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Biographies of Florida Politicians

Betty Castor

Hillsborough County Commissioner, 1972-1976

Florida State Senate, 1977-1979 and 1983-1987

Florida State Cabinet Education Commissioner, 1987-1994

Born and raised in Glassboro, New Jersey, Betty Castor attended Glassboro State College (today Rowan University), where she helped organize a drive to support education in Uganda. President John F. Kennedy appointed her on a diplomatic mission to attend Uganda’s independence celebrations in 1962. She attended Teachers College at Columbia University in 1963 before returning to Uganda. After her return to the U.S., she married Donald Castor in 1965 and started a family. Castor earned a Master of Education degree at the University of Miami in 1968, then moved to Tampa with her family. In 1972, she was the first woman to be elected to the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners. She advocated strongly for environmental reform, education, and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The became chair of the board in 1976, then was elected to the Florida Senate that same year. After losing a bid to become Lieutenant Governor in 1978, she was elected to the senate again in 1982, becoming the first female to hold the president pro tempore post in 1985.

Castor became the first woman elected to a post in the State Cabinet as Florida Education Commissioner. She became the first female president of the University of South Florida in 1994, where she expanded residential housing, endowments, the Honors College, and gained Research I status. She also ushered in the era of NCAA football for USF. From 1999 until 2002, she served as president for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. In 2004, she was narrowly defeated in a bid for one Florida’s seats in the U.S. Senate. In January 2007, she was appointed as Executive Director of USF’s Patel Center for Global Solutions.

Click here to access the finding aid for the Betty Castor collection »


LeRoy Collins (1909-1991)

33rd Governor of Florida, 1955-1961

LeRoy Collins was born in Tallahassee on March 10, 1909. Collins was elected as the representative of Leon County to the Florida House of Representatives in 1934. He served in this position until 1940 when he filled the term of the late William Hodges in the Florida Senate. He was reelected to the Florida Senate upon his return from World War II in 1946. Collins Served as Florida’s thirty-third Governor from 1955 to 1961 where he dealt with the complicated social and political issues of the time. His two greatest issues were the dismantling of segregation and the development of the Florida University system, including the University of South Florida in Tampa. Following his service in the federal government for President Johnson, Collins sought reelection to the Florida Senate in 1968. He won the primary but lost in the general election. His progressive stand for Civil Rights and his highly publicized role in the Selma, Alabama march while Director of Community Relations is credited with having cost him the 1968 Senate election.

Click here to access the finding aid for the LeRoy Collins papers »


Paul W. Danahy (1928- )

Florida House of Representataives, 1966-1974

Born in Massachuissetts in 1928, Danahy relocated to Florida and attended University of Tampa, graduating in 1951. He enlisted in the Army and served in the Korean War. He earned his law degree from the University of Florida and practiced law in Tampa in 1957. In 1975, he was appointed Circuit Judge for the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit, and was elected to a full term a year later. He served a chief judge of the Court in from 1986 to 1988. His last reelection occurred in 1990. His public service includes Assistant Florida Attorney General, Florida House of Representatives, and the Board of Directors of the Hillsborough County Bar Association. He served as Senior Judge from 1998 until 2008.


Jim Davis (1957- )

U.S. House of Representatives, 1997-2007

Jim Davis was born in Tampa, Florida in October of 1957 and attended Jesuit High School. He received his B.A. from Washington and Lee University in Virginia. He then attended the University of Florida College of Law in Gainesville, where he received his Juris Doctorate in 1982. Davis went on to practice law in Tampa, where he worked in private practice for several years until his election to the Florida House of Representatives, where he served from 1988-1996. He served as House Majority Leader from 1994-1996, and was elected as a Democrat to the 105th Congress. From January 3, 1997 to January 3, 2007, Davis served in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was the Democratic nominee for Governor of Florida in 2006, but lost the election to Republican nominee Charlie Crist. He has since returned to the practice of law at the Holland and Knight Law firm and has worked tirelessly for the organization Moving Hillsborough Forward, to promote transit.

Click here to access the finding aid for the Jim Davis collection »


Helen Gordon Davis (1926- )

Florida House of Representatives, 1975-1988

Florida State Senate, 1989-1993

Helen Gordon Davis was born in New York City and she moved to Tampa in 1948. In 1952, she was the first white woman in Florida to join the NAACP. Davis founded Florida’s first women’s center in 1971, and in 1974, she was the first woman elected from Hillsborough County to the Florida House of Representatives. She was reelected for six consecutive terms and, in 1988, was elected to the Florida Senate. Davis served as a Florida legislator for almost two decades, and she championed the civil rights of women and minorities.

Click here to access the finding aid for the Helen Gordon Davis collection »


Walter P. Fuller (1894-1973)

Florida legislature

As a young man, Fuller worked with his father who operated St. Petersburg’s streetcar system, some steamship lines, and a power plant. He speculated on railroad assets during the Florida Land Boom, at one time planning an ambition line to connect Tampa and St. Petersburg via Oldsmar, Clearwater, Safety Harbor, and Pinellas Park, but the project fizzled. He ran for the Florida Legislature in 1936. St. Petersburg Times journalist Jerry Blizin referred to Fuller as “a man who personally embodied the history of St. Petersburg — a developer who lost as many fortunes as he made; an author, editor, historian, raconteur, politician and wit.

