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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interviewer: Shawn Strange
Interviewee: Joseph Mills Ripley
March 14, 1993
S: This is Shawn Strange, and I am doing an oral history interview with Joseph Mills
Ripley, III. He is an attorney in Jacksonville, Florida. He is also my stepfather. We
are in the breakfast room of his home at 4749 River Point Road in Jacksonville,
Florida. It is March 14, 1993. This will be a lifetime interview, concentrating on the
time he spent as a student at the University of Florida.
Could you tell a story that you had told about your grandmother, [that] was your
R: You were asking me what my earliest memories were, and they were certainly of my
grandmother. She was a very self-reliant lady. Her husband--my grandfather--died
in the early 1920s. We lived in what was considerably south of Jacksonville--Route
6, Box 26R is what they taught me to learn. I was "Joseph M. Ripley the third" and
Route 6, Box 26R was my residence address in case I ever got lost. It is now
opposite Oak Lawn Cemetery. My grandmother had stayed out there in the woods
with a big old house on the river (similar to what we are living in now), and a twelve-
gauge shotgun that she knew how to work well was always on the mantle. She
raised her two kids out there in the woods. We had chickens, and the big bad
"wootaw" was my big nemesis. Whenever I would go visit with the folks, to get from
the car to my grandmother's house, I had to surmount and pass the evil of the big
bad "wootaw," or the big red rooster. It would always chase after me as I tried to get
to the house.
My grandmother taught me to swim and fish in the St. Johns River. Back then, it
was very clean and pure. This would be around 1938, 1939, or 1940--somewhere
around then. You could get freshwater fish. She would tie me to the end of a post
out there on the dock so I could not fall off, (we had a little covered shed over the
top of the end of it) and [so I could] catch fish with a hand line. My dad had built her
a round wire hamper to keep live fish in [that was] about six feet long. So as the tide
rose and fell, the fish would always be in the water. We were [then] able to leave
them alive over a period of days so we would always have fresh fish.
We caught eels, [and] Grandmother was quite capable of taking the eels and nailing
them up by their heads to the side of the barn. She would skin them, and we would
have fried eel. If we got soft shell turtles, we had cooter hash or cooter chowder.
She would take a big apron and a hatchet, and I would help her get the barnacles off
of the sides of the piling running out into the river on the dock. We [would] take clay
from the banks, make shrimp balls mixing the barnacles in with them, and let them
get ripe in the sun. We then put them off the dock, and caught shrimp with a cast
net. It was a really nice, interesting way of coming up.
S: What are shrimp balls?
R: This would be baked for the shrimp. We would take the barnacles which had the
fresh living parts of the animal that inhabit the barnacles, and they would be
chopped up. We would mix that with clay in balls, just like you would make mud
balls. We would sit them out for a day so that they would get ripe in the sun and
start smelling. We would then throw them into the water, and have a little marker on
the dock where we had thrown them into the water. That would attract the shrimp,
and then we would cast the net over that area to catch the shrimp.
S: What is your birthdate?
R: I was born on November 9, 1936, in Jacksonville.
S: Were you born at home?
R: No, I was born at Riverside Hospital.
S: Your grandparents lived right next door, you said?
R: My grandfather had died in the early 1920s in an accident. He had just become a
sergeant in World War I. Very shortly after he got home from the war, he fell off of
the barn and hit his head on something. He died a month or so thereafter, I am told.
He was buried on the property, so we had a little grave site for him inside a fenced
enclosure. Until she died, Grandmother kept it up nicely. She continued to live out
When I was somewhere between four and five, my dad and mother bought an area
just to the south of where my grandmother's place was. It had a little garage
apartment, and we moved out there. So we really lived next door to her. But the
earlier time that I am speaking of, we lived on the lake at Lake Marco. My dad had a
sixteen or seventeen foot long teak speedboat that we would run out from the dock
at Lake Marco. The bulkhead really did not have a dock into the lake, but we had a
lift and kept the boat up onto the bulkhead. We would often run out to
Grandmother's to visit her with the boat.
S: So Lake Marco was connected to the St. Johns [River]?
R: Yes, and we still go under the little entryway that connects them. It is what we used
to call the "Thrill Bridge." It was kind of high, so you could speed up over it. It was
probably very dangerous, but you really felt like you were flying when you came off
the other end.
S: Is "Thrill Bridge" still there?
R: Yes, they redesigned it so it is no longer is as sharp of an angle as it was, but the
little harbor that connected the lake to the river goes under what we called the "Thrill
S: That was the one that went toward Ortega?
