When it was announced that longtime St. Petersburg Times columnist Dick Bothwell had died, uncontrolled weeping reverberated throughout the storied and normally stoic newsroom. The tributes poured in – including hundreds of letters, calls and in-person visits from readers, expressing shock and sorrow that a name and a face they’d known for four decades was, just like that, gone.
Although the newspaper wouldn't start to call itself the Tampa Bay Times for another 31 years, Bothwell's death on Jan. 30, 1981 was another in a series of signs that St. Petersburg’s identity was changing. The innocence of the early decades was gone. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge had recently fallen – the area’s first real tragedy. Webb’s City, the gargantuan drugstore that had dominated downtown since the ‘30s, was closed and soon to be demolished. The crumbling Vinoy Park Hotel was populated with pigeons, rats and vagrants. And Nelson Poynter, the newspaper's owner and very public figurehead, a community booster, had died in 1978.