Each year at the Martin Luther King Jr. Parade in West Perrine, Larcenia Bullard would energize the crowd with her hugs, waves and by just her sheer presence.
“She was always one of the stars,” remembers Palmetto Bay Mayor Shelley Stanczyk, whose village is one of the co-sponsors of the annual event.
“She was always the highest-ranking elected official in the parade,” Stancyzk added. “She would be there riding in an open convertible, hugging everyone, interacting with everyone and waving.”
Burdened with chronic health challenges, as well as recent deaths in her family, including her father and brother, Bullard did not make it to this year’s parade. And, within weeks, her brother-in-law and mother-in-law died.
On Saturday, March 16, Bullard, too, died, losing her own battle against cancer, diabetes and other illnesses. While on vacation with her husband, former state Rep. Edward Bullard, in her childhood hometown of Allendale, S.C., she died in the emergency room at a local hospital. She was 65.
Even though Bullard had been ill for a while – she had suffered two heart attacks before the 2010 legislative session – her death took many by surprise.
“It was a shocker,” said Miami-Dade Commissioner Dennis Moss. “I had seen her a few weeks earlier and she was bubbly and full of life.”
Moss, who credits his decision to run for elected office in part to Bullard, called her a trailblazer and role model who will be remembered not as a politician but as a public servant.
“She was a people person and she was concerned about people. She was everywhere always having this special smile, always hugging, always displaying love and concern about the people in the community,” Moss said. “If you had a chance to meet her and know her, you would never forget her.”
Calling his mother his “Number 1 cheerleader,” Dwight Bullard acknowledged her “irreplaceable personality” and her many accomplishments.
“She was the first African-American woman to serve her district in the House and the Senate,” he said. “Think of how South Dade looked 20 years ago and look around now. You can thank Larcenia Bullard.”
After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, then newly elected Democratic state Rep. Larcenia Bullard pushed for funding support to rebuild South Dade, Homestead and Florida City.
“That will be a lasting legacy,” Moss said. “She came into office when we were at our lowest in South Dade. Her hands were in a lot of the improvements in South Dade.”
“No cause was too big or too small or too daunting,” said U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., who served in the Legislature with Bullard. “Public service was a way of life for Sen. Bullard, a passion and commitment shared by her entire family.”
Larcenia Bullard, a former educator, served in the state House, District 118, from 1992 to 2000 and in the Senate from 2002 to 2012, representing District 39 spanning six counties from the Keys north to Palm Beach and Hendry counties. Her husband replaced her in the House and served from 2000 to 2008. Dwight Bullard then won the House seat, serving until last year, when he was elected to the Senate.
“Her constituents were well represented in Tallahassee,” said former Gov. Charlie Crist, who said he will remember the senator for her “overall sweetness.:
“She had that sweetness in any situation and for any occasion,” Crist said.
“She made you feel special, no matter who you were,” said Brenda Bryant, president of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Miami Alumnae Chapter. “She made you feel that you were the only one in the room and that you were the shining star.”
Bullard, who joined the sorority in 1994, was a member of numerous other organizations, including the Miami-Dade Branch of the NAACP.
“She had a love for children and quality education, which is rarely talked about,” said NAACP branch president Adora Obi Nweze. “She wanted the best for the children. A lot of people may not have known that part of her commitment to her community and to our state.”
Said former Miami-Dade Commissioner Betty Ferguson, “The community has lost a beautiful person. When you watched her operate, you could see that she was a good and effective leader. She gave her all to this community.”
Bullard’s other survivors include son Vincent Brooker of Philadelphia; daughter Edwina Simms of Orlando; and four grandchildren.
A litany service is set for 7 p.m. Friday at the Church of the Ascension, 12201 S.W. 160th St. in South Miami-Dade. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the South Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 S.W. 211th St.
The family asks that instead of sending flowers, friends make contributions to the Rachel and Edward Bullard Jr. Foundation, 14842 Robinson St., Miami, FL, 33176.