Sandra Roth, wife of longtime former sheriff, dies at age 76

Rick and Sandy Roth get a good laugh when the then-sheriff was roasted at Hawks Cay Resort in 2008.
Rick and Sandy Roth get a good laugh when the then-sheriff was roasted at Hawks Cay Resort in 2008.

Sandra Handley Roth, the wife of former Monroe County Sheriff Rick Roth who worked for 17 years at the Sheriff's Office as a secretary, died early Thursday morning at her home on Grassy Key.

She was 76.

She is survived by her husband, who she married March 8, 1959, after meeting at a Marathon restaurant while he was a Navy man stationed in Key West; daughters Cathy and Deanna; and granddaughter Rayna.

Funeral arrangements weren't complete as of Friday, said current Sheriff Rick Ramsay, a friend of the family for 40 years who last saw Sandra Roth Saturday during one of his regular visits to their Grassy Key home.

"I was able to give her a hug and a kiss," Ramsay said Friday, recalling how he first met Sandra Roth when he was a 13-year-old working at his family's gas station, Surfside, in Marathon.

"She'd say to me, and didn't mind if anyone else was around, 'I remember little Ricky when he pumped my gas when he was 13,' " said Ramsay, who remembered her as outgoing and hardworking.

She was planning to take a cruise, said Ramsay, who said she died about 3:30 a.m. Thursday at home but did not know the cause of death.

She grew up in Marathon, the daughter of Bob and MaeLita Handley, with her sister Barbara Ann.

Her father was a house painter and the family opened the Pope Paint Co. in the building where they lived at the time; it's now home to the Keynoter. Years later, after Bob Handley became a painting contractor, they opened the Handley Paint Co.

With no high school at the time in Marathon, Sandra attended Key West High School, taking a 6 a.m. bus and returning home after 5 p.m.

The bus filled with children grew unusually quiet when it would cross the old Seven Mile Bridge, she recalled in a 2003 article she wrote for the Keynoter. 

"I think everyone was in silent prayer," she wrote.

She graduated Key West High in 1957. She started working for the Sheriff's Office in April 1984 as a records clerk, according to agency spokeswoman Deputy Becky Herrin.

By October 1985, Roth became a secretary, working out of the Marathon substation until she was transferred to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area group in 1991. She retired in September 2001.

Rick Roth was appointed sheriff by the governor in 1990, when he was a major, and held the office until 2009.

Sandra Roth was the reason Rick Roth landed in the Florida Keys, Ramsay said. The couple lived for a time in Minneapolis but returned to the Keys on the heels of Hurricane Betsy.

"He met her, a local Conch girl, and that's how he came to be sheriff," Ramsay said.