Miami-Dade County

Mitzi Gimenez, mother of Miami-Dade’s mayor, dies at age 85

Mitzi Gimenez in an undated photo with her two children, Carlos Gimenez on the left and Mitzi Ann Gimenez on the right.
Mitzi Gimenez in an undated photo with her two children, Carlos Gimenez on the left and Mitzi Ann Gimenez on the right.

Mitzi Ann Gimenez, a Cuban exile who moved to Miami in 1960 and went on to see her son, Carlos, elected mayor of Miami-Dade County, died Monday night at South Miami Hospital, a family member said. She was 85.

Gimenez died after an extended hospitalization following kidney problems and a minor stroke, said her cousin, Humberto Martinez.

A longtime office manager in Miami, Gimenez also presided over an extended family that included nearly 20 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. “She lived for the whole family,” said Martinez, a retired real estate investor. “She called me almost every week with some new story about the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren. She was involved in everybody’s life, all the time.”

Born Mitzi Ann de Llano on Feb. 3, 1931, in Havana, she was the only child of Gregorio de Llano and Patricia Rossiter de Llano.

It was the start of an affluent life in Cuba. She was the granddaughter of Cuba’s chief justice, and recalled dancing with Cary Grant during a trip to New York as a young woman. A competitive swimmer, she once held the island’s record for the 50-meter backstroke. On June 12, 1948, she married Carlos Gimenez, the start of a 68-year marriage. The couple and their two children split time between a ranch on Cuba’s Oriente Province and a condominium in Havana.

But after they left Cuba in the wake of Fidel Castro taking power, the Gimenezes shared a house in Miami with more than a dozen other relatives before finding a place of their own. “She came from a prominent family, and a very comfortable life,” recalled her son, Mayor Carlos Gimenez, “to basically having to sell shoes for a living. Which she did. Never complained.”

The daughter of an Irish-American mother and a Cuban father, Gimenez spoke flawless English upon arrival in Miami in the fall of 1960 and eventually secured a job with Orkin before going to work with a colleague who launched a competitor called Al-Flex. The company is still in business, and she worked there into her 70s, Martinez said.

Both of Mitzi Gimenez’s children remained in Miami to work and raise families. Daughter Mitzi Ann Gimenez McKeon serves as an administrator at Columbus High School. Both children have three children of their own. The generation of grandchildren became a central focus for the family’s fun-loving matriarch, who maintained a Facebook page and, with her health failing, often asked for help charging her iPad.

“She had a very young mind, and was sharp until the end,” said Mayor Gimenez. “She was very funny, and had a super-fast wit. She could go back-and-forth with her grandchildren.”

Mitzi Gimenez, who lived in West Kendall, was not thrilled to see her son jump into the hard-edged arena of Miami politics when he ran for County Commission in 2004, but Martinez said she still reveled in his success.

“She used to get upset when anybody said anything wrong about him,” Martinez said. “She would call us and say: ‘Look what they said. I told him not to run.’ On the other hand, she would call us and say she was so extremely proud of his career and his life.”

Mayor Gimenez recalled that his mother’s sense of humor endured her health problems. “The nurses were asking her: ‘Do you know your name?’ She said: ‘Calvin Klein.’ 

Gimenez is survived by her husband, Carlos Gimenez; her son, Carlos A. Gimenez, and wife Lourdes; her daughter, Mitzi Ann Gimenez McKeon, and husband Chris; six grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. No information has been released about funeral services.