Florida's Children First

L. David Shear, Tampa lawyer and advocate for foster children, dies at age 79

L. David Shear

L. David Shear

TAMPA — Because of L. David Shear, hundreds of children in foster care have found permanent homes, says the president of Bay Area Legal Services.

Shear, who died Tuesday at age 79 after an illness, was a prominent Tampa lawyer who served as president of the Florida Bar in 1979 and 1980, and was also past president of the Hillsborough County Bar Association.

“He will be missed by so many and with good reason,” said Richard C. Woltmann, the president of Bay Area Legal Services, who knew Shear for more than 35 years. “There’s not that many lions that have hearts like him. … David was a very, very special man.”

Shear endowed the L. David Shear Children’s Law Center, created by Bay Area Legal Services to help very young children in foster care find families through adoption or reunification.

“We probably have at least 60 kids right now that we’re helping in open cases,” Woltmann said. “We’ve probably helped hundreds of kids. … That’s what his legacy is —- that we have institutionalized a project that is giving permanent homes to kids that might have languished in foster care for their first 18 years.”

The project was created about six or seven years ago, Woltmann said. Every year, Shear would attend a holiday party given for the center’s young clients and their families.

Shear was dedicated to helping people afford legal representation.

“I think he knows, being a lawyer, the problems that people without lawyers can have,” Woltmann said. “He’s always had an interest in helping people who can’t afford an attorney to help them with very significant legal problems.”

Shear was a “good person,” said Tampa lawyer Leonard Howard Gilbert, who succeeded Shear as president of the state bar. “He was a good citizen. He was involved in a number of other kinds of efforts in the Tampa community.”

And 2012 Florida Bar President Gwynne Young said Shear “was a wonderful mentor to people like me that he helped support and mentor in bar work.”

When she ran for the position in a competitive election, she said, Shear would call her and offer advice and encouragement, sharing what he learned running in a competitive race.

“David was really a kind and thoughtful person,” Young said. “He was a very good lawyer. If I had to think about what I associate him with, a lot was his devotion to working for, providing access to justice and legal services for people who could not afford to hire a lawyer.”

When he became head of the state bar at the relatively young age of 43, he described himself as an optimist ready to meet the challenges of the membership, and pledged to help provide low-cost legal services, particularly to the elderly.

“I’m a people person,” he told the Florida Bar Journal. “I try to relate to people because their reactions are important to me.”

Shear was active in many areas of the community, including the American Red Cross, the Hillsborough County Heart Association, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, Tampa Downtown Partnership and Congregation Rodeph Sholom synagogue.

He was also dedicated to the Boys and Girls Club of Tampa Bay, which he served many years and became president and board chairman and later acted as the organization’s corporate legal counsel. His contributions with the organziation were honored in 1999, when the club named its North Tampa location on Yukon Street as the David and Casey Shear Branch, after Shear and his wife.

A lifelong resident of Tampa, Shear graduated from Vanderbilt University and the University of Florida College of Law before founding the firm of Shear, Newman, Hahn & Rosenkranz. He later joined the Tampa office of Ruden, McClosky and Gunster.

Services are slated for 2 p.m. Thursday at Congregation Rodeph Sholom, 2713 Bayshore Blvd.

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