Title: Leo Wotitzky
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Title: Leo Wotitzky
Series Title: Leo Wotitzky
Physical Description: Book
Publication Date: 1991
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Bibliographic ID: UF00006369
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
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Interviewee: Leo Wotitzky
Interviewer: Samuel Proctor
May 22, 1991

Leo Wotitzky is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Law (1953).
This interview is part of a series of interviews on the history of the College of Law of the
University of Florida.
Leo Wotitzky was born May 19, 1912, in Punta Gorda. He has one brother,
Frank. His grandfather was the first Jew to settle in Punta Gorda, which relied heavily
on commercial fishing for its livelihood, and Wotitzky recounts life there for a young
Jewish boy. His father ran a hardware store. He was the valedictorian of his high
school class (1929).
After high school he went to the University of Florida in Gainesville to work in
pre-law. He describes at length Gainesville and the campus during this time, including
buildings and professors. He pledged Phi Beta Delta and served as its
bookkeeper--collecting rent. He discusses many of his fraternity brothers.
After graduation in 1933 there were no jobs, so he went back to Punta Gorda and
worked as a jack-of-all-trades at the Punta Gorda Herald, where he had worked in high
school. He spent the following year as a teacher of math and science (but not
basketball!) in Crescent City, and then he returned to Punta Gorda to teach. In 1936
he went to Baltimore to work in the new Social Security system. Disillusioned with
being a bureaucrat, he once again returned to Punta Gorda.
Wotitzky was elected to the Florida legislature in 1939 and served until 1950.
He discusses the Tallahassee experience, including the Pork Chop Gang, his work with
the Citizen Committee on Education in 1944 (he identifies the members from a picture),
the Minimum Foundation Law of 1947, efforts to situate the new medical school in
Gainesville, his chairmanship of the Education Committee in 1949, and Florida's first
sales tax, 3%, in 1949, which cost him the next election. While serving in the
legislature he continued to teach in Punta Gorda, taking leaves of absence as needed.
As a member of the legislature, he was exempt from the draft. He attempted to waive
that and enlist anyway, but he did not pass the physical.
In 1950 Wotitzky entered the University of Florida College of Law. He was on
Law Review and Florida Blue Key. During his last year he taught business law at the
College of Business Administration. He graduated from the law school in 1953. He
then entered his brother's law practice [UF College of Law, class of 1940] in Punta
Gorda, emphasizing real property.
In his spare time Wotitzky enjoys reading, sports, and traveling. He is the
chairman of the foundation of the Medical Center in Punta Gorda. He married Zena
Cox in 1953, and they have three children: Edward, Mary, and Hal.

P: I am in Punta Gorda, Florida, this morning. I am interviewing Leo Wotitzky in his
office at 201 West Marion Avenue. Today is May 22, 1991. My name is Sam
Proctor, and I am doing this [interview] for the University of Florida Oral History

Page 2


I want to ask you, Leo, first of all, about your family, because that is a segment of
our [Jewish] history that has not been recorded. I am going to start with your
grandfather. He was the first one, was he not Jacob Wotitzky to come into
Punta Gorda?

W: Yes, he was.

P: Do you know where the family came from in Europe?

W: No, not with certainty, but they did come, I think, from central Europe. My dad, I
remember, used to say that they came from Prague, which would have been in

P: Well, lots of Jews came [from that area]. Do you know about when Jacob
came? Was he the first in the family to come?

W: No. As I understand it, he came with his parents. He was a child when he
came to this country, and that was before the Civil War, I suspect. I am a little
vague about the dates; I just cannot remember. If I ever knew, I cannot

P: Presumably they would have come in from central Europe, into New York.

W: Right.

P: To your knowledge from anything that your father said that you remember, did
they already have family here? What brought them to America?

W: I never heard him say, but I guess they were just a part of wave of immigration
from Europe during that historical period.

P: Looking for a better life, perhaps?

W: I think that is what it amounted to.

P: Now, I understand that your family moved from New York, or somewhere in the
North, to South Carolina.

W: That is my father's family, yes.

P: That was your father's family, and that would have been the Wotitzky family.

Page 3

W: That is correct.
P: They never changed their name, obviously.

W: No.

P: OK. So they moved to South Carolina. Your father now is still a child, I am

W: Yes. He was about eleven or twelve years old when they left South Carolina
and came here.

P: Now, before they leave South Carolina, let us get a little bit of information on their
South Carolina life to the degree that you know it. Tell me where they lived and
what they did, that sort of thing.

W: Among other places, they did live in or near Walterboro, South Carolina. My
grandfather, Jacob, who spoke broken English, as I understand it, started out
with a pushcart, peddling merchandise out in the country.

P: Do you happen to know what Jacob's father's name was?

W: No, I have never heard it. If I have, I do not recall it.

P: OK. Do you know what Jacob's father did in South Carolina?

W: Jacob's father was not in South Carolina. When they went to South Carolina,
Jacob was grown and married. My father and his sister were children at that

P: Oh, I see. So in other words, then, just to get the record straight, when the
Wotitzky family came over from Europe, they settled somewhere in the North.

W: In New York.

P: And your great-grandfather lives in New York. He marries, he has children,
including your grandfather Jacob. Do you know if there were any other children?

W: No, I do not. Not in that generation.

P: So your grandfather Jacob grows up in New York, he marries, and he has two
children when he moves to South Carolina.

W: That is right.

Page 4

P: And as far as you know, he came and lived around Walterboro and was first a

W: And he acquired, according to my father, some land, growing rice. That seems
to have been the staple crop in that area. They must have lived there for
several years. But they all were afflicted with malaria, so I guess they were
looking for a more healthy place to live.

At that time the railroad companies were opening up Florida. They had land
grants. I think alternate sections of land along the lines of the railroad [were]
given to them if they would construct railroads. When they got this land, they
had to have some people in the area. I remember looking at a brochure I think
Vernon Peeples has one of them advertising Punta Gorda way back in those
days. [Vernon Peelpes represents the 72d District in the Florida Legislature.
He is the author of Punta Gorda and the Charlotte Harbor Area: A Pictorial
History (1986).] Undoubtedly they saw something like that, so they loaded all of
their belongings, including themselves, into a boxcar and came south to the end
of the rail line, which was right on the edge of Punta Gorda.

My grandfather then opened a store. My dad was, I guess, eleven or twelve
years old. It became quite a substantial place of business. It was located on
the lot across the street from this office, where that car wash is. It was a
two-story frame building, and they lived upstairs in it. He was apparently quite
successful. He bought a sailboat and used it to sail down the west coast and
around through Florida Straits and back up to where Miami is now, and they
traded with the few settlers who were there and the Indians. I think my dad said
they made two trips a year. After Jacob died, my dad, whose name was
Edward, also did that for a period of time, as long as he was in business. In that
way they were successful.

P: Now, you know that your grandfather's name was Jacob. Do you know your
grandmother's name?

W: Yes. It was Rose.

P: You do not know her maiden name?

W: I do not, but I am quite sure that she was a blood relative of Jacob.

P: That was not uncommon to marry cousins, because you did not marry out of the

W: That is right.

Page 5

P: When Jacob dies, and his wife dies while they are already living here in Punta
Gorda, where were they buried?
W: In New York. My dad took both of them back to New York to be buried.

P: Is your father buried here?

W: Yes.

P: There is a Jewish cemetery here?

W: No, it was just a cemetery that belongs to Charlotte County.

P: I see. It is a municipally owned cemetery, then.

W: County-owned, yes. My father and mother are buried there.

P: Now, they operated a general store on this site immediately adjacent to this
building and presumably dealt in a lot of different goods.

I noticed in going back through the records one little interesting thing. Now, I
know the railroad comes to Punta Gorda in July of 1886, and I think that perhaps
Jacob arrived just about that time also.

W: Very close to that time. The year 1887 sticks in my mind, but I am not positive.

P: Well, one of the things that I ran into, something that Vernon Peeples had
information on, was that the people in this area before it became Punta Gorda -
[Isaac H.] Trabue [and others] were not very happy with the rates that railroads
were charging or the service that they had. Do you know the story of the barrel
of whiskey?

W: Vaguely. Actually, Vernon told me the story.

P: That is how I got it.

W: It had to do with a barrel of whiskey that my grandfather Jacob ordered and did
not get.

P: From Savannah.

W: Is that where it came from?

P: Yes.

Page 6

W: Anyway, there was litigation about it. I think he sued the railroad. Vernon tells
me that he went up to Arcadia, which was the old county seat, and found the
record of that trial. I do not have any very good recollection of what he told me
about it. I have never seen it.

P: Well, your grandfather lost the case and had to pay for the barrel of whiskey,
which he did not get, because the railroad was in the driver's seat. If you did not
pay your bill, they would not deliver your order to you.

W: I do remember that, that he lost the law suit, but I do not know any more about it,
really, than that.

P: Now, your father was Edward.

W: Yes.

P: Was he an only child?

W: No. He had a sister, Laura, who married a man by the name of Kirby Seward.

P: Was he Jewish?

W: No, he was not Jewish. His father was one of the first county school
superintendents in old Manatee County. He was a newspaper man. He started
the Punta Gorda Herald.

P: Which you became associated with later on.

W: I worked there for a good many years.

P: Did your aunt, your father's sister Laura, have family?

W: She had no children. Of course, my family--my dad and mother--had two
children: my brother Frank and me.

P: Now, tell me about your mother. She was a Hart. I have her name as Celia

W: Yes, Celia Florence Hart. Her father, Gustav Hart, came from Germany by
himself as a teenage boy to this country. He had relatives here I do not
remember who they were but he was pretty much on his own. I vaguely
remember him. When I was a little child he was here in Punta Gorda. He
settled in Philadelphia. He joined the army and was sent out west. He was
involved in some of the Indian conflicts. He later somehow got out of the army

Page 7

by hook or crook I do not know how and was married, of course, to my

My grandmother on my mother's side, her family came also from central Europe,
probably Poland, but I do not know. They settled in New York. I remember
hearing her tell about when [President Abraham] Lincoln was shot the buildings
and streets of New York were draped in black. At any rate, when she grew up,
she and Gus Hart her name was Goldstein were married and moved to
Savannah, Georgia, where he had some kind of a mercantile business. They
had three daughters; my mother was the youngest. They came to Punta Gorda

P: From Savannah?

W: From Savannah.

P: What were your mother's two sisters' names?

W: One of them was Jeanette. She lived in Philadelphia until she died. The other
was Lily. She married a man by the name of Gerson, and they had one child
who is living here. I rarely see him. He lives out in Port Charlotte someplace.
He is a lawyer who is not practicing.

