Former journalist Mary Shawn Toothman dies of cancer


LAKELAND – As a reporter for the Ledger and Tampa Tribune, Mary Shawn Toothman could interview anyone – from the head of an international nudist colony or a US Navy Blue Angel pilot – and she could hold those responsible government officials responsible for the death of a foster child or the creation of a new university.

Toothman died Sunday at age 66 after a five-year battle with cancer.

“Mary Shawn Toothman was more than a dear friend, she was a force of nature,” Suzie Schottelkotte, retired journalist for the Ledger Courts, wrote on Toothman’s Facebook page. “She was honest, straightforward and always said what she thought. She was Lucy to my Ethel – the kind of friend who told me what I needed to hear.

Toothman was a native of Lakeland, born in 1955 to Nelda and Rex Toothman, and has spent most of her life in and around Polk County. She graduated from Lakeland High School, then, as a student at the University of South Florida, began her journalistic career as a news clerk at The Ledger, to work her way to a position. journalist. She put her college education aside to work full-time as a journalist, but eventually graduated in 1999.

It was his coverage of the murder of 2-year-old Bradley McGee in 1989 that helped lead to reforms to the state’s foster care system. Just four months after his mother and stepfather killed the boy – for whom they were later convicted – lawmakers passed the Bradley McGee Act, providing $ 48 million to the country’s child welfare system ‘State.

Toothman is described by his friends as “not always charming,” and was known for his often salty exclamations and stern gaze on those who deserved it. But, they say, “she demanded loyalty from those who had known her for years or just a few months.”

When she was a columnist for the Tampa Tribune in 1996, Toothman and four other Lakeland residents were charged with distributing amphetamines and methamphetamines. As part of her plea deal, she spent a year in a drug rehab facility and therapy was stalled.

“It caused her to get sober, to stay sober and to change her life, which made me and many others proud of her,” said Lynne Maddox, freelance writer for Ledger, who worked with Toothman. for decades.

It was Maddox who convinced then-editor Skip Perez to rehire Toothman after he returned home.

Toothman ended his journalistic career as a freelance writer for various Polk County publications. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2015, but kept working – writing a story even as she waited to be taken to surgery.

In January, doctors discovered five tumors in his brain. Her main concern after this final diagnosis was to find a nursing home that would allow her dogs, Miss Scarlett and Stella, to visit her because she refused. Lawyer Dawn Kahre, a longtime friend who handled Toothman’s business, adopted the dogs.

Toothman is survived by his son Taylor and his wife, Kinna, as well as two grandchildren, all of whom live in Fairbanks, Alaska. She is also survived by her sister, Nancy Murray, brothers Tommy Toothman and Billy Gay, as well as several nieces and nephews. “Mary’s Tribe” of loyal friends is planning a remembrance service at a later date.

She left one last message for friends and family on her Facebook page, quoting poet Mary Oliver: “When it’s over, I mean: all my life I’ve been married to amazement.”

Journalist Kimberly C. Moore can be reached at or 863-802-7514. Follow her on Twitter at @KMooreTheLedger.

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