R: No, this is Lake Marco, south of the Fuller Warren, very close to where we used to
live on River Road. [It is] just a little bit north of there. Lake Marco is in San Marco.
S: OK. When you moved onto the property of Route 6, Box 26, that had a garage
S: What was the next thing that was built there?
R: Well, the first thing that happened was my grandmother died when I was about
eight. She was run over by a fellow who had just gotten out of prison. He ran four
feet off of the road and hit her, killing her. She and I had been over on the far side
of what is now San Jose Boulevard. We owned at that time what is the new part of
Oak Lawn Cemetery. That was our little area to go fishing and "putzing" around in.
We had just gone and picked out the Christmas tree, cut [it] down, and carried [it]
over to her house. She had gone back up to the little sundry store to pick up
something to have for the evening. She was coming home and was killed.
She lived in her old house--which was is very similar to the one that we are presently
living in--with my Uncle Wayne. At that time he was a lieutenant in the navy, and he
was off in World War II. He came home, of course, for the funeral, and then lived
there after World War II. About the time he was deciding to get married, he and my
dad divided the property. Dad built a big basement between my grandmother's
house and the little garage apartment, and moved the core part of my grandmother's
house on it so we had all of the really old hand-hewn timbers in there all done with
wood pegs. It was built about 1840, and we built our home around it. And then Dad
built a home for my uncle and Aunt Frances on the site where my grandmother's
house was. But my dad and my uncle lived their whole lives, [were] born and raised,
there. My dad died there. My uncle was rather infirm at the time of his death, so he
died in an old folks' home. But they lived their entire lives right where they were
S: Who built the house originally?
R: I have no idea. The old one that was my grandmother's and grandfather's was on
the property when my grandparents bought it in 1907.
S: You keep mentioning a barn. Did you raise livestock?
R: Oh, sure. The first time I really remember being frightened in my life was on my
sixth birthday. My dad bought a cow for me from an old fellow named Danese.
Three generations of the Daneses were plumbers for us. One of them raised cows
as a side job. Dad had bought this cow for me for my sixth birthday present. Mr.
Danese brought it in on his little pickup truck. The poor cow was scared to death
and would not get off the truck; he started beating it with a stick to get it to go off the
truck on a little narrow board they had put up there for it to walk down on. All of a
sudden the cow starts running as fast as she can go because she is scared. I saw
my birthday present escaping and running away, and I was afraid that I would never
see her again. So I started running off down the road after my birthday present cow,
just crying as hard as I could go.
So we had a barn and we raised cows. We had calves [that we] butchered for the
meat. We had pigs that one memorable time; we butchered them. We always had
chickens. They were able to walk into the woods and pick for worms [along with] the
other natural things that chickens eat. We would throw out corn and grain for them.
Now they sell that sort of thing and call it "range fed poultry" and charge about three
times as much as they do for the awful tasteless chickens that you find in the stores.
But we had them fresh all of the time. We also had rabbits that we raised and killed
for meat. [We] always [had] fresh milk, butter, and cream. We made our own
buttermilk, and we had sour cream, and all of the things that you can do with milk
S: Are there any other things that you remember before going to school, like really vivid
R: In terms of recreation, my dad and two uncles had bought half of a lake that had a
fish camp on it. That was between Johnson and Orange Springs, Florida. It was
about three miles off of the hard road. That is where we spent our vacations and
many weekends. I did a lot of learning to fish and fishing down there all of the time
[when I was] coming up, until my college days. Of course we played all of the
normal sorts of sports that kids play. I did not do much football; I played everything
but football. I made a lot of very good friends, many of whom are friends to this day.
Out of those coming up times, I was in the first class at Dupont when it opened, and
[I] went through the ninth grade there. At this time we had to transfer to Landon. I
was senior class president at Landon, [and] we have constant reunions and
renewals of those early days. It was a very good time to be coming up in
S: How did you get to and from school?
R: [It was] a combination of things, I suppose. When the weather was bad, Mother
would take us. There was a bus that would pick us up. Our home was probably
1200 or 1300 feet from the road. Our home was up on the river, and we would just
walk back to the hard road. With the growth of Jacksonville, the old Route 6, Box
26R all of a sudden changed into what is now the San Jose Boulevard. We walked
back to the hard road, and a bus would pick us up. From time to time we would
walk either home or to school, depending on how much time I had and how pretty
the weather was. For example, coming home from Dupont there is a place up to the
north of it now called San Jose Forest that is [now] nice homes. At the time that I
was in school it was just a nice pine forest. We would walk home through there
because it was just very beautiful.
