Former Florida First Lady Rhea Chiles passed away Sunday at her home on Anna Maria Island. She was 84 years old.

Rhea was the widow of former Gov. Lawton Chiles, who died while in office in 1998. She helped create the Florida House in Washington D.C., which serves as a state embassy for Floridians.

Her legacy extends beyond that, though. You don’t have to go far in Lakeland to see and hear about the influence of Lawton and Rhea Chiles.

Lawton Chiles was a football player at Lakeland High School and met Rhea when the two attended the University of Florida. The couple settled in Lakeland and Lawton Chiles went to work at a local law firm.

Rhea encouraged him to run for the Florida Legislature in the late '50s. The two often campaigned together by going door to door in neighborhoods.

"Rhea and Lawton were a tremendous team,” said Florida Southern College history professor James Denham. He is a Lawton Chiles expert and is the director of the Lawton Chiles Center for Florida History.

Denham said Rhea Chiles was her husband’s political confidant and came up with many of his strategies. She is credited with developing Chiles’ “Walkin’ Lawton” campaign style.

When he first ran for United States Senate in 1970 he walked more than 1,000 miles, from one end of Florida to the other.

"Some of Lawton's friends would always say if it wasn't for Rhea Lawton would never have done all the great things that he ended up doing,” said Denham.

Lakeland businessmen Joe L. Ruthven and Greg Ruthven are the Chiles’ nephews. They both have fond memories of the couple while growing up in Lakeland.

"She was a great aunt," Greg Ruthven said. "We used to spend time at the beach together in the summers."

He also remembers Rhea for being an avid painter. There is a print of one of Rhea's famous paintings on a Ruthven company office wall in downtown Lakeland. Rhea Chiles was an early supporter of the Polk Museum of Art.

Joe L. Ruthven remembers his family always getting together with the Chiles family for Christmas. He also talked about Rhea being Lawton’s political confidant.

"I obviously remember the walk in 1970," he said. "That was on of Rhea's ideas. She was just my uncle's soul mate."

Lawton Chiles died in 1998 while still in office as governor. Lawton Chiles Middle Academy was later named in his honor.