Click here to access the finding aid for the Walter P. Fuller papers »


Sam M. Gibbons (1920- )

Florida State House of Representatives, 1953-1958

Florida State Senate, 1959-1962

U.S. House of Representatives, 1963-1977

Sam M. Gibbons was born in Tampa Florida in 1920. His tenure in law school was interrupted by World War II, when he volunteered for the Army, and later for duty as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division. He served with distinction and in 1951 Gibbons was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, where he drafted the bill founding the University of South Florida is Hillsborough County. He founded USF’s Foundation and served as its first president, expanded the City of Tampa by annexing suburbs, founded the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and began programs to save the state money and prevent corruption. He joined the Florida Senate in 1958, serving one term before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1962.

As a member of Congress, Gibbons became known as a moderate democrat interested in free trade and tax reform. He joined Congress in time to vote for the land mark civil rights bill, Medicare, President Johnson’s War on Poverty, and to vote for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution giving the president the power to wage war in Vietnam, a vote he came to regret. He funneled Urban Renewal funds into Tampa’s crumbling inner city. In 1969, he joined the influential Ways and Means Committee, where he would sit until his retirement in 1996, spending much attention on the Subcommittee on Trade. He put his free trade beliefs into action with the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), passing two versions in the 1980s. He retired in 1996 after a stormy stint as the voice of opposition to the new Republican majority. During and after his career, he repeatedly called for the U.S. to lift its trade embargo against Cuba.

For a glimpse at the creation of USF, see this lecture given by Gibbons and John F. Germany for the Tampa/Hillsborough County Library System.  Online access is also available to Nancy Hewitt’s 1985 interview with GibbonsRobert Kerstein’s 1988 interview with Gibbons, and a series of interviews conducted by Dr. Mark I. Greenberg and Andrew Huse in 2002/3.

Click here to access the finding aid for the Sam Gibbons collection »


Pam Iorio (1959- )

Mayor of Tampa, 2003-2001

Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections, 1993-2003

Pam Iorio was born in Maine in 1959 and moved to Temple Terrace, Florida, as an infant, where she attended local public schools. Iorio completed an M.A. in history at the University of South Florida. Her ties to USF were bonded early in her life because her father, John Iorio, was a charter member of the faculty as a Professor of English. Iorio is the youngest person ever elected to the Hillsborough County Commission at age 26 (1985-1992), and served as the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections (1993-2003), and the 57th mayor of Tampa (2003-2011). As Mayor, she guided the city through tough economic times, invested in downtown, arts and culture, water drainage, and development in impoverished East Tampa. She unsuccessfully advocated mass transit in her second term. She left office in 2011 with approval ratings of over 80 percent.


Frederick B. Karl (1924- )

Florida House of Representatives, 1956-1964

Florida Senate, 1968-1972

Florida Supreme Court, 1976-1978

Frederick Karl was born on May 14, 1924 in Daytona Beach Florida to Fred J. Karl and Mary Karl. He earned an undergraduate degree from University of Florida in 1942 and a law degree from Stetson University in 1949. In 1942, he enlisted in the army as a Private. At age 18 he was commissioned Second Lieutenant in Fort Knox, Kentucky. During his military service, he was Tank Platoon Leader in the 20th and 2nd Armored Divisions and was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart metals.

After receiving his law degree in 1949, he was employed by the Annis Mitchell Cockey Edwards & Roehn Law Firm. Karl served in the Florida House, ran for governor in 1964, was elected to the Florida Senate, and became the last elected justice of the Florida Supreme Court. He practiced law in Florida and Federal Courts, including the Florida Supreme Court, and served as City Attorney for Ormond Beach, Daytona Beach, and Tampa. He also held positions as Chief Legal Officer and County Administrator for Hillsborough County, and as President/CEO of Tampa General Hospital. He served on various committees such as the State Board of Independent Colleges and Universities, Southern Regional Education Board, Florida State Board of Optometry, the Governor’s Task Force for the Review of the Criminal Justice and Corrections Systems, and also as Chairman of the City of Tampa Ethics Commission. He was also involved in several community service organizations including the United Way of Hillsborough County, the Rotary Club of Tampa, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Overseers for Stetson University College of Law, and the Museum of Science and Industry. Mayor Pam Iorio named April 16, 2008 Frederick B. Karl day.