S: What year did you graduate from high school?
R: In 1954, from Landon.
S: You then went to the University of Florida?
R: No, [because] my senior English teacher--a very fine lady named Hunter Perkins--
convinced me, along with five of my friends, that rather than just going straight down
to the University [of Florida]--which is all that really would have been on my mind--it
would be wise to go somewhere where we were not really known, to get a chance to
know something more about ourselves and how to study.
So six of us from that Landon class of 1954 went to Washington and Lee University
in Lexington, Virginia. That was indeed a wonderful educational experience. I spent
two winters up there before I decided I had enough of that, and transferred to the
University of Florida the spring semester of 1956, for the second semester of my
S: Who were the six people that went up there with you?
R: Well, my good friends Russell Mickler and Archie Jenkins, Tommy King, Bob Hess,
and myself. There may have been five instead of six; that is all that I can recall at
S: What are your memories of Washington and Lee?
R: [It is] very beautiful, [and] is in the heart of the old part of the Confederacy. We
became very steeped in the lore of the southern gentlemen in the Confederate
[States of America]. After the end of the War between the States, General Lee was
asked to assume the presidency of what was then known as Washington College.
He was president until his death. After his death, the name was changed to
Washington and Lee University. We were well steeped in both revolutionary history
from Washington and Confederate history with Lee. We learned a lot about the Old
South and the traditions of Virginia. It was certainly an interesting experience, but a
year and a half of it was about enough for me. I was ready to see what the
University of Florida was like. All of my friends from high school had said, "If you are
going to live in Florida and politic down here when you get out of school, now is the
time to come and see what it is all about." With some regrets, I was happy to move
on down to Florida.
S: So you came to the University of Florida. What are your first memories about it?
R: I was a little bit concerned about where I was going to live. I had stacked my car
with all of my worldly possessions.
S: What kind of car did you have?
R: It was a 1952 Cadillac Coupe De Ville that my dad had given to me. It was as full of
things as it could be from Washington and Lee. I just left them in when I visited at
home for a few days before I moved on down to Florida. As I drove in the main road
going into the main entrance of the campus on the left right before the corner, I
noticed the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity house. That is the fraternity that I was a
member of at Washington and Lee. In fact, I had lived in the fraternity house there.
So I decided on the way to the campus that I would stop at the fraternity house and
introduce myself. Fortunately, I found that there was one space in the fraternity
house, so I was invited to room there. I moved in, and that gave me a place to stay
on campus from the start. My relationship with the University of Florida started off
very pleasantly, and it remained that way the entire time that I was down there.
S: What did you study?
R: I got a bachelor's degree of science in business administration, and then a master's
degree--an M.B.A.--in business administration. [I then got] a bachelor of law
degree. This was later exchanged for a juris doctor.
S: What were local things that you did on weekends and nights at the University of
Florida? Where did people go?
R: It was probably no different than it is down there now. Since I was in the fraternity
house, that was basically the center of activities. One memorable year I was the
kitchen manager. As you work out a budget, some of the funds are allocated for
entertainment and parties. There is supposedly so much for this, and so much for
that, and so much for food. If the football team was doing well, everybody all of
sudden wanted to do more partying, [and] the kitchen manager got left with less
money than was budgeted for food. To this day I do not care for those meals of
peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or tuna casserole. We would often have that
three or four nights a week toward the end of the month, if there were a lot of parties
going on and the entertainment budget took the food budget. But the house was the
center of party activities for the fraternity members. We studied, learned about
human nature, and hopefully [learned] a bit about how to handle and budget money.
S: You were talking about describing an entrance into Gainesville?
R: It was a little two-lane road there, and there were big oak trees along it. Up on the
corner where there is a big filling station now on the left, was the SAE [Sigma Alpha
Epsilon] house. Right on the other side of that was the entrance to the campus.
One of the things that the kids did to relieve tensions and frustrations right about the
time that exams came would be to have panty raids and riots. There were many
times where we would stay up all night long trying to protect the girls' dorms and the
streets from rocks and people just venting their frustrations and [letting] steam off.
S: When you say riots, what do you mean?
R: They would have panty raid riots. If you look back at some of the Alligators here,
there are interesting pictures of the riots during exam periods. During my graduate
school and law school, I was a resident assistant in the upper class dorm. Part of
the duty was to try to help the administration and the campus police maintain order
on the campus. Those of us involved in those activities spent our time trying to
prevent the riots.
