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Florida pioneer, journalist, dies

MIAMI -- Jane Wood Reno, a pioneer and journalist who wrestled alligators, raised peacocks and walked 104 miles down Florida beaches, has died at the South Dade County home she built decades ago. She was 79.

Reno, mother of Dade County State Attorney Janet Reno, lapsed into a coma two days before her death on Monday.

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'She had been enjoying her peacocks and her porch and her world,' daughter Maggy Hurchalla of Stuart told The Miami Herald.

'She did it so perfectly,' added Janet Reno.

Reno was the widow of the late Miami Herald crime reporter Henry Reno, who died in 1967. She had worked as a reporter for the now-defunct Miami News.

On their 30th wedding anniversary someone asked him to describe what their partnership had been like.

'Thirty years with such a woman?' Henry Reno had said. 'Well to tell the truth I wouldn't have missed it for a million.'

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A few years ago Reno had said she didn't want 'to be old and feeble' and kept herself busy around her home despite several illnesses.

'A peahen is setting and the lawn needs mowing and I want all my grandchildren to come to me in my house,' she had said.

Almost everyone who knew Jane Reno had a Jane Reno story to tell.

One such story is about the time she knit a sweater for a pet snake. There are tales about neighborhood brouhahas over her peacocks -- all of them named Horace.

She financed her house by selling $25 freelance stories to newspapers.

Reno managed the Seaquarium account as a publicist and grabbed world attention when she sent a male porpoise -- via ocean liner -- to Italy to console a female porpoise whose mate had died.

She is remembered for wrestling alligators and saying, 'You grab him by the tail so he doesn't thrash.'

Reno walked alone 104 miles down Florida's beaches and read Proust.

Reno arrived in Miami from Macon, Ga., in 1925 at age 12. Her father, a lawyer, had moved down during the boom years.

'I thought, at first, South Florida's just poor, flat country, compared to my Georgia's pines and hills,' Reno had said.

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She said it was the hurricane of 1926 that changed her mind. The family rode it out in a house on Miami Beach about a block from the ocean.

'To me it was very exciting,' she later said. 'I saw the hurricane as a great vandal, and that appealed to me. There's something of the vandal in all us us. The storm was a great wrecker.'

She said the hurricane made her love Florida because it wasn't 'dull and dumb.'

'It had force, all that great power. It was something I could feel,' she said.'

During Hurricane Andrew this year, her house lost only one single and a couple of screens.

Reno once recalled that at age 9 school authorities in Macon decided she was special.

'There was a story in the Macon Daily Telegraph with a headline I remember,' she had said. ''Jane Wood Declared Genius.' It said I had the highest IQ in Georgia. I found out there was nothing like being declared a genius to make people hate you.

'I had to go out and fight some of the boys on the block to prove I was still me,' she said.

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In addition to Janet Reno and Hurchalla, a Martin County commissioner, Reno is survived by two sons, Robert, an economics writer for Newsday in New York; and Mark, a ship captain working in the oil fields of Nigeria.

The family also includes seven grandchildren, one great-granddaughter and nieces and nephews.

As Reno had requested her body will be cremated and her ashes scattered on Biscayne Bay as poetry is read.

A memorial service was planned Wednesday at 2 p.m. at Riviera Presbyterian Church.

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