Sheila McDevitt: Living Her Benedictine Values

Sheila McDevitt

Focused, decisive, thoughtful, witty, compassionate, caring—when Sheila McDevitt makes your cause her cause, you get the whole package.

Sheila is always ready with the prescient observation, the penetrating question, the encouraging word. And Sheila is always among the first to contribute if she is convinced that her gift will be used wisely and for a worthy purpose.

Sheila’s abiding impulse to be of help to others started at Saint Leo with the values of respect, responsibility, and gratitude taught to her by the Benedictine sisters and brothers. She captures the essence of those values in this maxim: “We have an obligation to do things for others that they can’t do for themselves.”

The future general corporate council of TECO Energy, Inc., and chair of Saint Leo’s Board of Trustees was five years old when she arrived at Saint Leo. Upon Sheila’s mother’s untimely passing, her dad turned to the Benedictine Sisters who conducted a boarding school program for elementary school children. There, Sheila was motivated and learned responsibility by doing chores at the boarding house, such as cleaning, doing the wash, and shining shoes. “I learned many ‘life lessons’ at the Academy. They taught me independence, how to read people and make decisions early in my life.”

Sheila credits the education she received at Holy Name Academy as the beginning of her personal and professional success. Looking back, she sees Holy Name as a “safe haven” for a young, impressionable child. “The Benedictine Sisters and Brothers raised me. I learned the importance of education in my formative years and it has stayed with me throughout my entire life.”

Exemplifying her gratitude for the solid foundation she received, Sheila is an enthusiastic supporter of Saint Leo University. She has given in just about every way it is possible to give: sustained annual giving, support of building campaigns, creating an endowed scholarship fund, and including a bequest for Saint Leo in her will.

The scholarship fund Sheila established in 2007 has special meaning for her and for Saint Leo’s history. The fund honors the memory of her cousin, C. Franklin Swager, a member of the Saint Leo College class of 1961 and a founding member of the “Monarchs” basketball team. Frank died in 1967, leaving an infant son who never got to know his father. Thanks to Sheila’s generosity, each year the Swager Endowed Scholarship Fund helps a member of the Saint Leo men’s or womens Lions basketball teams to afford a Saint Leo education. And it signifies for Franks son and their descendants the affection and esteem in which Frank Swager will always be held by his alma mater.

After completing her elementary grades with the Benedictine Sisters, Sheila enrolled in St. Paul’s High School and, after two years in St. Petersburg College, went on to take her bachelor’s degree in political science and government from Florida State University and her Juris Doctor degree from Florida State’s College of Law. She has since achieved career distinction at TECO Energy, where she served as the senior vice president/general counsel and chief legal officer.

Sheila has also made no less an impressive record in the realm of public service. The leaders of the nation and the state of Florida have turned to her often, asking her to serve on these and other boards and commissions:

  • Federal Judicial Nominating Advisory Commission, 1988-1993, appointed by President Ronald Reagan
  • Florida Humanities Council Board of Directors, appointed by Governor Jeb Bush in 2000
  • Thirteenth Judicial Court Nominating Commission, appointed by Governor Bush in 2001
  • Florida Board of Governors State University System Governance Board, serving for seven years including a term as vice-chair in 2006-08 and board chair, 2008-10

Sheila was first elected to the Saint Leo University Board of Trustees in 1998 and has, thus far, served five terms with appointments to the Audit, Business Affairs, Trustees, University Advancement, and Executive Committees. She was elected to terms as vice chair in 2005 and chair in 2007.

Sheila chaired the Saint Leo Board of Trustees during the time of the most dynamic transformation in the university’s history. As chair, she focused on the creation of proper governance for board policies and procedures. She also led board support and oversight of the initiative to assume direct operation of Saint Leo’s College of Online Learning. “It was a high-risk project at the time, but we were confident that we had better, qualified people internally who could perform the same tasks efficiently and effectively.”

Sheila takes special pride in her enthusiastic support for the construction of Kirk Hall. Saint Leo’s newest academic building honors her friend, President Emeritus Arthur F. Kirk Jr. She is pleased that Kirk Hall not only is beautiful but also provides Saint Leo students with another wonderful place to learn and collaborate. “I’m proud to bring people to campus. I’ve witnessed a real metamorphosis from this tranquil and beautiful setting to a world-class University Campus with a pleasing Spanish Mission architecture. It’s kind of like being in heaven.”

As Sheila McDevitt has progressed in life, she has become more selective about what causes to support. Now, all her principal charities are in some respect concerned with teaching and learning: the Academy Prep Center of St. Petersburg, the Hillsborough County Bar Foundation, the Tampa educational broadcasting channel-WEDU, the Florida State University College of Law, and Saint Leo University.

“Hopefully, I not only talk the talk, but walk the walk when it comes to my time, talent, and treasure.” This she does, and her alma mater could not be more proud or more grateful.

Join Sheila in making Saint Leo great by making a gift today. Every donation, no matter how big or small, makes a difference.


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