S: When you were younger, did you participate in them?
R: No, I always thought that was a little dumb; [during] exam time, I was studying.
S: Did you get involved in student politics?
R: Yes, I got all tied up with campus activities.
S: When did that start?
R: The spring semester that I arrived. Student elections were going on shortly after
that. A fellow named Hobson Strain was the Florida Blue Key member in the
Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. He is still a good friend, and is now the tax collector in
Polk County. Hobson and a fellow named Murray Williams, the clerk of the honor
court, introduced me to campus politics.
Two big campus heroes were Fletcher Fleming, student body president, and Bill
Basford, who I think at that time was president of the Florida Blue Key. I will never
forget when they took me to the campus political meeting that was in Bill Basford's
backyard. He and his wife Pat lived in Flavet Village #3. It was probably 1:30 or
2:00 in the morning that we were still out there drinking beer and [discussing]
politics, [when] this voice came from the window [saying] "Bill Basford, get yourself
in here right this minute." This great big campus hero very meekly excused himself
and went in to bed.
I later met his wife Pat who kind of mother-henned me and showed me the ropes
around campus. My first political job was being justice on the student traffic court.
Pat was the secretary--the paid person who handled the administrative affairs. She
was the secretary to the traffic court. She and Bill became very good friends [to
me]. They are divorced now, but they both remain friends to this day. Their son
Mike (who was a little kid back then) is a good friend, lawyer, and fishing buddy [of
I studied; I learned that the University of Florida was just as good a school as
Washington and Lee was. If you wanted your grades to be acceptable, you needed
to study. So I spent a lot of time in the libraries studying and doing all of the
different things in campus politics. The next thing that I got involved in was the
Interfraternity Council. I ended up being president of the IFC one year. That led to
[my] running for student body president.
S: Talk about that race for student body president.
R: That was really an exciting time. I had planned to go ahead and get my master's in
business administration and come back home and work in my dad's concrete block
manufacturing business. We did commercial real estate development, and he had a
manufacturing plant for concrete products. I planned to come on home and work in
that. Bob Graham, instead of running for student body president, had decided to go
to Harvard Law School. I am sure that he and his family made the decision ahead
of time, but we were not aware of it until close to the time for qualifying for student
body president. Encouraged by a number of friends, Blair Culpepper and I decided
to run for student body president against each other. I figured [that] if I happened to
win, I would stay on and go to law school. I was fortunate enough to win, and that
pushed me on to law school. Now, some thirty-one years after graduation, I am still
practicing and enjoying law.
S: You had talked about getting the engineers behind you on that vote?
R: The big fraternities and the big sororities controlled the campus politics back then,
[and] they probably still do to some extent. They are a very heavy social animal and
pressure group; they put together a big block of about 2,500 votes. To beat their
block vote and encourage the independents to vote, we were actively looking for
ways of enlarging the vote.
Luke McKissick, who is now an attorney in Beverly Hills, California, was my
independent chairman. Ron Cacciatori--who is now a great trial lawyer in the
Tampa area--was my fraternity and sorority co-chairman. They brainstormed and
came up with the idea that perhaps something could be done to encourage the
engineers to participate in student government. Traditionally, the engineers had not
been very active in campus politics. We thought that might be a good way of
enlarging the vote. Our investigations showed that there were two people over
there--Bob Alligood and Dick Shirley--who had done essentially everything that you
could do in the engineering school in the way of service and leadership positions.
We offered Bob Aligood the slot to run for vice president, and [we offered] Dick
Shirley the slot for secretary-treasurer. They both accepted--they were both fine,
fine fellows. Between them, they had over a ninety percent turnout in the
engineering school. We got essentially all of that block vote of engineers who
normally did not participate in student government.
I won the election. To his everlasting credit, Blair Culpepper, my opponent and I
hope still my friend, was walking across campus the next day, and I saw that he was
sporting a slide rule from his belt. He was taking it graciously. [laughter]
S: What were some of your experiences as the student body president? What things
did you go through with the administration? What events [occurred]? You got to
see it from a completely different side than you had before.
R: Dr. Reitz was the president of the University. Dr. Lester Hale was the dean of men.
Marna Brady, a retired marine colonel, was the dean of women. I got to know all of
them pretty well. I really respected the work and the energy that they put into things.
I got a good perspective on how students and faculty can work together. I think we
had a good working relationship. It was really a wonderful experience. I found
enough of the normal political things that students complained about--just like voters
do nowadays--and I decided as a result of that experience that I really did not want
to spend my life in politics. It was an exceptionally good experience from that
S: Had you thought about politics as a profession before?
