broke down in tears and asked Berger MacKinnon who she would turn to for advice when she was gone, Berger MacKinnon took a pencil and pad and wrote down names and numbers of several friends and acquaintances.

    “I'm trying to wrap my head around her not being here anymore,” said Weintraub. “I'll never forget her.”

    Funeral arrangements were pending Sunday.

  • Oct 14 2013

    Dottie Berger MacKinnon, a woman dedicated to helping kids, loses her battle with cancer

    by Jason Beisel, ABC Action News

    HILLBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. - The Bay Area bid farewell to a woman who dedicated her life to making life better for thousands of children. 

    Many would say Dottie Berger MacKinnon was more of an angel. A former Hillsborough County Commissioner, she spent most of her life helping abused and neglected children. 

    Judge Tracy Sheehan was one of Dottie’s best friends. 

    “This is a woman who got up everyday and volunteered 24/7 to make projects happen for the kids. Not to be remembered for that, not to have her name on some plaque, but because she believed and wanted to contribute to kids,” Judge Sheehan said. 

    In the early 90’s Dottie raised millions of dollars to open Joshua House in Lutz. It’s a home for children that have been abused, neglected, or abandoned. 

    To keep Joshua House alive and running for years to come, Dottie also founded the  Joshua House Foundation to help continue raising funds to keep the doors open at Joshua House. 

    She wasn’t done there. In 2009 she raised over 5 ½ million dollars to open A Kid’s Place, a state-of-the-art facility in Brandon that houses foster children who have been taken out of abusive or neglected homes, and keeping siblings together throughout the process. 

    Today over 775 kids have been helped there. Judge Sheehan sits on the board. 

    “If Dottie were here she would call that her greatest accomplishment and no doubt objectively it was. To have a place in this community where children can come into the foster care system and bounce into a wonderful placement and hopefully bounce out to their next best placement,” Judge Sheehan said. 

    After beating breast cancer, Dottie was diagnosed with cancer again 3 ½ years ago, this time bile duct cancer. 

    Doctors gave her three to four months to live, but Dottie of course beat those odds. 
    Just after 8:30 Sunday morning, Dottie decided it was time to go home to heaven, doing what she loved most until the very end. 

    “Right down to the end the last three weeks when she has been laying in hospice and literally on her death bed, she was still on the job, finishing stuff, insisting people coming over for a meeting. Insisting on taking care of this last loose end as far as some projects with respect to the kids,” Judge Sheehan said.

  • Oct 14 2013

    Tireless children's advocate Dottie Berger MacKinnon dies at 71

    by Andrew Meacham, Tampa Bay Times

    TAMPA — Dottie Berger Mac-Kinnon, a former Hillsborough County commissioner and a celebrated advocate for abused and neglected children, died Sunday morning of cancer. She was 71.

    Her husband, A.D. "Sandy" MacKinnon, said his wife died surrounded by her family at her Tampa home at 8:27 a.m.

    "She had a rough couple of days," Mac-Kinnon said. "She's now in a much better place."

    One of the most widely honored figures in recent Hillsborough history, Mrs. Berger MacKinnon was known for taking on one of the toughest issues any community can face: how to lessen the daily damage being done to children in abusive or dysfunctional homes.

    Mrs. Berger MacKinnon was a co-founder of Joshua House and Friends of Joshua House, and the founder regarded as most central to the Kids Charity of Tampa Bay and A Kid's Place, which all offer aid to children in crisis.

    She helped raise millions in private donations, spearheading a key move to keep siblings together in A Kid's Place in Brandon, then forged personal relationships with teen mothers and children who had been taken out of their homes.

    "In our community, the name Dottie stands for passion, integrity, tenacity and love," former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said. "Her life has been a gift, especially for our vulnerable children who have needed a friend and advocate."

    Even in her last days, Mrs. Berger MacKinnon worked on issues she loved, participating in A Kid's Place board meeting by phone a week or so ago, Iorio said Sunday.

    Iorio recalled how, during that conversation, Mrs. Berger Mac-Kinnon talked about how much better the world would be if everybody took the time to help someone less fortunate.

    "It always came down to one simple rule with Dottie: 'Do the right thing, and do it in the best interest of our children,' " said DeDe Grundel, the executive director of Friends of Joshua House Foundation and another founder of A Kid's Place. "A simple rule does not always mean it's easy to execute. And yet Dottie could move mountains. She could push through almost any barrier to achieve her goal."

    All the while, Mrs. Berger MacKinnon was fighting her own battles with breast cancer diagnosed a dozen years ago; then duct cancer diagnosed in 2010. She remained active almost to the end, calling her survival miraculous even though "miracle doesn't always mean cure."

    • • •

    Her knack for handling crisis began early.

    Dorothy Crutcher was born in Vine Grove, Ky., in 1942, one of 10 children. At age 15, her parents sent her to live with younger cousins in Maryland.

