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Longtime CASA leader Linda Osmundson dies

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

 Linda Osmundson, a longtime activist against domestic violence, passed away Monday night surrounded by her family. The 26-year head of St. Pete’s CASA — Community Action Stops Abuse — had been suffering through an illness that led to a wound overtaking her left cheek leaving in its place an unmistakable scar. It’s unclear whether her death was related to that illness. She was just 66.

According to a post on Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence Foundation President Tiffany Carr’s Facebook page Osmundson, “entered heaven as one of God’s angels.”

“As many of you are aware, Linda possessed a strong faith and found peace in knowing that she would one day join her maker,” Carr wrote.

Osmundson’s illness was well known because of the physical toll it took, but she didn’t like to talk about it much. Her faith led her to refuse treatment.

Osmundson is herself a domestic violence survivor. Her experience led her to a 40-year career of activism against domestic violence. Before heading CASA in St. Petersburg, Osmundson headed programs in Gainesville and West Palm Beach.

Under her tenure, CASA grew from a staff of seven working out of a small home to a 100-bed facility that opened last summer. The program also has a downtown outreach center, provides transitional housing, and has 80 employees.

Under Osmundson, the organization started a first-of-its-kind substance abuse treatment program for victims. It grew further still in 1996 with the opening of a supervised visitation center and in 1997 with a 14-unit transitional housing facility.

Osmundson also ushered in the Peacemakers Program for children in preschool through Middle School. The program aims to teach children alternatives to violence.

She also co-founded a program to get pardons for women who were victims of domestic violence and sent to prison for defending themselves. Her work on that statewide effort earned her the governor’s “Peace at Home” award.

Osmundson’s work has spread to other countries, including Columbia, Russia, China, India, Japan, Australia, and others.

“I recently found a picture of Linda and me when we both had long hair and I was 24 years old, dressed in a business suit and she was sporting Birkenstocks — I can remember the lecture that day from her about the fact I had not entered the corporate sector but instead the domestic violence movement and scolded me for being in a suit, heels, and pantyhose,” Carr wrote.

She went on to describe the joy she found in chiding Osmundson when she too began dressing up for the job.

“Much of who I became as an advocate was grounded in Linda’s early philosophical teachings of empowerment based advocacy,” Carr wrote. “Linda was a strong supporter of standards of service provision and understood the importance of our state operating as one voice.”

Carr went on to praise Osmundson’s vision as one that “sets Florida as the national model for funding, quality of services, and a benchmark for all other states.”

Osmundson found her late-in-life knight in shining armor, Maurice, and the two shared a love of cycling. Maurice, according to Carr, was with Osmundson as she passed.

“Linda loved Maurice with every fiber of her being and he adored her with a love deeper than the ocean,” Carr wrote.

Carr said Osmundson leaves this world with a footprint “as big as the universe” and that her work impacted “thousands and thousands of survivors and their families.”

Osmundson retired from her post at CASA at the end of June. Her last day coincided with the opening of the new, expanded facility. During her retirement party, dozens and dozens of community leaders filed into the St. Pete Museum of History to pay tribute to her professional career and wish her the best in retirement.

She sat listening quietly and joking often.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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