R: Wayne Ripley, my uncle, did not get married until he was in his forties. He lived next
door to us coming up, and had been the county solicitor for about twenty years in
Duval County. He was then a state senator for several terms. I spent a lot of time
with him and enjoyed going to the courthouse with him as a kid. I passed out
campaign literature for him and thought politics would be an interesting avocation.
The student government experience pretty much convinced me that you could
spend all of your time working on politics, and that did not really leave any time for
studies or other things. I determined from that [experience] that I did not want to
spend my life on politics. My grade point average went from a 3.5 to a 2.0 during
the campaign semester. While it was an enjoyable experience, it also convinced me
that I did not want to let politics be my life.
S: What were major issues on campus while you were student body president?
R: [laughter] There was a lot of conflict between the fraternity and sorority block and
the independent students. For example, one of the big issues in the campaign was
that the fraternity and sorority pledges got the very best seats at the football games.
They had a card section that they would hold up that outlined various slogans. The
student section was opposite the alumni section in the stadium, so the fraternity and
sorority pledges got the fifty yard line seats. The independent students did not think
that was right; you did not have to belong to a fraternity or sorority to be able to hold
up a card. One of our issues was to open up the card sections to all of the students.
We did in fact do that. That was probably the biggest issue--the idea of fraternity
and sorority domination and control of campus politics.
I am glad to say that an awful lot of independent students became members of
Florida Blue Key as a result of the several years of affiliation in the primarily
independent-dominated administration that I led. [An independent named] Bob Park
was elected on the same party ticket as myself the next year. Bruce Bullock,
another independent, was elected the following year. So there were three
consecutive years of people who were not in the power group down there. They got
the opportunity to participate in student government in the leadership roles.
S: Was there anything else--any other memorable issues you dealt with?
R: Yes. About that time, the year that I was president of the Interfraternity Council,
Dean Hale called me into the office one day. He told me that he had just come back
from a national meeting of deans of men. In campuses around the country, a big
urge was coming up to cease the traditional "hell week" hazing that went on for
pledges right before they were initiated into fraternities. [They wanted] to replace
that with something a little more worthwhile and meaningful. He asked me if we
would consider changing "hell week" to "help week." He teased me for years after
that. He said my response was "Whoooooooo!" Indeed, it was a big loaf to chew
on. I reflected on it, talked with the others that were in leadership roles in the IFC,
and we concluded that there was a lot of merit to that. We were able to lobby along
and get the fraternity and sorority council to agree to end the traditional hazing.
They replaced it with wholesome work projects; I hope that is still going on. That
really made a lot more sense. For example, we would find a Salvation Army or
some other service organization there who would put us in touch with a nice
deserving couple or widow who needed work done around the house. We would
take on as a project the painting and fixing up of a house, instead of getting paddled
by all of the upperclassmen. I think it was a very good trade-off.
S: Did it really change things? Does hazing still go on?
R: Yes, I am sure it did. But hopefully [it was] in a much more toned-down version.
S: You had talked before about planning the Reitz Union building?
R: Yes, I was on the committee that did the planning for it. Of course, at that time, Dr.
Reitz was still president of the University of Florida. So it was not thought of as the
Reitz Union; it was a new student activities union to replace Bryan Hall. I spent a lot
of hours with other students and members of the faculty and the administration on a
planning committee on that. In later years, they were really tickled to see how well
[a project] that we had worked so many hours on had all worked out. They were
particularly glad to see that it was named for Dr. Reitz, who was really a wonderful,
dedicated person to the University of Florida.
S: Were there any teachers that were very memorable to you?
R: Dr. William Fox was head of the Industrial Relations Section in the College of
Business Administration. I had the top grades in those courses. During my senior
year, he invited me to be his student assistant. If my memory is right, it paid the
magnificent sum of $50 a month. I came to learn very quickly that basically involved
being his slave. He decided that I should do all of the grading [of the] tests. That
was fine. They were both essay and multiple choice. He then decided that since I
had done the grading, it was only fair that if the students had an objection to their
grade, I ought to be the one to sit there in his office and review their complaints. So
I got a good education on the difficulty of defending your position on the grading of
an essay paper. When he had conflicts, he would generally schedule movies on
related subjects. Of course, I got the opportunity to teach the class on those days. I
would basically show movies and answer questions. It was really a good learning
experience. He had a very good analytical mind and was constantly searching for
the questions that differentiated between the top students and the worst students.
