LeRoy Collins Institute Commemoration
of 4 OCT 2006 in Tallahassee
Several weeks ago (following the Primary election in Florida), I received a letter from James Apthorp, Executive Director of the LeRoy Collins Institute (named for my late father) at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Its purpose was to invite me to attend a seminar discussing the qualities of a good Governor, and to commemorate Dad's service as Florida's 33rd Governor during 1955-61. While I have attended many commemorative functions in the past, and basked in some of the glory earned by my father's public service, this one was to include several former Florida Governors (all of whom I know), plus my mother and siblings (all of whom live in Tallahassee).
Furthermore, I had another invitation for the night before, in Tallahassee, to attend a book-signing party for Martin Dyckman, long-time Tallahassee-based reporter for the St. Petersburg Times, and recently retired. Martin very recently completed a biography on my father's courageous public life, especially during the Nation's very difficult decade of the 1960s. My mother, siblings and I had given Martin some behind-the-scenes comments about my Dad to humanize his persona. So the timing was right, and I wanted to get his inscribed books for my four children and myself.
The book-signing was at sunset on the grounds of a beautiful private home overlooking Lake Jackson, the setting for many of my childhood adventures. About halfway through the occasion, Martin was asked to speak. He was unusually effusive for a reporter re my father's inspiration to him, yet thankfully brief. There were many old friends present, but most were surprisingly new to me.
Martin's handsome book set the stage for the seminar the next day, staged in the House Chamber of the old Capitol building, fortunately saved from the wrecker's ball by then Secretary of State, Bruce Smathers, who refused to move out of his office when the new 22-story Capitol was built perhaps 30 years ago.
I had planned to attend the moring seminar, but my 95 yr-old mom said NO; she wanted me to escort her to the seminar's midday luncheon on the top floor of the "new" Capitol building, also part of the commemoration. Of course I would.
By noon, all guests were in place, and the event included remarks by Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, former Governors Askew, Mixon, Governor Nominee Crist, and me as the Collins family respondent.
Governor Askew's remarks mentioned the inspiration he had derived from Dad all the way back to 1950 when he (Askew) was President of the Student Body at Florida State, Dad was running for State Senator, and Askew and FSU fullback Buddy Strauss headed up Dad's successful race on the FSU campus. Governor Askew was thorough and precise, as usual. A tough act to follow.
Taking departure with Governor Askew's remark on Dad's warm personality, I acknowledged that was true, but about 20 years ago, I saw that warmth turn RED HOT when Dad learned I had changed my registration to the Republican Party! He cooled down somewhat, but never completely.
After lunch, we retired to the State Cabinet Room on the First Floor of the Capitol to await the Governor. Our MC was Senator Curt Kiser. I sat on Mom's right, and the seat to her left was saved for Governor Bush. Here he came; first item on the agenda was photos of the Governors present, i.e Bush, Graham, Kirk, and Mixon.
Governor Bush's remarks were extensive and historically detailed. In the presence of three other Governors, he called Dad the greatest Florida Governor of them all. He grappled with the most vexing issue of our times, i.e. racial segregation/integration, and led us through that minefield both as Governor and Director of the Community Relations Service (created under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and appointed by President Lyndon Johnson).
Governor Graham told the story of how Dad thought his Governorship was tainted with some notable failure, because he had been largely unsuccessful in reapportioning the State Legislature after six years as the State's Chief Executive. Governor Graham explained that Dad later learned from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black that his "failure" had inspired the Supreme Court to decree the one-man-one-vote doctrine, which required ALL states to reapportion themselves (or the Federal courts would do it for them).
Governor Mixon was typically gracious with personal anecdotes, which all enjoyed. But Governon Kirk regaled the crowd as only he can do with his unique brand of humor, to remind us that while public service is serious business, it is never too serious to deny ourselves its lighter moments, especially when the "big shots" are subjects of the barbs.
It was a very special visit to my hometown of Tallahassee to recall the people, places, issues and occasions which are part of a very eventful life. -LC