P: You were talking about your mother's [family], the Hart family.

W: They came here, and Gus started a mercantile business, mostly, I think,
hardware. I think he supplied fishermen and boats. He probably had groceries,
also. He built a dock out into the bay here, into Charlotte Harbor, where they
tied up. They called it Hart's Dock. They lived here a number of years. The
home that he built has just been torn down about a year or so ago. It was at the
other end of the block that this building is on. So they went back to Philadelphia.
The store burned, [and since] there was no insurance he just gave up.

P: The store burned here?

W: Yes, so they went back to Philadelphia. Then when my mother grew up, she
came back down here to visit an aunt of hers, who was the widow of Dora Hart's
brother. His name is Goldstein, of course. Here she met my father, and they
were married and lived here the rest of their lives.

P: Did they marry here in Punta Gorda, or did they go back?

W: No, they went up to Tampa to be married. They were married in the old Tampa
Bay Hotel, which is now the University of Tampa.

Page 8

P: There was a rabbi there?

W: Yes. Then, of course, when Frank and I were born, my dad had a rabbi come
down and do the circumcision and all of that.

P: The bris.

W: Yes.

P: So your mother and father, then, are married in Tampa, they come back down
here to live, and, of course, this is where your father had his business. And they
lived out their lives here.

W: That is correct.

P: And they had two children, you and your brother Frank.

W: That is correct.

P: When were you born, Leo?

W: May 19, 1912.

P: And how about Frank?

W: He was born October 8, 1916.

P: So there is four years difference between you. Do you remember when your
parents were married, just to get the documentation?

W: They were married in 1908.

P: All right. Let me ask you a question about being Jewish here in this little
wilderness town. I am sure it was not easy. Your father, however, married a
Jewish woman.

W: Yes.

P: To what degree did he try to pass on this Jewishness to you and Frank?

W: He would have us stay home from school on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
and read the prayer books and that sort of thing. It impressed on us, I guess,
that to that extent we were different from the rest of the kids. Yes, over the

Page 9

years we were subjected to a certain amount of teasing, ridicule, whatever.

P: Were there any other Jewish families here in Punta Gorda?
W: No. The only other one was my grandmother's sister-in-law. Her son, Harry
Goldstein, had a furniture store here. That was all.

P: Where were the Goldsteins here? Where was their store?

W: Well, their store was a building on the corner where these cars are [he points out
the window], and her home was right next to it. It is no longer there.

P: Where was your home?

W: My home where I grew up was about three blocks from here, on Gill Street in
Punta Gorda. I lived there longer than I lived anywhere else, I suppose.

P: Punta Gorda, of course, was just a small town then.

W: Oh, yes. There were probably 1,500 or maybe 2,000 people.

P: What was the economy of this community?

W: [It was] based primarily on commercial fishing. Commercial fishermen came
down here from Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina mostly, along the
coast there. They came down here initially in the wintertime and fished primarily
for mullet. They would salt them.

P: Because there was no refrigeration.

W: There was no refrigeration. That is correct. And a lot of those people continued
to live here. They made up a substantial part of the population of this area.

P: Did it attract tourists at that early time?

W: There were some tourists who came here in the winter. I remember a couple
(whose names I do not recall) who rented a room in our home every winter for
two or three years back in the early 1920s, I guess.

P: Was there a hotel here to cater to tourists?

W: Yes, there was a large resort hotel called the Hotel Punta Gorda. There is a
shopping center on the site of that old hotel [now]. It was a huge frame hotel.
There were a number of them in Florida. I am not sure, but I think the railroad
probably constructed it. It was open for about four months each winter, and it

Page 10

attracted quite a number of wealthy people from up north. It was very nice. It
continued in operation through the years. Barron Collier in the 1920s bought it
and remodeled it, stuccoed the outside of it, and kept it in operation for quite a
number of years. Finally a group of promoters bought it and created what they
called the Charlotte Harbor Spa, sort of what I would say [was] kind of a phony
Hilton thing. When that failed, mysteriously the building burned, and that ended
the Charlotte Harbor Hotel. It was called the Hotel Punta Gorda first, and then
the name was changed by Barron Collier to the Charlotte Harbor Hotel.

P: And then the insurance people started crying.

W: Well, yes. There is quite a story connected with that. That occurred after I
started practicing law, and I was trying to represent those people. When the
hotel burned, I got on the phone and called the principal owner in New York--this
was in the middle of the night--and told him what had happened. He professed
to be distressed about it and said he would be right down. Later on in the
morning, I ran into the state's attorney and a representative of the fire marshal's
office, and they said they thought they would take him into custody. They felt
like he had set it on fire or caused it to be done. I said, "That is certainly
ridiculous." But I did get back on the telephone and called him. He had already
departed, but they gave me the flight number and when he would land in Tampa.
I left word with the airline in Tampa to have him call me by all means before he
came down. He did, and I told him what was going on. I said, "This is the
weekend. If they arrest you, I cannot even get you out on a writ because I
cannot find a judge. So if I were you, I would wait until Monday to come to
Punta Gorda." Well, about three hours later I had a telephone call from him--he
was back in New York!

P: Wise man. [laughter]

W: Yes. It was kind of funny. He is no longer living, of course.

P: So the story can now be told.

W: It can now be told.

P: I want to ask you about your father again. Did the Wotitzkys play any role in
community affairs? Was your father involved, or even Jacob before your father?
What about Jacob? Was he a person in the community?

W: I do not think so. He spent most of his activity trying to build a business. My
dad was interested in city things. He was a justice of the peace one time. I do
not believe he ever held any other office. He always had something to say
about all kinds of civic activity. I remember he was pretty outspoken when the

Page 11

Ku Klux Klan was being organized here back in the 1920s. Every time he met
somebody he knew was involved in it, he would make some disparaging remark
and tell them a dirty story about the Ku Klux Klan. He was not popular with
them. But he was a good citizen. [He was] very intelligent. His greatest
disappointment in life was that he never had an opportunity to be a lawyer. He
was very interested in the law and always wanted to be a lawyer. But he was
never able to do it.

P: Was he able to get an education?

W: Yes. He attended the Citadel [Military College] in [Charleston] South Carolina
and went through his junior year, I think it was he told me. Then he became ill
again, I think with malaria. Apparently the mosquitoes were pretty terrible in that
part of the world in those days.

P: They were not the greatest down here in Florida, either.

W: Oh, they would kill you here. It has been said that Florida's development really
began when they began to kill mosquitoes and invented air conditioning.

P: Right. I think that is true.

W: They fight them all the time. But my father was not extremely active in civic

P: But you know it is interesting coming out of that background that he was able to
get through at least three years of college. That was a rare thing in those days.

W: It really was. People studied law in those days in another lawyer's office
primarily. He was going to do that, but his father did not want him to leave. He
wanted him to help with the store and that sort of thing. He told me that he
started to run away to do this. They used to ship cattle here from a place called
the Long Dock, and he went out there and got on one of those ships. He was
going to sail with them to some place. He was going to go and study law. His
father heard about it, and he said his father got into a rowboat and rowed out to
this ship and carried on something fierce and cried and all that, and my dad got
off the ship and came back home. That was the end of his law career.

One of my earliest recollections, though, is going with him up to Arcadia, which
was then the county seat of old De Soto County, of which Charlotte was a part, to
court. He just liked to go up to court. They had terms of court in those days, I
think twice a year--spring term and the fall term--and all the lawyers from
everywhere would congregate. It was kind of a carnival atmosphere, I think.
He took me up there on the train one time--I think I was about five or six years

Page 12

old--to see a court operation. We went up in the morning on the train and came
back home that afternoon on the evening train.

P: Leo, growing up here in Punta Gorda during this early period--you are born in
1912--1 guess your earliest memories, then, are the immediate post-World War I
period. Tell me about going to school here, public school, and what life was like
for you as a young boy.

W: Well, probably just about like anyone else's in a small, rural type of community.
School was small. There were relatively few people here, and certainly relatively
few children. I did not feel handicapped in any way by reason of the fact that I
was Jewish, although I was subjected to a certain amount of ridicule, for want of
a better word. And I was smaller than everybody else, too, but I made better
grades, so that sort took care of things.

P: You were a good student?

W: Yes, I was. When I graduated from high school in 1929, I was valedictorian of
the class and made the speech. I was quite proud of that.

P: And so were your folks.

W: Oh, yes. More than I.

P: What did you all do for fun as kids?

W: Well, we had a lot of fun. There was one tennis court in town, and we played on
it. We had the whole harbor out there to swim in.

P: And it was not polluted.

W: It was not polluted. To make my spending money I had a dip net, a crab net,
and bucket, and I would wade down into where Punta Gorda Isles is now, fill that
bucket up with big crabs, and sell them--the ones we did not need. I would sell
them for twenty-five cents a bucketful.

P: That was a good price.

W: I thought it was pretty good. It took all day, but it was all right.

P: And you made your money.

W: That is right. That was about it.

Page 13

P: Did you have a movie house here in town?

W: Yes, during most of that time. Harry Goldstein, who was my second cousin,
owned it. It was located right across the street from this building. There is a
little parking lot over there [now], and it was in there. We had a movie, and we
used to go on Saturday afternoon and watch a serial. I think it cost a dime or
maybe a nickel to go to the movie. Harry Goldstein was a talented violinist. He
and one or two other musicians played [during the movie]. That was in the days
of silent movies. They were good. That was the best entertainment. That was
better than those movies.

P: What happened to the Goldstein family?

W: All of them have died. The whole family just died out.

P: No children?

W: Harry had no children.

P: Did you play sports? Were you involved?

W: Not very much. I played tennis quite a lot. There were not many sports to play.
There was baseball. Football came along pretty late in the day. I guess they
started football when I was in high school, but I was too small for that.

P: Did you have to work in the store?

W: No. My dad's store burned, the one that was in the building across the street
from where we are now. That burned long before I was born. My mother and
father, who had lived upstairs, lost everything. Again, they had no insurance.
After that, my dad, for the rest of his life, was never able to do very much. At
any rate, they moved for a while to an old home which still stands in Punta
Gorda, and I was born in that home. They built another home, the one that I
grew up in on Gill Street, and moved into it three or four weeks after I was born.
We lived there from then on. My brother was born in that house.

P: How did your father make a living?

W: He opened a little store in a building which was first on this block. It was the old
Seminole Hotel building. It was kind of a hardware store. As I recall it now, it
was not very much of a store. I do not know how he made a living. It was later
moved onto that site where his big store had been in the past. And there that
burned. Again, he had no insurance. So the last few years of his life he clerked
in a store that my aunt's husband, Kirby Seward, had. That store was in a

Page 14

three-story hotel building. It was a brick building that was on the site of this
office building where we are now. He continued there until he died. He died in
1941, just before World War II.