Click here to access the finding aid for the Frederick B. Karl papers »


James W. Kynes (1928-1988)

Florida Attorney General, 1964-1965

James W. “Jimmy” Kynes grew up in Marianna, Florida and attended the University of Florida where he received his bachelor’s degree from the College of Business Administration in 1950, and his law degree from the College of Law in 1955. Kynes then served two years in the U.S. Air Force before he started practicing law in Ocala, Florida. Kynes served as the executive assistant to Governor Farris Bryant, who named Kynes the Attorney General of Florida in 1964. In 1965, Kynes became the chief executive for corporate and legal public affairs for the Jim Walter Corporation of Tampa, and was later named vice-president of the company. Kynes dedicated much of his time to philanthropic activities in the Tampa Bay area, including Young Life, the Boys and Girls Club, and Metropolitan Ministries amongst others. He also served as president of the University of Florida Alumni association where the James W. Kynes Memorial Scholarship Fund was dedicated to his honor after his death in 1988.

Click here to access the finding aid for the James W. Kynes papers »


Sumter Lowry (1893-985)

Candidate for Governor, 1956

Sumter Lowry was a Florida business man and insurance company executive. He was a long time member of the Florida National Guard serving in World War I and World War II. Lowry was one of the founders of the American Legion. Lowry rose to the rank of Lieutenant General upon retiring from the Armed Forces of the United States. He ran for governor in 1956 on a segregation platform and was a vocal anti-integrationist and anti-communist for his entire life.


Mary Jane Martinez (1935- )

First Lady of Florida, 1987-1991

Mary Jane Martinez has served as a librarian and media specialist for King High School in Tampa for over 20 years. Martinez served as the First Lady of Florida from 1987-1991 and worked hard through her husband’s administration to fight drug abuse, promote libraries and strengthen families. In 1988 she was appointed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan to serve on the Advisory Committee of the White House Conference on Library and Information Services. She has served as the chairman of the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services, and as an honorary chairman of Florida Informed Parents. Martinez continues her efforts to promote libraries across the state and help raise private money to establish runaway shelters and children’s drug programs throughout Florida.

Click here to access the finding aid for the Mary Jane Martinez papers »


Dan Miller (1942- )

U.S. House of Representatives, 1993-2003

Dan Miller graduated from Manatee High School in Bradenton, Florida, in 1960. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida, and received his MBA from Emory University. He then earned his doctorate in Marketing & Statistics from Louisiana State University. He taught statistics and marketing at the graduate and undergraduate levels at Louisiana State University, Georgia State University, and the University of South Florida in Sarasota. After his teaching career, Miller became a successful entrepreneur in real estate and commercial development in the Tampa Bay area. He successfully ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1993 and in his ten year tenure, served in the House Appropriations Committee, the Budget Committee, and the Committee on Government Reform. As a staunch fiscal conservative, Miller was committed to both reducing the size and scope of the federal government, efforts that have earned him top voting record scores from both the National Taxpayers Union and Citizens Against Government Waste. After his political tenure, Miller returned to academia at the University of South Florida and is developing the Manasota Institute of Public Policy and Leadership at the Sarasota Campus of USF.


Herbert S. Phillips (1870-1962)

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, 1913-1921 and 1936-1953

Herbert S. Phillips was raised in Georgia and graduated from Emory University. Phillips was an active educator and lawyer in Tampa for over 50 years. He served as Florida State Attorney General for the Sixth Judicial Circuit from 1900-1913 and as United States District Attorney for the Southern District of Florida from 1913-1921 and 1936-1953. During his tenure as a Circuit Judge and District Attorney, Phillips prosecuted criminals to the fullest extent that was necessary to attain justice. Phillips was a man of deep convictions and did not hide his ardent support of the Sons of the Confederacy, segregation, and in his later years, anti-communism. Phillips actively participated in Tampa area Methodist and Christian causes, as well as the Greater Chamber of Commerce.

Click here to access the finding aid for the Herbert S. Phillips papers »


Jan Platt (1936- )

Hillsborough County Commissioner, 1978-2002

Janice Kaminis Platt (Jan K. Platt) was born in 1936 in St. Petersburg, Florida. After attending University of Florida, University of Virginia, and Vanderbilt University for postgraduate studies, Platt ran for public office. She was first elected as a Tampa City Council Member from 1974-1978 before being elected to serve on the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners, where she held office from 1978-1994. As an active County Commissioner, Platt has fought to protect the environment, keep government honest, and assure balanced, managed growth. This collection contains extensive records from Commissioner Platt’s activities in public office ranging from 1974 to 1994.

Click here to access the finding aid for the Jan Platt papers »


T. Terrell Sessums (1930- )

Florida House of Representatives, 1963-1974

Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, 1974-1976

T. Terrell Sessums was born in 1930 and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Florida in 1953 and briefly served in the United States Air Force. He received his law degree from the College of Law at the University of Florida in 1958 and began his legal career in Tampa for the law firm of Hardee and Ott. In 1959 and 1961, Sessums worked for the former Senator Sam Gibbons before he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1963. He served as Speaker pro tempore from 1968 to 1970 and Speaker of the House from 1972 to 1974. He served as chairman of the House Education Committee from 1970 to 1972, and was active in pressing for more equitable allocation of education funds. Sessums also played a major role in the establishment of the University of South Florida College of Medicine in 1971.

Click here to access the finding aid for the T. Terrell Sessums papers »

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