Flags are at half-staff at all local and state buildings are flying at half-staff to mark the passing of former Florida Governor Reubin O’Donovan Askew. He died early this Thursday morning, March 13, at the age of 85. Last Saturday, Askew had been admitted to Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare to be treated for aspiration pneumonia. His condition worsened when he also suffered a stroke.
Governor Askew was the 37th Governor of Florida, and the first Governor to be elected to a second, successive four-year term in Florida history.
Askew and his family moved from Muskogee, Oklahoma to Pensacola in 1937. He graduated from Pensacola High School in 1946.
After graduation, Askew enlisted in the United States Army. After discharging as a sergeant in 1948, he once again served our country as a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force during the Korean War.
In 1955, he co-founded the law firm Levin & Askew, which is now Levin Papantonio. Governor Askew’s public service career began in 1956 when he served as assistant county solicitor for Escambia County. From there, he represented Pensacola in the Florida House of Representatives from 1959 to 1963, and then in the Florida Senate from '63-'71. In 1970, Askew defeated Republican incumbent Claude Kirk to become the state’s 37th Governor.
J. Earle Bowden, Editor Emeritus of the Pensacola News Journal, became good friends with Askew when they attended Florida State University. "We were students, and he still used to tell us how he was gonna' run for governor one day. People would laugh about that, but he was serious," says Bowden.
Askew's eight years in office came at a time of dramatic social change in the country, including the end of the Vietnam War and the integration of schools. During his service, he went on to pursue tax reform, the creation of water management districts, and improved ethical standards and accountability for candidates and public officials. Governor Askew taught at all ten major public universities in Florida, and most recently, he served as an eminent scholar chair at the Reubin O’D. Askew School of Public Administration and Policy at Florida State University. Additionally, Askew served two years as U.S. Trade Representative under former President Jimmy Carter.
During a 2006 symposium of former governors in St. Petersburg, Florida, Askew spoke about his time in office and the hard time he first considered seeking the governor's seat. "I worried a lot about a deficit. I didn't have an awful lot of money, and was embarrassed when I had to file my financial report," said Askew. On his political success beforehand he continued, "I had attempted to try to get certain laws passed when I was a senator and wasn't successful in that regard." Ultimately, he says his wife Donna Lou convinced him to run.
During the Askew administration, Florida government became more diverse. He brought in women to high post, integrated the Florida Highway Patrol, appointed the first African American to his cabinet, and named Joseph Hatchett as the state's first black Supreme Court Justice.
He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Donna Lou, two children – son, Kevin Askew, and daughter, Angela White -- and several grandchildren. Details of memorial services will be forthcoming.
Statement from Florida Gov. Rick Scott:
“His accomplishments were vast, but he remained humble and took his commitment to public service seriously. Governor Askew strove to make life better for all of Florida’s families, and that dedication is an example for all who followed in his footsteps. Ann and I mourn his passing and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Donna Lou, and his entire family.”
Statement from Florida Senate Don Gaetz (R-Niceville):
“The passing of Governor Reubin Askew leaves a lonesome place against the Florida sky. He opened up Florida’s government to its people and made our state a model for America. For those of us of a certain age who cut our political teeth in the 60’s and 70’s, Governor Askew was living proof that good guys can finish first. Integrity was his platform and honor was his policy. I was privileged to get to know him in his final years. One of the most memorable evenings of my life was the opportunity to co-teach his graduate class at Florida State. Being in his presence was like walking with history.”