P: When did your mother die?

W: She died much later, in 1979.

P: So she lived to be a very old lady.

W: She was ninety-three when she died.

P: So [she died] relatively recently.

W: Yes.

P: And she is buried here in the cemetery, also, I think you said.

W: Yes.

P: Now, let us get into your college career, Leo. Have we left out anything that we
need to talk about as you were growing up, before you leave to come to
Gainesville? Anything about the family? Let me ask you, how close were you
and your brother Frank?

W: We have always been rather close. Even now we live next door to each other
across the river from here at Charlotte Harbor. He graduated from the
University of Florida after I did, but he went straight through law school. I went

P: But growing up there was four years difference between the two of you.

W: Yes. We had different groups of friends, but we were always rather close
anyway. We practiced law together for quite a few years. He graduated from
law school in 1940.

P: What made you decide to come to the University of Florida?

W: I did not know there was anything else except the University of Florida.
[laughter] My dad had heard of Washington & Lee University [in Lexington, VA].

P: Well, there is the Citadel.

W: He had been to the Citadel. I guess as much as anything else, it was the

Page 15

University of Florida, and it did not cost much. I did not have anything anyway.
That is probably why I went.

P: That is the reason a lot of us went to the University of Florida.

W: It did not take too long to get indoctrinated.

P: Now, when did you get to Gainesville?

W: In September of 1929.

P: And you registered in what college?

W: In the College of Arts and Sciences. I was trying to take pre-law. I ran totally
out of money my first year. I took a competitive examination for a scholarship in
the Teachers College and won it. It paid $100 a semester, so I transferred to
the Teachers College. I did not have any ambition, really, to be a teacher, but I
knew I had to have an education. So I did that. Also in order to survive there,
all of the Pi Lambda Phi's ate in one boarding house, and I got a job waiting on
tables there for my meals. I was the house manager for the fraternity for my
room rent. So I got along very nicely during those four years.

P: Now, when you got to Gainesville the first time, I guess [John J.] Tigert was
already president [1928-1947].

W: Yes, he had been there one year, I believe.

P: What did the campus look like in those early years?

W: Well, the entrance to the campus was off what is now 13th Street; it used to be
9th Street in those days. It was right at the corner of University Avenue and
what is now 13th Street. I think there is some kind of a brick thing there now,
but it was kind of a semi-circular drive that went through the campus. You may
recall it. The first building on the campus on that end was the law school.

P: Bryan Hall.

W: Yes, it is now called Bryan Hall. I never heard it called anything except "the law
school" back in those days. The next one was Language Hall, which is now
Anderson Hall. Then next one down was Science Hall, the science building. I
do not know what the name of that is now.

P: They now call it Flint Hall.

Page 16

W: I do not think they had those names on them back in those days.

P: They did not. Where did you live your first year?

W: I lived at 1410 West University Avenue in [what is now] the Pi Lambda house. It
was then the Phi Beta Delta [house].

P: Let me make sure I understand about where you lived. What was the address?

W: 1410 West University Avenue. It was one block west of 13th Street, so it was
just a block from the corner of the campus.

P: What was it? A boarding house?

W: No, it was a fraternity house.

P: I thought that the Phi Beta Delta house, in the early 1930s, at least, was just east
of what is now 13th Street, at the corner of about 11th or 12th Street.

W: Well, it was one block and the end of a block. Do you remember Dr. [Charles
Langley] Crow, who taught German [and Spanish], among other things?

P: Sure.

W: His home was right across the street on the same side of University Avenue from
that house. It was a white frame house.

P: I know exactly the house that you are [referring to]. Do you know that building is
still standing?

W: Is that right?

P: Yes. There is a little shop. They put a store building in front of it.

W: Well, I did not know that. The last time I drove past there I did not recognize

P: The house is still standing there in back of it.

W: There was a lady by the name of Johnson, I believe, who owned it. There is a
short street in there that has a cul-de-sac at the end of it.

P: That is exactly it. As you go back, the next time you are there, just stop on that
corner and look up, and you will see the two-story, white frame house right in

Page 17

back of it.

W: Is that so? There was a little apartment in the back where some of the fellows
lived. We called it the "shack." That is where it was.

P: And the Black Cat was up on the corner.

W: The Black Cat was on the corner of University Avenue and 9th Street, which is
now 13th.

P: That is where the fraternity houses were--the SAE [Sigma Alpha Epsilon] house
and the Pike [Pi Kappa Alpha] house.

W: Yes. The Pike house would have been on the right going in that direction, and
the SAE house with the painted lion was on the other side of the street.

P: On the same side of the street that you lived on were the Bentons. Dean [John
R.] Benton was the first dean of the College of Engineering, and he lived almost
next door to where you lived. On the other side of you lived Dr. Crow.

Leo, the thing that I have missed on here that I want to get is about the eating,
where you all ate. I think that is good.

W: We ate in a little boarding house which was about a block or so east of 1410
West University Avenue. A little old lady and her granddaughter operated the
place. The food was all right, but the granddaughter was pretty, and it was a
pleasure to go down there. [laughter]

P: How much did they charge you?

W: I think it cost about five dollars a week for two meals a day.

P: You did pretty good. [laughter]

W: I got that free, along with my scholarship.

P: You waited on tables there?

W: I waited on tables [at this boarding house]. Later on I was a bookkeeper [at the
fraternity], which meant I had to try to get money from those fellows, and it was
hard to do.

P: You were the bookkeeper in the fraternity house?

Page 18

W: Yes, I was the bookkeeper there, too.

P: So you waited on tables and got your meals, and you were the bookkeeper at the
Phi Beta Delta house. Those years you did not have a house mother or
W: Oh, no.

P: You made your own beds?

W: Yes.

P: No maid service?

W: We had a black fellow who was kind of a janitor, a clean-up fellow, and he would
make up the beds. He did not do a great job of it, but he would.

P: And you had the black women come and take your laundry.

W: Yes.

P: That was fifty cents a week.

W: That is right.

P: They were still charging that when I arrived on the scene a few years later.

W: When did you arrive?

P: 1937.

W: It was about the same when you [arrived at the University].

P: Absolutely. It had not changed at all. Try to recall some of the PhiBD's who
were in the fraternity with you.

W: Earl Hirsh from Jacksonville was my roommate. Irving Ashkenazy was a big
fellow who boxed to make money, and he got himself beat up a lot. And he
wrote poetry.

P: That is an interesting combination.

W: He was an interesting fellow.

P: Where was he from?

Page 19

W: I believe from Tallahassee. Later on he went out, I believe, to Hollywood and
wrote scripts for movies. One time I read a piece that he wrote that was
published in Reader's Digest, I believe. He was an interesting fellow. He and
Earl Hirsh did not get along. Earl was an athlete and so was Irving Ashkenazy,
and they wanted to fight all the time. They would square off in a little room, and
I would be in the top bunk bed and tell them to quit. I was afraid they would kill
me in the course of their conflict.

I remember a fellow by the name of Joe Pinkoson, from St. Augustine. He was
a bright fellow. He was killed in World War II, I know. Another one was Mitchell
Rosenberg [from St. Augustine], a brilliant fellow who, in four years, wound up
with a master's degree in mathematics. He died later on of some sort of an
ailment. I guess a good many of them have died of one thing or another since
those days.

P: Now, you knew my cousin George Mehlman [from Jacksonville].

W: Yes. George was in the fraternity. I believe he was a bit ahead of me, but he
was there during much of the time I was. As a matter of fact, I had his sister as
a homecoming date one time.

P: Bertha. She is still around.

W: Is that right?

P: Yes.

W: I have not seen her since that homecoming, 19-something.

P: She is fine. She never married.

W: Is that right?

P: She has been waiting for you all these years, Leo.

W: How about that. [laughter]

P: I will give her your regards.

W: Sure.

P: She lives in Jacksonville.

Page 20

W: George, I think, has done quite well.

P: Yes.

W: I was in his office in West Palm [Beach], I believe, about twenty-five years ago.
P: I did an oral history with George, also, and he covered some of the same early
PhiBD stuff that you have covered here.

W: Another one was Abe Horovitz from Jacksonville.

P: I knew Abe well.

W: Better known as "Obie," for O'Brien. He was a good friend of mine. I thought a
lot of Abe. I was an usher at his wedding in Jacksonville in a later year. Who
else? [There was] a fellow by the name of Justin R. Fisher. Jud Fisher was
from New York. [He was] an awfully nice fellow. I saw him when I was back at
the University in the 1950s in law school. He and his wife came through there,
and I saw him again. There was another fellow. What was his name? I know
he had great big ears. [laughter] That is a strange way to remember a guy.

P: But it was distinctive.

W: Yes. He was a nice fellow. I cannot recall his name. He was from Miami.

P: And Dean [Joseph] Weil, of course, was running the show.

W: Oh, yes. He ran the whole thing.

P: He was responsible, I guess, for putting the fraternity together in the first place.

W: I believe that he was.

P: 1925.

W: Right. There was Aural Rosin. He was not there when I was. He was from
Arcadia. He was the one that sent me up there. I did not know what a fraternity
was when I left Punta Gorda. He gave me the address on a slip of paper and
said, "You go there."

P: And you did.

W: Yes. I went up on the train to Gainesville. I got off the train at the old station
down on Main Street.

Page 21

P: In the middle of the street.

W: That is right, and I did not know where I was. I had a trunk, and some student
was there with a little cut-down Model-T Ford. He said, "Do you want to go out
to the University?" I said, "Yes, I guess so." He said, "I will take you and your
trunk out there for fifty cents." So I said OK, and we went out. I gave him this
address, and he let me off in front of 1410 West University Avenue. I did not
know a soul there. I did not know what it was, really. They took me in, though.
I guess Aurel Rosin had told somebody to look after me. I was a pretty forlorn
sort of cracker boy.

P: So you never lived in a dormitory.

W: I never lived in a dorm. My brother Frank did for a while. Then he lived in a
fraternity house afterwards.

P: Were you a good student?

W: I did pretty well. Grades were then on a three-point scale, I think, instead of a
four-point, if I remember rightly. I had the equivalent of something over a
three-point average when I graduated. The truth of the matter was I never got
very enthusiastic about being in the Teachers College.

P: You were there out of necessity.

W: I had to have an education. However, when I started teaching school later, I
learned to like it. I enjoyed teaching because I enjoyed the kids. It was all right.