One of our standard tests of the integrity of the test was for me to take the top ten
students' grades, and the lowest ten students' grades, and see how they did on all
the questions on the test. As far as Dr. Fox was concerned, the perfect question
was the one that the top ten students got and none of the bottom ten students got. I
think that is still pretty good technique.
Dr. William Carleton was head of the political science department. I spent a lot of
very interesting hours in his classes, and I had several talks with him about student
government and its function and place in the campus. I learned a lot from him. He
was a great teacher as well.
In the law school [there was] Dean Fenn, who had come down from Yale. [He] was
a wonderful teacher and person. Dr. Frank Maloney, the subsequent dean, [was
also good]; there were a lot of good people down there.
S: Had the law school building been built?
R: No, we were in that little old building up there on the corner. I really do not know
what is in that now. It is a gabled roof affair up on the corner. The College of
Business Administration was the more modern building right next to it going west. I
really did not move very far in my career at Florida; I went from the College of
Business Administration to one building over--the law school. Actually, where the
new law school is was a revered place in most of the students' minds at the time. It
was called Beta Woods. That was where you went with your girlfriend to park after
you finished whatever your campus activities were.
S: You got married during the time that you were at UF, right?
R: I married the spring semester of my senior year. My wife and later my daughter
Beth lived with me in Fletcher L. I was a resident assistant for my graduate school
and college years there. So we spent four years living amongst about 1,500 male
students in Fletcher L.
S: What was her full maiden name?
R: Sandra Jennings.
S: And Beth?
R: Beth was born the summer of my graduate school. So she spent three years down
there with us.
S: What was her full name?
R: Elizabeth Annette Ripley.
S: I remember you spoke about women entering the law school.
R: We had all three [women] in my law school class. The first black student was in my
law school class as well. The law school library was traditionally male. If any
females [like] a girlfriend or a wife--much less a female student--[entered the library],
we had the famous law school shuffle. [This was where] you just shuffled your feet
until they decided they were unwelcome and left. So the three girls learned quickly
to get their books and study elsewhere. I think it has changed a bit now, and it is
probably for the best.
S: Would anybody try to stay through the shuffle?
R: No, women's lib had not reared its interesting head at that point.
S: You said the first black student at the University of Florida was at the law school.
Did that cause any conflicts?
R: There were absolutely none that I can recall. His first name was George, and I
cannot immediately resurrect from my memory bank the last name, but he would
probably have a lot better insights on any problems if there were any. I remember
him as a very good student who was frequently called on and [who] acquitted
S: Were you there when the first women's dorm was built?
R: No. I remember we were looking through one of these yearbooks and up where the
bell tower is now, there was a big sign that had been put up commemorating what
was going on with the construction of it. Overnight, somebody had written in hand-
painted letters, "This barn and silo for sale," together with something like "11,000
animals and 3,000 pigs." I think that would probably be representative of the
number of females who were on campus when I arrived. [It was] probably not a very
apt description, either.
S: You were there when Century Tower was being built?
S: When did they start that?
R: I do not remember the year. It was finished while I was there. I remember we used
to have little assemblies in that old building next to it--was it Bryan Hall?--where
there was a nice, big organ.
S: Was there anything else, like places you used to [go]?
R: It really looks to me like the downtown has done very much like most downtown in
other places; it looks like the downtown has moved to the suburbs. I forget the
name of the place, but we used to think that their snapper fingers were the best
seafood available. When we would have a few extra dollars we would get takeouts
of Captain Louie's seafood.
S: That is still there.
R: Your mom and I were down there a year ago, and I said, "I cannot imagine that
Captain Louie's is still here; let's go try it." It was borderline inedible. So, either my
memory has faded, or my taste has increased a lot.
Occasionally, we would also go to a drive-in movie (especially since we had my
daughter Beth). I do not think there is a drive-in movie anymore.
S: Where was the drive-in movie?
R: [It was] considerably east of where you turn off to go west of the campus now. One
of the highlights from Saturday night--if we had enough money--was to secure a
bottle of Jack Daniels. Sandra and I did not have a television in the early years
down there. Bill and Pat Basford did. So I would bring a bottle of Jack Daniels,
Sandra and Pat would fix a meal, and we would watch the great, wonderful Saturday
entertaining shows back-to-back of "Gunsmoke" and the one that Paladin was in.
Those two westerns were the highlight of our week, with a little bit of Jack Daniels
along the way.
S: [Was there] anything else?
