Thank You, for 16 Years of Memories

Nov 1, 2012 by

After 16 years in the Florida Legislature, six in the House and 10 in the Senate, my time in elected office is coming to an end on Election Day. Due to term limits, which I support, I will be retiring from the Legislature, and doing so with a happy heart and a feeling of pride for the past and anticipation for the future.
Over the months since session ended, I’ve been busy closing down two offices, continuing to provide constituent services and speaking at post session wrap-ups, and saying my goodbyes to all the wonderful folks I work with and to many of my constituents in the five counties that make up my district – Polk, Hernando, Osceola, Sumter, and Lake.

Closing down the Tallahassee office was tough as I was faced with so many files of legislative research, hundreds of bill jackets of legislation I had filed over the 16-year period and so many personal cards, letters and emails that I had saved. I forced myself to part with 90 percent of the documents. The other 10 percent filled up my Ford Explorer and came home with me. My Tallahassee staff cheered me on as I painfully tossed out memories of so many legislative endeavors. Pictures were posted on Facebook.

Closing down the Lakeland office proved much more difficult and, in fact, is still not complete as the final few days are ticking down. I rightfully have earned the title of “File Queen,” as I have discovered files for every imaginable issue, event, group or topic. “Hoarder” might be more appropriate. Plastic file boxes were acquired and the sorting process began. Of course, in order to discard or keep, everything needed to be read. This was time-consuming, tedious and oh so rewarding.

Warehouse space was obtained, furniture that didn’t belong to the state was sold on Craigslist, momentos were distributed to those who stopped by to say goodbye. Copiers were returned, reports were filed, inventory was taken, financial records were saved, and office supplies were packed to send to the state. My awesome legislative assistants started looking for future employment and will be incredible assets in their new positions.

Going through the files, pictures, correspondence and awards was an incredible stroll down memory lane. I was reminded of events and issues I didn’t remember. The pictures, cards and “thank you” letters had me laughing and crying. My wonderful staff put together an incredible scrap book and numerous binders of news clippings that I look forward to reading when I want to take another memorable journey.

Packing up awards and recognitions was rewarding and challenging as many were large framed items or beautiful but bulky statues, figurines or plaques; but all were memories I couldn’t part with, so the storage unit got a little larger.

The unexpected part of closing up shop and going quietly into the night was the outpouring of warm wishes and appreciation. My schedule was filled with lunches, receptions and recognition ceremonies. During one particular week, which started with a resolution and recognition from the Polk County Board of County Commissioners, I ran into locally elected officials at several other events. One Lakeland city commissioner joked that he would see me at the next stop on my Farewell Tour.

The former chairman of the Polk County Republican Party honored me with a lovely luncheon and invited my dear friend Congressman Dennis Ross and some of my colleagues, including Sen. Evelyn Lynn and Sen. Ronda Storms, to offer their observations. I was flattered to be referred to as a cross between Shirley Temple and Margaret Thatcher.

That was followed by events at two nature areas that I had been very involved with: a hike at Tenoroc and a Swamp Fest at Colt Creek State Park. Some enthusiastic friends organized the perfect retirement party at an incredible outdoor setting with moss-covered trees, barbecue, “Paulatinis” and an incredible band.

The City of Lakeland honored me on Oct. 1 with a resolution naming it Paula Dockery Day in Lakeland. Family and friends attended the Monday morning commission meeting to celebrate the special day.

The most touching event of all took place in the community of Poinciana, an ethnically diverse area that straddles two of my counties – Polk and Osceola. The community hosted a reception that started with elementary school children singing, a slide show of pictures of me in the community and a ceremony with community leaders describing the battles we waged together: for a hospital, a parkway, a YMCA and a water authority. Palmetto Elementary Principal Luis Alvarez brought tears to my eyes by presenting me with a dozen red roses and a local artist designed a framed award which commemorated each of the successful battles.

I left that event as I am leaving office: humbled by the love, affection and appreciation that my community has shown me. It has been an honor and a privilege to represent the wonderful people of my House and Senate districts. What an incredible ending. I’m truly blessed to leave office with such a wonderful and emotional “Farewell Tour.”

I will treasure the memories.

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