P: Now, I think you told me your classes were in Peabody Hall, the Teachers

W: All of the education courses were in there. Then there were some classes in
English and math, I believe, over in Language Hall.

P: Now Anderson [Hall].

W: Now Anderson. I had some classes in Benton Hall. There was the old
engineering building and the new engineering building at that time. The new
one stands out in my memory because on the lower floor there was an airplane

P: The new engineering building is still standing. It is Walker [Hall]. The other one
is gone--Benton is gone--and Grinter Hall is on its site now.

Page 22

W: Is that right?

P: But all of the other old buildings on the campus are still exactly where they were.

W: There were some buildings connected with the ag school; there were two or
three of those around.

P: Yes: Floyd [Hall].

W: Floyd was the one I was trying to think of. That was sort of the central part of
the campus.

P: It is directly across the Plaza [of the Americas] from Peabody Hall, and it is just
now in the process of being rehabilitated with money that Ben Hill Griffin
donated. They are going to call it Floyd-Griffin Hall. The other buildings that
you are talking about are also still there, [like] the buildings that the Florida
Experiment Station used.

W: Of course, the two old dorms have been rehabilitated.

P: Yes, Thomas and Buckman.

W: They were [part of] the original University, I think.

P: Yes, they were there at the beginning. And the little building that was on the
corner, where Turlington is now standing, I guess had already become the post
office when you arrived.

W: A small building there?

P: Yes.

W: Yes, that was the post office.

P: OK. It was originally called Machinery Hall, but it was the post office, I think, by
the time you arrived on campus.

W: It was the post office. Of course, when I went back to law school, the post office
was in the student center or student union.

P: The Hub.

W: The Hub. That is right.

Page 23

P: Of course, things had changed tremendously after World War II. What were
some of the early eating places along the Avenue? The Black Cat was one.

W: Oh, yes. We used to get nickel or dime hamburgers in there.

P: College Inn was a little bit farther up, was it not?

W: College Inn was farther up, and then there was the boarding house.

P: Mrs. Ramsey's?

W: Mrs. Ramsey's boarding house was just east of the College Inn. There was
another little restaurant east of 1410 West University Avenue called the Orange
and Blue. You could get a five-dollar meal ticket there and eat for a week. And
then, of course, [there was] the old Commons, which is now the University
Cafeteria [the Rathskellar].

P: It has since burned down.

W: Really? I did not know that.

P: About three or four years ago. [Johnson Hall and the Rathskellar were
destroyed by fire December 6, 1987. Ed.] What about going to town? Did you
get downtown to go to the movies?

W: Occasionally, if we had enough money to do that. Downtown was quite a
distance, and there was not a whole lot [to do there]. There was quite a
relatively open area between the University and downtown. There were a lot of
trees and unoccupied properties that now all have buildings on them.

P: Did you go to football games?

W: Yes. When I was a freshman at the University, there was no stadium. They
had some wooden stands out on what was later the [ROTC] drill field.

P: Fleming Field.

W: Yes, Fleming Field. That is correct. It is sort of across from the old Sigma Nu

P: Right.

W: I think they started building Florida Field during my freshman year. There was
just a big old sink hole back there, and I remember they scooped it out bigger.

Page 24

They had mules and scoops and just dug it out larger. It was a pretty deep thing
back there, just a kind of a mess of a place.

P: Leo, do you remember any of your instructors? You took work from Dean
[James W.] Norman [College of Education].
W: Yes. In math I took some courses from Dr. Franklin Kokomoor.

P: I have him on tape [UF Oral History Project, UF19].

W: He was a great fellow. A grandson of his is a civil engineer and is operating a
business here in Charlotte County.

P: Really? His family, his children, live in Gainesville. His son [Marvin L.
Kokomoor] was our kids' pediatrician.

W: Is that right? Well, his wife taught math in Gainesville High School. She
supervised me when I took practice teaching down there. The Gainesville High
School was then on University Avenue.

P: Right. Who else do you remember as faculty?

W: Gosh, there must be a lot of them.

P: Did you take any history, from Dr. [James M.] Leake [head professor of history]?

W: I did not have any from Dr. Leake, but he sure was famous down there.

P: Yes, with his old Model-T Ford outside Peabody Hall.

W: Yes. Dr. Black, over at the chemistry building, had a Model-T, too. I did not
have either one of them.

P: Ancil Payne and Jimmie [James D.] Glunt were both teaching [history] at that

W: I do not remember them. There was another Ph.D. there in the chemistry
department I took chemistry from, and he was pretty well along in years, it seems
like, as I recall it. I cannot recall his name.

P: Did you have anything from Dr. [James M.] Farr in the English department?

W: No, but I knew Dr. Farr or saw him. I was trying to think of the English

Page 25

P: [Charles Archibald] Archie Robertson was teaching [English] then.

W: Oh, yes. I would not have thought of his name, but I remember him real well.

P: I have him on tape [UF Oral History Project, UF10].

W: I took a course in early English literature from him. [He was] the most nervous
fellow I ever saw in my life! He smoked like a smoke stack and was as skinny
as a rail. I suppose he probably died at an early age.

P: No, he lived to be a very old man.

W: I would never have thought it.

P: That is right. He did not die until sometime in the 1970s.

W: I had a course with him in 1930, I think. I was trying to think of the fellow I took a
math course from. He was later, I believe, dean of the College of Arts and

P: Dean [Townes R.] Leigh was in chemistry, and then he became the dean of the
College of Arts and Sciences.

W: Well, this fellow would have been later than that. It was after I was gone from
the University.

P: Do you remember Bill [William G.] Carlton [professor of history and political
science] or Manning Dauer [professor of political science]?

W: I knew Bill Carlton. My brother worked for him and Manning Dauer under the
NYA [National Youth Administration] program up there. Manning I knew quite
well. Now, Bill Carlton died a number of years ago.

P: Manning just died in the last five or six years.

W: Yes. I knew Manning Dauer very well. I used to go out of my way to find him
and talk to him.

P: The old building that became Florida Union in the 1930s, which opened after you
left, has been renamed Dauer Hall.

W: Well, that is good.

P: His mother taught Latin in the high school.

Page 26

W: I did not know that. Manning never married.

P: No.

W: He was married to the University of Florida.
P: That is exactly right--he was married to the University of Florida. That was his
whole life.

W: It was.

P: And when he died, he left everything to the University, and he had a very
substantial amount of money. He left over a million dollars to the University,
money that he had made through investments. He invested his salary, I guess,
because he lived very frugally, and it had built up over the years. That is where
it went.

W: Well, that was good. The University of Florida was his life.

P: His total life.

W: He was a great fellow. Just great.

P: Right. So the social life, of course, for students, the University being very small,
was very limited in those days.

W: Oh, yes, it was.

P: And nobody had very much money anyway to do anything. Were you able to
come home on occasion?

W: On occasion, but we had to hitchhike.

P: With your little rat cap?

W: We wore the rat cap and hitchhiked. We would stand out there at the corner of
13th Street and University Avenue and take a number when there were a lot of
us. Sometimes there would be ten or twelve of us out there waiting for rides,
and we would take a number and take the cars that came along.

P: Did you ever make the long trip over to Tallahassee?

W: A few times. Not very many, though.

Page 27

P: And into Jacksonville for the Georgia [football] game.

W: I always hitchhiked up there for the Georgia game. I will never forget the one in
my first year, 1929. Florida beat Georgia 18-6; I remember that. I hitchhiked
up there wearing my rat cap. I was walking along Bay Street, and some of those
fellows from Georgia came along, and somebody said, "Let us get that rat cap off
that Florida freshman." They started after me, and I ran off down the street

P: And saved it!

W: I saved my rat cap.

P: And your Florida honor. [laughter]

W: Right. The Gator Bowl had wooden stands in it [then], just like Fleming Field
did. Fleming Field did not have many seats, as I recall. It was not very big.

P: You had to stand up if you were going to watch things.

W: Yes.

P: Now, there was a brick dormitory by the time you were at the University.

W: Yes, what they called the New Dorm had been added between Buckman and

P: Across the street from Thomas.

W: Right.

P: It still stands.

W: It had an archway.

P: They call it now the Women's Gym, because they turned it over to the women
when we became coeducational.

W: I was in the legislature and helped do that.

P: When you were there [at UF] there were no girls to speak of on campus yet.

W: No. There were one or two in law school and maybe one of two in pharmacy, as
I recall, because those courses were not offered at FSCW [Florida State College

Page 28

for Women] in Tallahassee.

P: What kind of a life was it for Jewish boys on campus?

W: Well, of course, we called our fraternity a non-sectarian Jewish fraternity.

P: You had nothing but Jewish boys in it then.

W: That is all. None of the others had any Jewish boys in them--ATO [Alpha Tau
Omega] and Phi Delta Theta and all the rest of them.

P: They did not pledge Jewish boys at that time.

W: No, they did not.

P: Was there a great rivalry already between the PhiBD's and the TEP's [Tau
Epsilon Phi]?

W: Yes, there was. Neither group could think of anything nice to say about the
other one.

P: Now, they [the TEP's] were around the corner, on 9th Street, I believe.

W: That is correct. It is strange that I do not remember many of the fellows over
there at all. I guess we did not have a lot of contact, really. I do not know why,
but we did not.

P: Now, were you in [Florida] Blue Key? Were you active as a student?

W: I was elected to Florida Blue Key when I went back to law school.

P: Oh. Were you active in campus activities while you were there as an

W: Yes, I was. I did not run for any office, but I was always active in campus
politics--working on various political campaigns and that sort of thing,
representing the fraternity on the executive committee of some political
party--during all the time I was there, I guess.

P: You were a busy man if you were keeping up your grades, working, bookkeeping
for the fraternity, doing all of those kinds of things.

W: I worked pretty hard all those years.

Page 29

P: Now, you graduated when?

W: June 5, I believe, 1933.

P: Did your folks come up for commencement?

W: Yes, they came up in a 1925 Dodge car.

P: They drove up from Punta Gorda.

W: My mother drove; my dad never did drive a car. They were very proud of that.

P: Of course. They probably stayed at the White House Hotel downtown.

W: No, we did not have enough money for that. None of us. But the lady who
owned the house at 1410 West University liked me because I always saw that
the rent was paid on time. She said she had never been able to get it on time
before, so she liked me. When I told her I had to find a place for my parents,
that they were coming up for graduation, she invited them to stay at her house.
So they spent the night there.

P: I remember that lady.

W: Mrs. Johnson.

P: Mrs. Johnson was her name. The reason I remember that is that I think my
cousin George graduated in 1933, and that is the first time I had ever come to
Gainesville. My aunt and uncle brought me down, and that was my first trip.
And it was a long trip from Jacksonville to Gainesville.