    She lived in Washington, D.C., after high school, a couple of blocks from the White House. At the time, it was not uncommon to see President John. F. Kennedy's limousine riding by, kindling an interest in the political world.

    A marriage brought her to Tampa, where she worked with rancher Bob Thomas at his Two Rivers Ranch and first grew dissatisfied with county government regulations she considered nonsensical.

    In 1992, Mrs. Berger MacKinnon and several other citizens co-founded Joshua House, a shelter in Lutz for kids, which now handles children ages 7 to 17 who have been removed from their homes.

    One of those was a 4-year-old named Crystal. She stayed there until age 7, when she was adopted by a St. Petersburg couple. Now 21, Crystal Obst remembers Mrs. Berger MacKinnon as "such an inspiration to me."

    "She used to tell me all the time that I was God's little sunbeam," Obst said.

    Mrs. Berger MacKinnon continued her brand of practical activism in 1994, winning a seat on the Hillsborough County Commission. "I thought I could save the world, but I don't know if I did," Mrs. Berger MacKinnon later told the Tampa Tribune.

    As a commissioner, Mrs. Berger MacKinnon supported a Community Investment Tax and argued for privatizing Tampa General Hospital, both controversial stances she associated with her failed re-election bid in 1998.

    In 2001, she married A.D. "Sandy" MacKinnon, who owned a forklift company now called MacKinnon Equipment and Services. They were a philanthropic team, sitting on numerous boards and donating to charities.

    Mrs. Berger MacKinnon served on the Hillsborough County Hospital Authority, as well as three terms on Tampa General Hospital's governing board.

    • • •

    In 1999, Mrs. Berger MacKinnon was diagnosed with breast cancer. Treatment required at least 11 surgeries.

    "She was an inspiration for a lot of women because even when she had the breast cancer, she muscled through everything," Grundel said. "She just had this fortitude. If she was having surgery one day, she would roll out of bed on the next, put on her hair and makeup and go to another meeting."

    After a nudge by mutual friends of lawyer Tracy Sheehan, Mrs. Berger MacKinnon approached Sheehan, who was undergoing chemotherapy, in the Harbor Island Athletic Club.

    She offered encouragement, then persuaded Sheehan to take on pro bono cases for the children of Joshua House. Mrs. Berger MacKinnon was serving as chairwoman of the foundation, Friends of Joshua House.

    Sheehan later became a Hillsborough Circuit judge and helped found A Kid's Place. Though judges don't refer children in crisis to specific agencies, many she removed from their homes wound up there.

    "Not only has Dottie led the charge to help needy children in the bay area, she has inspired countless others to join in her quest to ensure the neediest among us are cared for," Sheehan said.

    In the mid 2000s, she became increasingly concerned about children in the foster care system. Siblings often were separated. And it was not unusual for kids to bounce from one home to another. "They're traumatized because they're removed from their families, and now they're traumatized more because they've split the kids up," she told the Times.

    Mrs. Berger MacKinnon, Grundel and others founded Kid's Charity of Tampa Bay in 2006.

    The group then raised $5 million to open a 60-bed facility on Lithia Pinecrest Road in 2009, boosted by several private contributions in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and $1 million from Sandy MacKinnon.

    Though Mrs. MacKinnon was, as Grundel put it, "the visionary" behind A Kid's Place, getting it started was far from a solo effort. Every local agency that deals with child welfare helped put the program together. Children entered A Kid's Place for a stay of several weeks, during which time they could be assessed by professionals. They played in the 5-acre plot and interacted with adult volunteers and staffers, who pushed them on the swing or read to them.

    It was the first facility of its kind in Hillsborough County.

    • • •

    Just as that achievement was taking root, doctors delivered grim news: Mrs. Berger MacKinnon had bile duct cancer. Before the diagnosis, various agencies had honored her work. With the advent of A Kid's Place, the awards increased, including an annual award by the Tampa General Hospital Foundation in 2009.

    In the last few years, public gratitude has rained down. In 2011 alone, Hood Simply Smart Milk, the League of Women Voters and Hillsborough County all named Mrs. Berger MacKinnon as the recipient of annual awards. Iorio named the playground at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park after her. In March, Mrs. Berger MacKinnon was inducted into the Hillsborough County Women's Hall of Fame.

    A privately delivered accolade might have meant just as much.

    Crystal Obst, the former charge of Joshua House, had kept in touch with Mrs. Berger Mac-Kinnon as she grew up. Things hadn't been easy. She had made a few mistakes, including falling in love with a man who left when she told him she was pregnant.

    Now the mother of a baby girl, Obst recently visited Mrs. Berger MacKinnon. "I told her, 'Honestly, Dottie, you have been God's little sunbeam in my life, the only thing that motivated me and made me push on.' "

    Funeral arrangements are incomplete. But Mrs. Berger MacKinnon's family said a memorial service would be held later in the week.


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