Carol Hanson’s gravelly voice was unmistakable. And many times it was employed in a single word: “No.”
The longtime Boca Raton mayor and Florida legislator, who never lost an election, died at 83 on Aug. 22. That was just one month after her husband of 61 years, Henry “Hank” Hanson, died, her family said in a death announcement that noted her “dedication and tireless service to the city of Boca Raton.”
Hanson often had been called “Madame No,” because she many times was the “1” in 4-1 votes.
Most of her opposition was about development. As far back as the 1970s, she was part of a push to cap the city at 40,000 residences, a move struck down by the courts. She always insisted she didn’t oppose development, just excessive development. And in a bit of prescience, even then, she decried out-of-control growth in the city’s downtown, something that right now is part of a giant spat.
Born Carol Georgitson in 1934 in Utica, a city in upstate New York, she moved to Miami 10 years later. To her final days, she used the byword of old-time South Floridians, pronouncing the city “My-AH-muh.” She started at Southern Bell as a long-distance operator in 1951, then left the company in 1954 as a employee supervisor.
She moved to Boca Raton in 1960 when her husband, Hank, was transferred by the phone company where he worked.
The city then had about 7,000 people. Its current population now is estimated to be approaching the 100,000 mark, making it one of the most populous cities in Palm Beach County. And it arguably is second in name recognition — and in wealth and glamour — only to tony Palm Beach.
Hanson was elected to the city council in 1979 and served until 1982, when she was elected to the Florida Legislature, where she struggled as a Republican in a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, a far different chamber than now.
In 1995, she left the Legislature and was elected Boca Raton mayor.
In that role, she was highly visible, appearing at many events.
“She did have an ability to connect with the ordinary Joe and Jane Constituent she served,” current Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven Abrams, who was a council member to Mayor Hanson and vice versa, said Wednesday.
Hanson also would earn the groans of fellow council members — and weary reporters — by insisting people had a right to participate in public comment for as long as they wanted — no time limits — and that all who wanted to should be allowed to speak. That policy sent many a 6 p.m. meeting well into the early morning hours.
She left the mayor’s post in 2001 and was elected as a council member. Two years later, in April 2003, she abruptly retired from elected office, announcing her departure not through the local press but via an embittered letter on a friend’s internet site. She lamented she could hardly recognize Boca Raton anymore, denounced her colleagues on the city council as sellouts and gritted her teeth over repeated 4-1 votes in which she was the lone dissenter.
“I am not having fun,” she told The Palm Beach Post later. “I am losing my sense of humor. And I’m not happy with what I’m becoming.” Puffing on her trademark Virginia Slims cigarette, she told a reporter, “Yes, I was a scrapper. And I’m proud of it. But you can’t tilt at windmills forever.”
She said she and her husband intended to relax in Boca Raton and in the North Carolina mountains.
Abrams, then mayor, noted “the end of an era.”
He said Wednesday that, while the two disagreed on many issues, “I’ve always said that she was one of the most talented politicians I had ever seen in action.”
Even after her retirement, Hanson remained vocal — and political. Her last of many “letters to the editor” appeared in The Palm Beach Post on Nov. 21, 2015, urging people to pick a party and vote in the March 2016 presidential primary.
“In the past, a lot of people stayed home and said ‘Let the party leaders make the decision.’ We cannot do this next year, as many of us have lost confidence in those leaders,” Hanson wrote. “The only way we can get our government back is to vote. Every single vote will count.”
Hanson is survived by her children, Eric and Lisa, as well as a sister, Joean Frechette, and many nephews and nieces. At her request, there was no formal service.