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1st Female Florida Senate President Gwen Margolis Dies, Flags Lowered To Half Staff

Rep. Barry Kutun and Rep. Gwen Margolis vote in the 1980 legislative session
Donn Dughi
Florida Memory
Rep. Barry Kutun and Rep. Gwen Margolis vote in the 1980 legislative session

Former Florida Senate President Gwen Margolis has died. She was 85.

When Margolis was first elected to the legislature, it was 1974. Efforts to enshrine equal rights for women through the Equal Rights Amendment were at their zenith.

“And I worked hard to get elected, and I was one of 6 women that got elected that year, which was good. And now, of course, at least 40% of the legislature is female,” Margolis said in a 2013 interview with the Florida Channel.

She was the first woman to hold the Senate President post in the state, and the first woman in the country to lead a state Senate. Margolis became a Senator in 1980 and was elected Senate President in 1990.

“And it was quite an achievement at the time. It used to be you didn’t stay after you are president, so I did leave after that, so I went to the county commission and was at the county commission for eight years in Miami Dade County,” Margolis said.

Margolis served 30 years in the Florida legislature. She served in the Senate between 2002 and 2008, and again in 2010-2016. She was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame in 2009 as part of its inaugural class.

“President Margolis was a wealth of historical and institutional knowledge, and like many of you, I learned so much from her,” said Senate President Bill Galvano in a statement announcing Margolis’ death.

“After I was first elected to the Senate in 2012, I can remember joining Senator Margolis for several dinners, listening to her advice, and hearing so many of her stories about the process and the people she encountered along the way. She could be fierce, yet loving, and I know those of us who served with President Margolis miss her quick wit in committee and on the Senate floor.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered flags be lowered to half-staff Wednesday.

"To honor the memory of Gwen Margolis and her service to our state, I hereby direct the flags of the United States and the State of Florida to be flown at half-staff at the Miami-Dade County Courthouse in Miami, the City Hall of Miami, and at the State Capitol in Tallahassee, immediately until sunset," he said in a statement.

*Updated at 12:22 p.m. on 6/10/2020 to note DeSantis' request to lower flags to half staff.

Copyright 2020 WFSU

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.