W: Yes, it was.

P: Over that old brick highway that connected them.

W: My roommate during much of the time I was in Gainesville was Earl Hirsh from
Jacksonville. He had a little Chevrolet coupe, and he used to go home to
Jacksonville almost every weekend. We would get some money together, he
and Obie and I, and he would come back with some delicatessen. You know
about salami and how strong it smells and all those pickles and things. He
would get a whole lot of them for just a little bit of money. He would come back
and put it under his arm and race through the house and up to the room and lock
the door. [laughter] He would not let anybody in but Obie and me. We would
sit in there and eat it, and these guys would be pounding on the door. Obie
would say: "Sorry. We are eating." [laughter]

Page 30

P: In some ways as you look back on it, those were the good old days.

W: Yes, they were.

P: You forget all the poverty and remember all the fun that you had.
W: We really did not feel poor.

P: Because you did not know any different.

W: We did not know any different. Everyone was about the same. Earl Hirsh was
pretty wealthy, because he had that little old car. But that was it.

P: But Depression really hit this state very badly during the 1930s.

W: It sure did.

P: Very badly. What did you do after graduation?

W: Well, in order not to have to reimburse the state for my scholarship, I had to
teach school. I could not get a job the first year out, so I went back to work for
the Punta Gorda Herald, which I had worked for all through high school. I
worked there for a year. Then the second year I was able to get a job
teaching--that would have been 1934-1935--in Crescent City.

P: What did you do at the paper?

W: Everything. I started there sweeping and melting type metal and that sort of
thing, and setting type. Ultimately I wrote news stories. I was a reporter, the
advertising solicitor, set most of the type, and ran the press.

P: So you were a jack-of-all-trades at the paper.

W: I worked there for quite a few years.

P: Who owned the paper?

W: It was owned by the Jordan family.

P: Here in Punta Gorda?

W: Yes. The paper was started by my aunt's husband, my uncle Kirby Seward, in
1893, I believe. It was bought by the Jordan family, Mr. A. P. Jordan, in about
1901 or 1902. The Jordans kept it for many, many, many years. They sold it

Page 31

about the time I went away to law school, which would have been about 1950.

P: So you worked for them.

W: I worked for them and taught school at the same time.

P: So when you got out of school in 1933-1934, for one year you worked at the
paper. How much did you get paid?

W: Fifteen dollars a week some weeks, when they had it. Most of the time I did not
get paid at all. I think ultimately probably several years later I got my due.

P: You lived at home, of course.

W: I lived at home. The next year I taught school at Crescent City.

P: How much did you get paid there?

W: Eighty-five dollars a month for eight months.

P: Now, Crescent City is how far from Punta Gorda? Is it a long way?

W: Well, I had to go by train. It took nearly all night to get there. It is north of

P: What did you teach?

W: I taught all the mathematics [courses] and most of the science [courses] in the
junior high and the high school there, and I had a home room. I balked when
they wanted me to coach basketball. I could not do that. I do not know one
end of a basketball from the other. One of my students from up there you will
know: Raymond Ehrlich [UF College of Law Class of 1942, later Florida Supreme
Court justice].

P: Oh, yes, I know Ray Ehrlich very well.

W: Well, Ray was a senior in high school, and they were the only Jewish family in
Crescent City. I remember he was out for Yom Kippur; they kept him home--he
lived across the street from the school--and he came back with his excuse. I
said, "I know why you were out, and I should have been, but I felt like I better
not." So Ray and I have been friends forever. He kept in contact with me
during the time he was on the [Florida] Supreme Court.

P: They are going to have a big dinner in his honor in Jacksonville on the thirtieth.

Page 32

W: I know. I have an invitation.

P: I do, too, but we are going to be gone.

W: I am not going to be able to be there either. He is going to work for [U.S.]
Senator [Robert] Graham [from Florida].

P: No, he is finishing up. Anyway, you then taught at Crescent City. How long did
that last?

W: I just taught there one year. I was elected to go back, but I got an opportunity to
teach here, so I took it. I came back here in 1935-1936.

P: Where did you live in Crescent City?

W: In the Gables. It has either burned down or been torn down since then. It was
operated by two elderly ladies; I think they were both old maids. [They were]
nice old folks. [It was] a big old house, and they served meals there. They
were good to me because for two or three months we did not get paid, and I told
them I simply did not have any money, that I would have to go out on the streets.
They kept me and fed me, and I was able to pay them later on.

P: Did you ever meet Ray Ehrlich's family?

W: Yes, I did. They had a store there in Crescent City. He had an uncle [that lived
in Crescent City]. His uncle was pretty active in the community. I forget in what

P: I was just thinking as a young Jewish boy they might have taken you in.

W: Well, I had very little contact with them, it seems like.

P: Because they had to be the only Jewish family in Crescent City, of course.

W: They were.

P: So Ray grew up just as isolated as you had grown up here in Punta Gorda.

W: They had a celebration honoring Ray in Crescent City here just in the last few
years, I think. Somebody told me.

P: He is a local boy who made good.

Page 33

W: Real good.

P: Right. Well, he is a very fine gentleman in every way.

W: He surely is.

P: So you spent one year in Crescent City teaching math at the junior and senior
high school, and you enjoyed that relationship with students?

W: Oh, yes, very much.

P: Now, you came back to Punta Gorda in 1935-1936?

W: Yes.

P: What were you doing here in the school?

W: I taught the same classes here that I had taught in Crescent City, but I was paid
$101 a month.

P: Boy, you really improved yourself.

W: Oh, yes, $16 a month. And I was living at home. I taught through that year and
up to Christmas of 1936. I had taken a civil service examination and was
offered a job when they were setting up the Social Security system.

P: Which came into existence, I guess, in 1935.

W: That is right. They were setting it up in Baltimore. I took a job that paid $120 a
month, less 5 percent for retirement. I went to Baltimore and was there for four
or five months, maybe six months. My brother was then at the University of
Florida, and I was trying to help him a little bit. I was a little disillusioned with
being a bureaucrat--I was there writing numbers on these Social Security
registration cards--so I came back to Punta Gorda. They offered me a job
running the newspaper at thirty-five dollars a week.

P: You were really moving up in the world.

W: Oh, I moved up fast. Nobody could ever pay me [my full salary]. Well, the
government paid. They never could pay me all the money they owed me at the
Herald, but I came back in 1936. Then I ran for the legislature.

P: I thought you ran for school superintendent.

Page 34

W: I did; I ran for school superintendent.

P: First, or after the legislature?

W: First, at the end of the first year when I taught.

P: Before you went to Baltimore?

W: Yes. I ran for school superintendent against a woman who had taught me in
about the sixth grade.

P: Well, what happened? Why did you decide to go into politics?

W: I do not know. Maybe it was a case of desperation. I did not think I would ever
be able to make a living that amounted to anything, and that seemed to pay a
little better.

P: Of course, you had gotten a taste of politics on campus.

W: Well, that was probably the initiation. So I ran for school superintendent, and
she properly defeated me. Her name was Sally Jones. There is a school here
named for her. She was not an incumbent at the time. She and I were both
teachers in the school.

P: Did it cost some money to throw your hat in the ring, to print cards and to do

W: Yes, but not a whole lot. I had to have cards printed and go around and make
speeches and knock on doors and all of that.

P: Of course, you could get cut rates, since you worked at the Punta Gorda Herald.

W: Yes, I printed my own cards.

P: You were not a successful politician, then.

W: No, I was not very successful. The bug bit me, so two years later, in 1938, I ran
for representative from Charlotte County in the [Florida] legislature. There were
three of us in that race, and two of us were almost knocked out in the first
primary. My principal opponent was a fellow by the name of Frank Smoak, Sr.
His son is a lawyer.

P: Was he the incumbent?

Page 35

W: No. The incumbent had gotten himself a job with the state during the
Depression, with some kind of alphabet agency. [Leading up to] the second
primary we had a rally. I was a better speaker than my opponent, and I got him
all upset and he could not make his speech. Anyway, I won by four votes, so I
went to Tallahassee. That was one of the great experiences of my life.
[Wotitzky served in the Florida House from 1939 to 1950. Ed.]
P: I bet your father could hardly contain himself.

W: Oh, he was very pleased. He came up during that session of the legislature to
visit one time, he and a fellow who was a county judge here. I had them
introduced and escorted to the rostrum of the house. They were both pleased.
I enjoyed my experience in the legislature.

P: The legislature in those years was quite different than it is today.

W: Well, it was different in some respects but just the same in others. We had no
staff. Each one of us had a secretary, and that was all.

P: You had an office?

W: No office. We did our dictating in the house chamber when the legislature was
not in session. We had a table with a typewriter on it in a committee room, and
the secretary could work in there when the committee was not in session.

P: Now, when you went to Tallahassee, Fred P. Cone was governor?

W: Fred P. Cone was governor [1937-1941]. He had had his heart attack and was
not well at all. His brother, Branch Cone, was his executive secretary, and he
sort of ran things up there. Nobody liked Branch much, but they did like old
Fred. My years in the legislature were very worthwhile.

P: Now, you took office in 1939?

W: That was my first session. We had biennial sessions except extraordinary

P: How much did they pay in those days?

W: Six dollars a day for sixty days.

P: Did they pay your transportation?

W: We had mileage for one round trip, which came to $88.60.

Page 36

P: Where did you live in Tallahassee?

W: At the residence of W[illiam] V. Knott, who had been the state treasurer and
comptroller. He had been defeated for governor by Sidney J. Catts [in 1917].
He was a great old man. He was wonderful.

P: So you and Jimmy [William Knott's son], then, were good friends?

W: I knew Jimmy, but we were not too good friends. Jimmy was not around there a
whole lot. I had a room upstairs in that house. It was an antebellum place.

P: Have you been to Tallahassee to see what they are doing with that house?

W: No.

P: That house now belongs to the state.

W: It really should.

P: And it is being turned into a house museum. When Jimmy's brother died, he left
all that property and a big endowment to the state. So your room is probably
going to have a plaque on it.

W: It will say something. [laughter]

P: Well, that house is going to be all ready for the public. It is going to be a big
showplace. Of course, it is convenient to downtown. You could walk from there
to the capitol.

W: I did. Right across the street was the old Cherokee Hotel. Jim Franklin, Sr.,
was in the state senate, and he had a room up there.

P: And the Walker Library was almost across the street from you.

W: That is correct.

P: That is still there.

W: They had the annual Maypole dance out in the park right in front.

P: Right in front of you. That is right.

W: The stands collapsed there one time and injured some people. I happened to
be in the house [when it collapsed]. I heard the noise and rushed out to see

Page 37

[what had happened].

