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‘Mr. Lealman’ Ray Neri dies

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Ray Neri, the man who put the unincorporated Lealman area on the map, died Tuesday at Northside Hospital.

Neri was taken to Northside on Monday. He had fallen earlier in the day.

Neri was a well-known community activist whose persistent lobbying brought attention to the problems in his community. With the light he shone on Lealman came help. His activism resulted in, among other things, a renovated park, a new park, and Pinellas County’s first community redevelopment area designed to solve the problems of poverty that permeates the community.

Lealman is located between Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg on the north and south and between I-275 and Park Street on the east and west. Kenneth City divides the area into two. Most of Neri’s activism centered on the portion of the Lealman area to the east of Kenneth City.

“He’s Mr. Lealman to me,” Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala said Tuesday. “Who in the world is going to keep the focus on that community?”

Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice said, “Ray was a character who could drive you nuts but you never minded. He was so persistent in his efforts to make things better for children, specifically the children in Lealman, that you always came away admiring the way he kept pushing us forward.

“He was one of those folks that you just assumed would always be there. Hard to fathom things without his input.”

Pinellas Commissioner Janet Long said, “Such a tragedy for our county and the Lealman area. … There’s a lot of things that wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for him.”

Neri served on the Juvenile Welfare Board, the Emergency Medical Services Advisory Council, the Lealman Community Redevelopment Area Citizen Advisory Board, the Police Athletic League and was a member and former head of the Lealman Community Association.

Details about arrangements were not available late Tuesday.

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