Former state Sen. Larcenia Bullard was the rarest of politicians in the Florida Capitol: She seemed to make everyone happy and had no apparent enemies.
Bullard was the lady with the big bear hugs, the woman from Miami who made you feel special. She was funny. Often on purpose. Sometimes not.
Bullard died in the town of her birth — Allendale, S.C. — while on vacation with her husband, former state Rep. Edward Bullard, said her son and successor, Sen. Dwight Bullard. She felt ill Saturday morning and went to the emergency room, he said, where she died. She was 65.
Larcenia Bullard, a Democrat, struggled with her health during her final years in the Legislature, which she left in 2012 due to term limits. Her son won the subsequent election for her seat, whose district stretches from Miami to Key West.
“She lived to see her son take her place in the Florida Senate. That meant so much to her. It was special,” Sen. Jack Latvala said.
The St. Petersburg Republican carried one of Bullard’s bills, designating Key West’s Western Union schooner as the state’s flagship, when she was ill during the 2011 lawmaking session.
After that, Bullard’s health seemed to improve, friends said. Latvala said she appeared to be in great spirits on the opening day of this year’s legislative session on March 5. Last Tuesday, she appeared in a Senate video featured in Tallahassee’s annual Florida Press Skits in which she kicked off a Harlem Shake dance on the Senate floor.
“Larcenia Bullard was a personality — always happy, a joyful person, someone who gave everybody a great big bear hug. It didn’t matter who you were,” said Sen. Oscar Braynon II, D-Miami Gardens. “When she came on the Senate floor and hugged everybody, she still made you feel so special, like she was there for you.”
Bullard was sometimes unintentionally funny.
During a 2009 Senate committee discussion about making bestiality a crime, Bullard cracked up everyone in the room, and received national TV attention, when she was tripped up by the mention of the phrase “animal husbandry.”
“People are taking these animals as their husbands? What’s husbandry?” she asked. A few laughs ensued. And soon Bullard rolled along with it.
Bullard was usually a reliable Democratic vote, but she could also be unpredictable. Her fellow Democrats struggled, at times, to keep her on board. In 2005, during the nationally watched Terri Schiavo euthanasia case, Democrats battled to keep her from backing a Republican bill to keep the brain-damaged woman’s feeding tube inserted. Bullard ultimately voted against the bill.
“Let Terri Schiavo die with dignity,” she said.
Bullard, a former schoolteacher, first served in the state House from 1992 to 2000, and then the state Senate from 2002 to 2012.
She was born Larcenia Jean Dunbar on July 21, 1947. A graduate of Antioch College in Ohio, she moved to Richmond Heights from Philadelphia in the early 1980s. She taught first grade before running for the Florida House in 1990.
“I have aspired to enter the political arena since being a teenager working on campaigns,” she told The Miami Herald at the time.
Bullard raised less money than other candidates. Yet she made it into the Democratic primary runoff, but lost to Daryl Jones.