P: Sometime when you are in Gainesville, Leo, I want you to come by my office and
listen to some of these old voices that I have on tape. I have Mr. [William V.]
Knott on tape. [UF Oral History Project, FP29. There is also an interview with
his son, Judge James Knott, UFLC21. Ed.] It will bring back a lot of memories
of some of these people you knew in the 1920s and the 1930s.

W: I used to visit with him a whole lot.

P: He was a very wise man.

W: Yes, he was. He told me a lot of things that I should remember, should have
made note of, should have taped.

P: That is right. Well, we have him talking about his life and his activities. It was a
series of interviews that he did with his son [Charles], and Jimmy was able to turn
all those over to me. So we have them preserved.

W: Well, I am sure they are worthwhile.

P: What committees did you get on during your first session?

W: Public health and probably education.

P: You always were interested in education.

W: Always. I got a plaque the other night from a group here in town.

P: I knew you had an enviable record in the legislature. [Proctor reads from the
plaque:] "Phi Delta Kappa. Outstanding Support of Public Education." That is
what it is. [It is] probably well and richly deserved.

W: Well, I do not know. I was interested in education. In 1944, I believe it was,
Governor [Millard F.] Caldwell [1945-1949] and Governor Spessard Holland
[1941-1945] and Colin English, who was state superintendent of schools,
appointed me, among others, to the Citizens Committee on Education in Florida.
This is a picture of the members of that committee.

P: On this picture that Mr. Wotitzky has just taken off his wall are the members of
the Florida Citizens Committee on Education, and they include Harrison T.
Barringer, Mrs. W. H. Beckham, Al B. Block (I know Mr. Block was from
Tallahassee), the Reverend Jack Anderson, F. N. K. Bailey, Ray Carroll, Marion
T. Gaines, Richard H. Simpson (who was the vice-chairman), [and] S. Kendrick

Page 38

Guernsey. Mr. Guernsey was chairman. He was also an insurance man, and I
believe he was on the Board of Control at the time. [Mr. Guernsey was not
appointed to the Board of Control until 1956. Ed.] Mrs.--or Dr.--Kathryn Abbey
Hannah was the secretary. Kathryn Abbey Hannah was a professor of history
and chairman of the history department at Florida State College for Women.
She was married to Dr. Alfred Hannah, who was a distinguished Florida historian
and who taught at Rollins College [in Winter Park]. They together wrote several
books on Florida. She had earlier written a book called Florida: Land of Change.
The executive secretary was [Dr.] Edgar L. Morphet [professor of educational
administration, University of Florida]. The other members of the committee were
Allen C. Grazier, A. W. Litschgi, and then Mrs. H. H. Wedgworth, E. A. Pierce,
Wallace E. Sturgis, and, of course, Leo Wotitzky, whose picture is here along
with the others. This was a very blue-ribbon committee that was set up by the
governors, and it really provided a blueprint for education in Florida. Mr.
Wotitzky is telling us about that now.

Now, you were telling me about coeducation. I thought that was part of this
program, but it was a separate bill, you said.

W: It was a separate bill. It was very interesting, because we had a delegation from
the University of Florida come over, and they wanted to make the University of
Florida coeducational but not [FSCW in] Tallahassee, or vice-versa. I do not
remember. I told them that they were out of their tree. We were going to do the
whole thing [make both schools coeducational]. Of course, we did. It was a de
facto situation anyhow. Over at Tallahassee there were a lot of men attending
FSCW. I think they were housed in barracks out at the Tallahassee airport.

P: And there certainly were a lot of women already [at the University of Florida]--the
wives of returning veterans.

W: Oh, yes, sure. So it was a de facto integration anyway. It passed readily. It
was just sort of a passing fad.

In 1949 one quite interesting thing happened in the legislature, again, while I was
chairman of the education committee. The Florida Bar had a plan to require all
graduates from law schools in Florida to take the bar exam. Up to that time we
had had diploma privilege, that is, if you graduated from an accredited Florida
law school, you were automatically admitted to the bar. I had not been to law
school. When that bill was introduced it went to a judiciary committee. I had
paid no attention to it, but I began to get calls from a couple of law students from
Charlotte County, saying, "Do not let them pass that. We will never get admitted
if we have to take the bar exam." So I got up one quiet afternoon and made a
motion to refer the bill jointly to the committee on education, which had only one
lawyer on it.

Page 39

Then we had a public hearing on the bill, and the whole capital was filled with law
students from everywhere. In the meantime, I went around and talked to all the
members of the committee, and they all agreed to vote against it except the one
lawyer. Some of them who were not going to be there gave me their proxies.
So we had this hearing, and I asked each law school to designate one or two
spokesmen to limit their time. So the bill was killed, and the diploma privilege
survived that session, and all these legislators and members of the bar who were
all friends of mine blamed me for it. It must have been a bad bill if nobody voted
for it.

At any rate, that was my last session in the legislature. In 1950 I was in law

P: How did you escape World War II?

W: Well, number one, I was exempt from the draft because I was ...

P: Over age?

W: No. I was a constitutional officer as a member of the legislature. But I could
not rely on that. I began to feel terrible. I was the only young person around
here who was not in the military. So I went and tried to get a commission in the
navy and the marines and everything else, but I could not pass the physical.
Then I waived my draft exemption.

P: What was wrong with you physically?

W: Mostly my eyes. My vision was poor, so that is what did it to me. I waived my
exemption and went to Camp Blanding [near Starke, Florida] to take a physical
for the draft. That was in 1944, I guess. They rejected me again. They said
that I might be called up for some kind of limited service. I talked to the colonel
in the reception center there. I said, "Is there any likelihood that you would call
me?" He said, "Maybe in case of invasion or something." So I gave up on that.

P: Frank was in service, though, was he?

W: Frank was in the service the whole time. He was in the navy. After he was on
active duty they sent him to OCS [Officer Candidate School]. He served in the
Mediterranean and he served out in the Pacific. In fact, he was out there when
the war ended.

P: So you were not in the service, then, during World War II.

Page 40

W: No.

P: Now, [how did] you make a living during the period? You gave up teaching
school. Am I right about that?

W: Well, during much of this time I taught school, I worked for the newspaper, and I
served in the legislature. I had to have a leave of absence from teaching to go
to Tallahassee during the legislative session every two years, but other than that

P: You continued, then, teaching as a high school science and math teacher here in
Punta Gorda.

W: Yes, I did.

P: And you continued working at the newspaper.

W: Right.

P: What were you doing at the newspaper?

W: Almost everything.

P: You were still doing everything that needed doing.

W: Both mechanical and editorial.

P: But you were not the editor of the paper.

W: Well, we called A. C. Jordan and me co-editors. So I did it all.

P: Were you getting to be an affluent man with all of these incomes? First of all,
start with your school salary.

W: The highest salary I ever made teaching school was $1,300 one year. That was
toward the last.

P: And then you were the editor of the paper.

W: Yes, and they paid me about $35 a week some weeks.

P: When they sold ads. [laughter]

W: And then when I went off to the legislature neither of them paid me, and I got $6

Page 41

a day for sixty days.

P: So you could not accumulate [much money]. You were not Mr. Rockefeller,

W: I did not have anything.
P: Tell me about your legislative career. You are an apostle, really, of education. I
know that has been a major interest of yours.

W: Yes. I guess it came to kind of a head in the 1949 legislative session when I
was chairman of the education committee.

P: How did it happen that you were named to this blue-ribbon committee?
Spessard Holland named you, did he not?

W: Well, there was Spessard. Colin English, of course, was the state
superintendent of schools. He was from Lee County.

P: Oh, I see.

W: I had known Colin for quite a long time, and I was a pretty outspoken member of
the house. I was involved to a great extent in education matters, and I guess it
was between Spessard Holland and Colin English that I was appointed, although
I was local campaign manager for Millard Caldwell when he ran for governor.

P: I notice Al Block was on that committee also.

W: Yes, Al was a contributing member. Al was pretty loud and opinionated about

P: And, of course, I knew Dr. Hannah, Kathryn Abbey Hannah well. She was a
fellow historian.

W: Yes, that is right. She is dead, too, is she not?

P: Yes.

W: It is an interesting thing. Harrison Barringer was senator from this district, and
he was on that committee. He was killed in an airplane accident. Wallace
Sturgis was appointed in his place, and he was on there for a short time. Of
course, both of them are dead. Mrs. Beckham was the president of the PTA
organization in the state, and she is probably no longer living. Al Block is no
longer living. This fellow, Anderson, was a Presbyterian minister. I do not know
whether he is living or not. F. N. K. Bailey had been a state county

Page 42

superintendent in Highlands County, and I know he is no longer living.

P: He is gone.

W: Ray Carroll was a banker and a cattleman from Kissimmee, and he is no longer
living. Marion Gaines was editor of the Pensacola News Journal, and he is
gone. Dick Simpson is no longer living. I served with him in the house.

P: Mr. Guernsey is no longer living.

W: Ken Guernsey is no longer living. Kathy Abbey Hannah is not. I have not
heard from Dr. Morphet in many years. I think he went to California.

P: Yes, but I do not think he is living any longer, either.

W: I would doubt it. Allen Grazier was a lawyer from St. Pete, and he is no longer
living. Al Litschgi was an insurance man in Tampa, and I know he is not living.
This lady was a farmer; she operated a big farm down in the Everglades area.
Whether she is living or not I do not know.

P: I do not know, either.

W: Pierce was from the phosphate country.

P: I did not know him.

W: I would judge that after all these years he is probably no longer living. Wallace
Sturgis is no longer living.

P: Well, it looks to me like you are the last survivor.

W: Mighty close to it, unless perhaps Mrs. Wedgworth or Morphet is living.

P: If there were a Last Man's Club, you would have the bottle of champagne.

W: I would have to drink it all, would I not?

P: [laughter] I would come in and join with you. Now, I want to talk with you a little
bit more about that report that you people came out with. I guess it was 1947
that that report was issued.

W: That is correct. It all came to a head in 1947.

P: What about the community college program? Was that part of your

Page 43


W: That was a part of it. That was created as a part of the Minimum Foundation

P: That was a major step forward for this state.
W: That is right.

P: What motivated that?

W: The motivation for it, the philosophy that guided it, was the need to provide some
additional education, mostly designed for terminal education, for young people
who just could not make it to college for financial or other reasons. [The idea
was to] place these schools within commuting distance of all these high school
graduates in Florida. That was the motivating force. At the time they were
made adjuncts of the public school system as a thirteenth and fourteenth grade.

P: Run by the local school boards?