R: I think that pretty well covers the highlights. I finally did learn to study and ended up
with some pretty decent grades. I have certainly treasured the memories of the
University of Florida. I made some wonderful friends who have remained friends.
In fact, Ron Nemeyer, who was our next door neighbor on River Road, died several
weeks ago. Your mom was out of town, and I ended up at the funeral [alone].
Frank Perritt, who became a good friend when we were down at Florida together,
was there; we ended up sitting together at the funeral. I think the best part of the
University was the friendships that you made and kept through the years. There
were a lot of nice, pleasant memories.
S: You graduated in what year?
R: I got my bachelor's degree in 1958, my master's in 1960, and my law degree in
S: So after you graduated from the University of Florida, what did you do?
R: I could not quite escape the family business after all. Fred, our sales manager at
the concrete plant, was unexpectedly diagnosed with a massive tumor. He died
about three months before my graduation. So I went home and tried working in the
family business as the sales manager. I decided that I really did not orient so well to
that after all the education. I got the opportunity to move to Fernandina Beach and
owned a concrete plant over there in early 1964. So I worked for my dad's business
for a year and a half. Then I moved to Fernandina Beach, and I owned the concrete
plant there while I was establishing a law practice. I sold [the concrete plant] some
seven or eight years later and practiced law full time.
S: Was your father alive this whole time?
R: Yes. He died in 1968.
S: When did you start practicing law?
R: I started in Jacksonville and practiced a little bit on the side when I was working for
my dad. In Fernandina Beach I built a separate office at the concrete plant. I
practiced there for probably two years. And then one of the nice, old, respected
lawyers in Fernandina, Tom Shave, invited me to go into practice with him. He and I
built the little office that you recall on South 5th Street, across from the courthouse.
We built that together and moved in there, I think, in 1966 or 1967; [it was]
something like that.
S: Did he have a son named John?
R: That would be a grandson. His two boys were Tom III and Ben. John would be
S: I went to school with him.
R: He was probably an excellent golfer and baseball player.
S: Yes, he played for Mississippi State.
Is this when Joey and Patty were born?
R: Yes, both of them were born while we were in Fernandina. Beth is thirty-four, Joey
is twenty-eight, and Patty is twenty-five. I think [Patty and Joey were born in] 1963
S: What were some things about Fernandina in that time period that [would be worth
R: Well, the most exciting thing in my personal life there, is that shortly after I arrived,
both Rayonier and Container decided to do massive expansions. Rayonier did
about a $65 million expansion and Container did about $125 million in expansion.
My little concrete plant got to supply the ready-mix concrete for both of those
About the time that Container finished up, they announced that the Amelia Island
Plantation was going to be built. They expected it to do something like $500 million
worth of construction in the next three to four years. I was fortunate enough to get
the purchase order for all of that. At about that time, the conglomerates decided that
it was time for them to move into that area because it was growing. Fortunately, that
coincided with the time that I was ready to practice law full time. The problems of
400%-500% growth in a business really are taxing on both capital and man power.
So I ended up selling my ready-mix plant. It is now owned by Florida Rock, a large
conglomerate that used to be Shands and Baker and Capital Concrete.
I have devoted full time to practicing law since [then]. One interesting sidelight to
the Fernandina years that was most interesting and educational for me was [when] I
was the last city judge that Fernandina Beach had. I did that job for about eight
years. I ceased only when the Florida constitution was changed, and it was
determined that all of the judges had to be full time. Of course I did not want to be a
full-time city judge, nor did they need a full-time city judge. So we phased out the
city system and merged it into the county system, so that county judge now handles
both what I did and the outlying areas of the county.
S: Was the shrimp festival going on at all?
R: I was there when it started. In fact, since I was the city judge, I was asked to be the
judge. I went around in a little portable jail that they had to round up people who did
not have beards on. We imposed a fine on them to release them from jail.
S: You were one of the pirates that landed?
R: Yes, I was the very first one. I was in the first year's [festival when] I was the first
judge in the little jail there.
S: You knew Ray Caldwell, who helped promote all of that?
R: Sure, and his son was a good friend; I used to play a lot of tennis with his son.
S: Were there any other events you can think of [in Fernandina]?
R: There were a lot of exciting times over there. I represented a corporate president
who, on the eve of his divorce, decided that he did not want to pay alimony. He
[then] hired somebody to murder his wife. It was a very interesting story. The
criminal part of that ended up getting consolidated with some other cases, and I did
not handle the criminal part. I did the civil work. But he was out of jail for about
seven years and it was consolidated with the unreasonableness of the death penalty
cases. We got all the way to the United States Supreme Court. His chauffeur was
later given immunity and testified against him. He and the person who actually killed
the next door neighbor by mistake ended up going to prison. [The executive] died in
prison. That was a pretty interesting case.
