TAMPA, Fla. -- Former newswoman Patricia "Pat" Leisner, who covered major stories including the 1971 opening of Walt Disney World and the 1980 collapse of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge for The Associated Press, has died in Tampa, Florida. She was 78.
Loyless Funeral Home confirmed Leisner died at a hospital on Feb. 27 and that she had had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A funeral was held Sunday and a mass was held Monday at Our Lady of the Rosary church where she was a longtime member.
During her career, Leisner covered the Mariel boatlift, the sinking of the Cutter Blackthorn and Skyway Bridge disaster where three dozen perished. She was also sent to Lake Placid for the 1980 Winter Olympics.
Colleagues described her as tough and tireless in her efforts to keep the AP competitive against rival wire service UPI. Yet, she was always kind, even to competitors, and had a soft spot for the underdog.
Despite the intense competition with UPI, "Pat spent time every day talking, laughing and joking with her counterpart at UPI," said AP New York News Editor James Martinez who worked with Leisner in Tampa in the early 1990s. "Pat was always exceedingly kind to everyone, and connected with people on a personal level, from sources to fellow journalists to competitors."
She earned kudos from her colleagues after covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' inaugural year, even though she knew nothing about football. But admiring colleagues said she knew how to frame a news story around interesting personalities, including Coach John McKay and star quarterback Doug Williams.
She was extremely involved in her church and raised two foster daughters that she considered her own.
Former AP colleague Vickie Chachere described Leisner as someone who "really lived her faith on a daily basis."
She had a close relationship with her sister, Mary, a veterinarian in the area. Chachere said at one point when Mary was working at an animal shelter, she often stole the animals that were about to be euthanized and brought them home to live with her and Pat in their tiny apartment.
"She was very kind and very compassionate," Chachere said.