W: That is correct. The Charlotte County School Board, the Lee County School
Board, and the Collier County School Board controlled Edison Community
College down in Fort Myers. Of course, that was all changed later on. There is
a state board of community colleges now. There were a couple of junior
colleges in Florida. There was St. Petersburg Junior College back in those
days, and I think there was one in Jacksonville.

P: There was one in Jacksonville which later became Jacksonville University.

W: Well, that was the idea, and I think it has been a very fine thing for the state of

P: What else was included that you were involved in, that you felt that you had a
hand in putting into the recommendation, the report?

W: Well, the heart of the program was the requirement that teachers would have to
be educated, strangely enough. We did it by providing for teaching units to be
allocated based on average daily attendance in the public schools, and the
amount of money per teacher unit would be based on the training level of the
teachers. In other words, if there were a person [teaching] who had not been to
college, as a lot of teachers had not at that time, they would hardly get anything.

P: And if they had a master's degree?

W: If they had a bachelor's degree there was so much allocated, or the value of the

Page 44

unit was so much, and a master's degree and a Ph.D. That was the heart of the

Now, it did another thing which I think is still pretty much in effect. It provided
funds for each county, and funds allocated to each county would be based on
these factors that I just mentioned, but also based on an index of tax-paying
ability that Dr. Morphet and Dr. Johns devised. The idea was that a wealthy
county, a county where a mill tax levy would raise more money than a poorer
county, would get less from the state. Each county was required to levy in local
taxes support of public education based on this index of tax-paying ability, so that
there would be a minimum foundation of funding under public education all over
the state of Florida. This could be supplemented by a richer county by levying
more local taxes. That was the secret, and it is still being attacked. But the
idea was to tax wealth where it existed to educate children where they lived.

P: Is that the basic premise that they still go on today?

W: I think largely. I am sure there have been modifications of it. I have not really
kept up with it. But that was the philosophy that governed the thing, and it was
pretty radical.

P: Now, in 1949, I understand from what you were saying earlier, you helped to
spearhead that large appropriation for educational support.

W: Yes.

P: How much was it?

W: It was $99,793,000 that year.

P: Was that the largest that the legislature had ever appropriated, to your

W: To my knowledge, it was. Of course, that is nothing today. It runs into billions.
But it was revolutionary in 1949.

P: By that time was Fuller Warren already in place [as governor]?

W: In 1949 Fuller Warren was governor, yes.

P: So you serve with governors [Fred] Cone, Spessard Holland, Millard Caldwell,
and Fuller Warren.

W: That is correct.

Page 45

P: So you were in the legislature with four separate governors.

W: That is right. I was there for twelve years.

P: When you left, what position did you have? You were chair of the education

W: That is correct.

P: Which was, of course, a very powerful committee.

W: That is right. And, of course, I was on the rules committee and a number of

P: Were you the Dempsey Barron of South Florida?

W: No, I do not believe I was. [laughter] I do not believe I was.

P: That was just a facetious question. I really did not mean that at all.

W: Well, Dempsey was a pretty powerful fellow.

P: Oh, yes. Who were the powers in the legislature when you were there in the
1940s? Besides Leo Wotitzky, that is. Was Verle Pope in office then?

W: Verle was in later.

P: LeRoy Collins was there.

W: LeRoy Collins and Richard Simpson.

P: Sturgis was there?

W: Wallace Sturgis was a pretty able fellow.

P: Were you the legislative voice for this particular area of the state?

W: Well, I do not know whether I should say that, but probably to some extent.

P: You had seniority.

W: I had seniority, and I was handling an awful lot of substantial legislation at that

Page 46

P: Now, you went through six elections?

W: Yes.

P: So you were in the legislature from 1939 ...
W: From 1938 to 1950.

P: I see, for twelve years. So you went through six campaigns.

W: I ran again in 1950 and was defeated.

P: Yes, but you had six successful campaigns.

W: Yes, I did.

P: Did you run into much opposition? Have you any stories that need to be told
concerning those six campaigns?

W: During those six campaigns there was not a whole lot.

P: It did not cost as much to run then as it does now.

W: Oh, no. If it did, I never would have been able to run. It cost about $200 or
$300, I suspect. I had to go knock on every door in the county. I was defeated
because at the end of the 1949 session we had to have more revenue in Florida,
as we do today, and Fuller Warren had recommended a number of different
taxes, for example, a severance tax on phosphate, and I do not remember what
else. But it brought together all the lobbyists who were trying to protect their
own territory. They all got together, and all of those tax revenue measures were
defeated. So at the end of the 1949 session, we had this big appropriation that I
had passed, and all the rest of them, and not nearly enough money to pay them.

Fuller Warren had run as an opponent of sales tax, and so had I. I felt that it
was regressive and that if we were going to do anything we probably ought to
have an income tax. At any rate, we came to the end of the session without
revenue, and there really was no alternative but to pass a sales tax.

P: Because you were not going to get an income tax.

W: We were not going to get an income tax. So a meeting was set up at
Kissimmee, out in an orange grove that was owned by Funey Steed, who was
then a lobbyist for the citrus industry.

Page 47

P: That is a strange first name.

W: Yes. He also represented the automobile dealers association, I think, as a
lobbyist. At any rate, we met in a house in his orange grove, and the group that
was there was really the leadership of the legislature: I do not remember whether
LeRoy Collins was there (I think he was); Richard Simpson; a friend of mine from
Pinellas County; Archie Clement, who was chairman of the rules committee;
Fuller Warren was there. I forget now who all was there, but this was a real
out-of-the-sunshine gathering.

P: The power group.

W: It was, and we had a long, intense discussion. Before the meeting adjourned we
agreed to pass Florida's first sales tax. Fuller Warren said, "I will go along with
it, but I do not want it called a sales tax. I want it called the Revenue Act of
1949." So we all went out and made speeches.

I came back here and went to every group that I could think of and told them
what I was going to be compelled to do in order to be honest with myself. I had
passed this appropriation, and I had to find the money to pay it. They all said,
"We will get you at the next election if you do that," and I said, "That is what you
will have to do, because I have to do what I have to do." The governor called a
special session, and we passed Florida's first sales tax, a 3 percent sales tax.

P: With lots of exemptions.

W: Oh, many, many exemptions. At the next election I was defeated by four votes,
the same number that I won by initially.

P: And they used the sales tax as the weapon against you.

W: Oh, yes. They [my opponents] were going to go up and repeal it, which really
could not have been done.

P: Of course, I am sure the education people were behind you.

W: Not as much as they should have been. They did not make much effort. But
things always turn out for the better. It sort of broke my heart at the time.

P: But as it turned out, it was a blessing.

W: Oh, it sent me to law school. Yes, it sort of hurt my feelings. I think I was
runner-up in the state in the voting for the most valuable member of the house.

Page 48

P: Now, when you went to law school, you were not yet married, were you?

W: No.

P: So you were going up to Gainesville as a single man.

W: Right.

P: You got up there when? In the fall of 1950?

W: The fall of 1950, that is right.

P: And you were able to get your degree in three years.

W: It was a little less than three years. I graduated in January of 1953.

P: I see. You must have gone to summer school.

W: Yes, I went straight through.

P: What really made you make that decision to come back to the University?

W: Well, I had always wanted to be a lawyer.

P: You were fulfilling, in a way, a dream?

W: That is right. Sometimes you get a traumatic experience like my political
experience and you begin to take stock of yourself and try to decide where you
are going and what you are doing with your life.

P: But you are almost forty years old.

W: I was thirty-seven. I was forty when I graduated, and my wife and I were
married right after graduation.

P: You met in Gainesville?

W: No. There is another story connected with that.

P: Tell me about your personal business, and then I went to get into your law school
days in Gainesville. Tell me about your wife and children.

W: When we passed the Minimum Foundation Law in 1947, my wife was a young
teacher of home economics up in Georgia. She heard about the better salaries

Page 49

down here and the better conditions than they had at that time in Georgia, so she
contacted the Department of Education in Florida and asked about home
economics positions. She made an application here and in other places. On
the newspaper, my printing press, I had prepared for the chamber of commerce a
brochure about Charlotte County with some pretty flattering photographs, and
she saw that and thought, Boy, this is going to be a wonderful place to go. She
accepted the job here. So she and I met as teachers.

P: She did not realize that you were the one who had lured her here.

W: That is right.

P: Tell me her name.

W: Zena. Her maiden name was Cox.

P: Where was she born and raised?

W: She was born in Nevils, Georgia. It is a very small farming community outside of
Statesboro, Georgia.

P: Where did she go to school?

W: She went to what was then a junior college in south Georgia. I cannot
remember the name of it, [but it was an] agricultural school. Then she went to
Georgia State College for Women in Milledgeville and was graduated there.
Then she started teaching up in Georgia. She taught a couple of years and then
came down here.

P: When were you married, Leo?

W: Right after I got out of law school, on February 22, 1953.

P: Give me the names and birthdates of your children for the record.

W: OK. My oldest is Edward L. Wotitzky. He was born November 10, 1956. The
next was my daughter Mary, who was born October 30, 1957. Then there is my
son Hal, who was born May 22, 1960. In fact, today is his birthday.

P: Are all of your children married?

W: Yes.

P: Do you have grandchildren?

Page 50

W: I have five grandchildren. My daughter does not have any children. She is
teaching in a kindergarten in the Orlando area. My two sons are here. My
younger son, Hal, has three children--two boys and a girl--and my older son, Ed,
has a son and a daughter.

P: Did both of your boys go to [the University of Florida in] Gainesville?

W: Yes.

P: And your daughter?

W: She went, unfortunately, to Florida State University. [laughter]

P: Are your two boys lawyers?

W: Yes, they are both in this firm.

P: So they are with you.

W: Yes. The older one has been practicing now about ten years, and he will be the
managing partner here.

P: I want to talk to you a little bit about your brother Frank. We have not picked up
on him very much. He is four years your junior.

W: Yes.

P: And he came to the University, I guess, in 1936.

W: He came to the University in 1934. They used to offer a combined degree in
business administration and law.

P: Right.

W: He took three years in business administration and went over to the law school.
At the end of three years in law school he received both degrees--bachelor of
science in business administration and [bachelor of laws].

P: He and I were in school at the same time and may have known each other at the

W: That could be. He has pretty much retired. He comes up here
sometimes--well, almost every day when he is in town. He spent the past month

Page 51

on his boat down in the Florida Keys.

P: I want to get back, now, to your coming back to the University. Let me first ask
you where did you live? At an apartment?

W: If you could call it that. Mel Frumkes [College of Law class of 1953] ...
P: I know Mel well.