I also represented several mayors, some of whom were quite colorful characters.
S: In what way?
R: For example, [there was] Joseph Smiley Lee.
S: Like the gas station Smiley's?
R: No, that was Topsy Smith. One weekend when I was out of town (fortunately), John
Beckett (the barber), Topsy Smith, and Smiley Lee--three of the five city councilmen
at the time--were arrested on a bribery charge. I did not represent any of them--
thank God. But it was certainly interesting and colorful.
A particular assistant state attorney and Smiley developed a great animosity toward
each other. The assistant state attorney represented the Amelia Island people who
always wanted to "close the beach" so they could control the use of the beach. In a
public meeting on it, Smiley took a whack at him.
S: He hit him?
R: Yes, apparently quite well; it was not bleeding, but it was described to me. That
certainly did not enhance their relationship.
Later, Smiley ended up in a fight at the Palace with somebody else. He was later
arrested, and they put a bond on him. He posted bond over everybody's objections
because he was apparently drunk as a skunk. Lieutenant Mott said he was back at
the Palace writing up the incident report from the fellow that Smiley had been in a
fight with. He said, "All of a sudden the doors just burst open, and it was the mayor
again! And he came in and decked him again."
So they arrested Smiley again, and the assistant state attorney was trying to have
the jurisdiction transferred to the circuit court. It was a very political case that ended
up being heard in the city court before it got transferred, so that kept double
jeopardy from interfering. Smiley ended up being disciplined on those things in the
city court, rather than letting the fellow who did not much care for him get another
whack at him over in the circuit court. That was a very interesting case that got an
awful lot of conversation about town at the time, as you can imagine.
Fernandina was a very colorful place. At that time in the city court, we did not have
all of the bells or whistles that we do nowadays with the court system. The police
chief was my clerk, and I very much discouraged people from having lawyers. I felt
like they ought to have their say. My policy was that if we could not finish it in a brief
time that morning, we would just reconvene court after work. We held it on Monday
mornings, and we would reconvene in the evenings. We would meet in the evening
for those who needed a half hour to present a case so that everybody felt like they
had their say. I did it for eight years. I would do about 4,000 to 4,500 cases a year,
so that is something over 30,000 cases. Not only was no case ever appealed, but I
do not even know of anybody who threatened to do an appeal on one.
I have often thought that the disgruntlement that we presently have with our court
system would certainly be reduced and ameliorated if all the lawyers [did not]
interfere with people feeling like they really get their say in court. If it were just the
judges and the people who were accused of things and their witnesses, the folks
would feel like they actually had their day in court. I never found anybody I ruled
against who did not feel like they got a fair shake. As long as they were allowed to
say what they wanted to say about it, they would accept an adverse ruling when it
came. I think an awful lot of the disrespect we have for the court system is because
the people feel like they are left out of it now.
S: Do you find that a contradiction now because you are a lawyer?
R: I do not do much in the way of a criminal practice anymore; [I do] mostly civil trials.
Since I do trials, people certainly get to say what they want to say. I still think that
we made a very great mistake when we eliminated the justices of the peace and the
constables, and [the practice of having] the people's court in the area where [the]
people lived. I think [it is a poor practice to] put big black robes on everybody, stick
them down in the courthouse and remove them from the people (certainly for the
types of cases that you get a lot of in the city and municipal courts involving
drunkenness, disorderly conduct, and family disputes). I think that they are poorly
handled now, compared to how they were handled back when you had someone in
the community who knew the people, and the justice was administered where the
people lived and were known about. I think that is one of the reasons our system
has lost a great deal of respect in the time that I have been practicing.
S: [How long did you stay in Fernandina Beach?]
R: I stayed there until the mid to late 1970s. My Uncle Wayne had been a very popular
lawyer here in Jacksonville. When I tried practicing a little bit before I moved to
Fernandina, I found that almost all the calls I got were people thinking they were
getting my Uncle Wayne, because my name was right next to his in the book. I got
tired of saying: "I am not Wayne; I am his nephew Joe. His number is such and
such." So I moved to Fernandina.
In 1975 Uncle Wayne went into a diabetic coma. I started coming back a day or two
a week just [to] help out with his practice, to make sure it was still there if he was
able to resume it. After a time period, it became apparent that he was not going to
be able to go back into practice.