W: Mel graduated from undergraduate school in 1950 and moved into law school. I
had met him when I was invited by the Pi Lambs to a banquet that they had when
I was in the legislature to make a speech to the fraternity. I met him then.
Dean [Joseph] Weil [College of Engineering], when I came back, asked me if I
would like to live in the fraternity house [the Tau Epsilon Pi house] and supervise
a little bit. I said, "That might be interesting, and it would save me some
money." Well, I slept there one night, and that was the end of it. [laughter] So
Mel told me he had this little apartment out in back of the Pi Lamb house, which
was way out on West University Avenue.

P: You lived in that little house?

W: Well, when we went back, they were out there next to what was then the Sigma
Chi house. There was a little alleyway back there and some little old
shack-looking places. Mel and I had one of those; we lived there. We had a
living room you could study in and a bedroom. There was another one next to
us--it was a duplex--and there was one bathroom for the whole bunch of us.
That is where I lived.

P: Do you stay in touch with Mel?

W: Oh, yes. I have an invitation to his daughter's wedding. I am not going to be
able to go. We talk a whole lot. We exchange books to read.

P: Well, next time you talk to him, tell him I have been here with a tape recorder.
Mel and I have been friends for a long time, and we share a friendship with Sam
Berman, who was a Pi Lamb at the time. Mel is Sam's attorney.

W: Mel is a gung-ho guy. He never slows down.

P: And he has done very well with all these divorce cases. [laughter]

W: Oh, yes. He has had a couple of his own.

P: Yes. But he is married to a very nice lady now.

Page 52

W: Oh, Marsha is great.

P: She is a lovely lady.

W: In fact, their daughter was really her daughter by a prior marriage.

P: I know. We get a New Year's card from them every single year. So as I say,
through Sam Berman I stay in touch with Mel. He hardly every turns me down.
If I write him and say, "We are raising some money for the Center for Jewish
Studies," he comes through, whatever you ask. He never really says no to

W: Mel is a real gentleman.

P: He is a very fine gentleman. The reason I was asking you about the house is I
remember where the Pi Lamb house was, and I remember there was the little
cottage immediately behind the Pi Lamb house. You did not live in that
God-forsaken place.

W: No. That was pretty sad.

P: Yes, because my brother Sol lived there, and we went there one time. My wife
went through it--they were not there--and she said, "Never again will I ever go
into a place looking like that."

W: That was pretty bad. But that little place we had we kept reasonably clean.

P: Well, this one was not clean.

W: It was a spartan spot.

P: My wife sometimes used to cook for those boys. She would send over some
food for them, the ones that lived in that little cottage in the back of the house. I
have forgotten exactly who lived there, but it was a raucous group, and Sol still
stays in touch with that little clique in there.

Anyway, while you were in law school, you were also involved in a lot of activity
on campus, I notice. You were on the Law Review.

W: Yes, I was the executive editor of the Law Review. I dropped off the Law
Review my last semester because I was offered a job teaching business law over
in the business administration school, along with finishing up law school.

P: So Dean [Walter J.] Matherly [College of Business Administration] was [dean]

Page 53

over there then, was he not?

W: Dean Matherly gave me the job. Actually, Dean [Henry A.] Fenn [College of
Law] recommended me to Dean Matherly. I had known Dean Matherly, of
course, the first time I was up there.

P: We have Fenn on tape, too. [UF Oral History Project, UFCL47]

W: He is a great fellow.

P: He sure is.

W: Matherly died suddenly, and rather young, did he not?

P: Right. And Mrs. Matherly outlived him for many years in Jacksonville. She is
dead now, too. But their son, Walter Matherly, Jr., is still alive. He lives and
works in Jacksonville.

W: That is interesting.

P: I was on campus [when you were in law school]. I came back to teach in June
of 1946, so I was there when you returned as a student, and our paths may have
crossed at that time.

W: But I do not remember. I do not suppose you do, either.

P: Now, you got into Florida Blue Key during this period?

W: Yes.

P: Were you ever active in Blue Key?

W: Yes, I was rather active during law school. I used to go to those tapping
sessions, but I could not sit there all night.

P: I was going to say those things went on for hours and hours and hours.

W: Oh, yes. I would stay there. They always had a lot of food there, and I would
eat. Then I would get sleepy and go. I would say: "You can elect anybody you
want. I am through." [laughter]

P: So when you came, J. Hillis Miller was president.

W: Yes.

Page 54

P: And I guess when you left in January of 1953 he was still alive.

W: He was still alive. He died rather suddenly, too.

P: He died, yes. First of all we lost [Governor] Dan McCarty, you remember, in
September of 1953.

W: Dan McCarty and I graduated from the University [together] the first time.

P: Were you good friends with Dan?

W: Oh, yes, very good friends.

P: And have you remained good friends with John [McCarty, Dan's brother]?

W: Yes. I do not have much contact with him, but we have served on some
committees together. The activity in which they raised the money for the law
school addition up there ...

P: Oh, yes, the new building.

W: Yes. I was involved with him in that. Then, of course, when Dan was governor,
which was just for a short time, I had a lot of contact with him. I supported Dan
for governor. I was saddened when he died.

P: Oh, of course. That was a real loss, particularly when we got Charley Johns as
his replacement. [laughter]

W: Charley Johns! I will never forget when LeRoy Collins was running against
Charley Johns. The Johns people ran an advertisement in the Miami Herald that
was supposed to come out the next morning after the debate that they had down
there. Only, when the early edition of the paper was printed, that ad was in it.
Somebody rushed it to LeRoy in time for the debate. So LeRoy held up the ad
and asked Charley about it, and Charley just sputtered all over the place.
[laughter] He was not too sharp to start with.

P: No, but he had a lot of intolerance and bigotry in his system.

W: Oh, Charley? My lord, yes!

P: Now, you said that you ran Millard Caldwell's campaign way back in 1944, I
guess, here in the county. So you became involved with some of these people
beyond just in the legislature. Were you and Millard good friends?

Page 55

W: Oh, yes, real good friends. He was very kind to me.

P: He had a lot of sad things happen to him.

W: His son was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Washington, and that caused him, I
believe, to retire from the legislature.

When I was in law school, after Millard was out as governor, he was invited to
make some talk to some intellectual-type thing over in the [University Memorial]
Auditorium, and I went. There was hardly anybody there. It was quite a formal
thing, and his talk was excellent. I felt embarrassed for the University that there
was not greater attendance at that thing. Millard was an opinionated,
hard-headed fellow.

P: Oh, he sure was.

W: Oh, man! I remember when we were trying to pass the Minimum Foundation
Law we had a final meeting.

P: I want to go back and get that business of the fence law. For some reason, that
did not pick up on here. Start back with telling me about passing the law here in
Charlotte County.

W: Along about 1943, I believe, I had become pretty well upset with the fact that
cattle were allowed to roam all over everywhere. People were getting killed out
on the roads.

P: Messing up farms.

W: That is right. And they were in outlying places. They [the cows] got into
people's yards. It was just an unreasonable situation. So I decided to pass a
local law requiring livestock to be fenced in Charlotte County and to place a
liability on the cattle owner for allowing their cattle to run at large.

P: You waited until you won the election, though?

W: Oh, yes, I did that.

P: You were a wise politician. [laughter]

W: Yes. So I announced that I would do it, and I was invited to a meeting of the
Cattlemen's Association where they informed me that they were not in favor of

Page 56

P: So they wanted to let you know how they felt about it.

W: That is right. I told them it was going to happen. They said it would be all right
if they did not have to have liability. It was going to be liability, too. But I did tell
them that I would give them six months to get their fences up. So I went to
Tallahassee with the local act and received a couple of petitions from people who
were for it and people who were against it.

P: There was a lot of strong opposition to it?

W: Yes, but many of the same names [were] on both petitions. I never put much
stock in petitions. I think you can get a petition to do anything.

P: Anything you want.

W: Yes. So I went on and passed it. The shock was over by the time 1949 came
along, when Fuller Warren proposed a statewide law, so I supported it.

P: Had Fuller talked to you about it ahead of time, knowing that you had this history
of it?

W: I do not recall any conversation with him particularly relating to this local act.

P: Because that was a factor during his campaign.

W: It was. I think probably we did talk about it, because I think it was in 1943--it
could have been in 1945--when I passed it, and he was in the house then, I think.
[Fuller Warren represented Calhoun County in the Florida House beginning in
1927 and Duval County beginning in 1939. Ed.] So we probably talked about
it. We talked about everything.

P: Did the Cattlemen's Association, then, become your enemy from that point on?

W: Well, it sort of settled down. They were not particularly active, but I never got
any support from them.

P: I want to ask you about the lobbying groups and about the economic groups in
Florida that did have strong lobbyists. You said there were good lobbyists and
bad lobbyists, just as there are today. What were some of the groups that were
particularly represented?

W: Well, there were the power companies--Florida Power & Light I remember in
particular--[and] the phosphate industry.

Page 57

P: Phosphate, I guess, was always concerned about a severance tax, were they

W: Well, they were concerned about the severance tax, but they were also
concerned about liability for the harm they were doing to the ecology. For
example, the Peace River runs into Charlotte Harbor right here, and the Peace
River runs up through the phosphate country. The phosphate companies had
settling ponds with big earthen dams around them. Those dams would break
every now and then--we thought on purpose when they got to be full--and the
whole Peace River would turn white with this phosphate sludge and slime. They
did not want any liability for that. We tried for years to pass legislation making
them liable. So they had a powerful lobby.

P: Of course, we were not yet that environmentally conscious in states like Florida.

W: Oh, that is true.

P: Citrus must have been powerful.

W: The citrus industry had a powerful lobby. I once served on the citrus committee
in the house. In fact, in 1949 I served on that committee. I did not know much
about citrus.

P: You were saying you had that meeting in Kissimmee in an orange grove to plan
the sales tax, and there were the lobbyists from the citrus industry there.

W: That is right, in his grove.

P: Was banking already a pretty powerful group in Florida then?

W: Yes, they were a significant factor in Florida. I tried to pass a law back then to
escheat to the state of Florida dormant bank accounts. It had provisions in it
that if the person showed up again after a certain period of years he could get his
money back. I introduced that bill, and yes, they were powerful. They
slaughtered my bill and me, too, in the process. That law, I think, exists now.

P: What about the trucking industry? It must have become very influential by now.

W: Oh, yes. Major Tomasello of Bartow was the lobbyist for the trucking industry.
Railroads in those days had considerable lobbies.

P: Had the du Ponts already entered the scene in a major way?

Page 58

W: Yes, they had. They were trying to get some tax advantages. The speaker of
the house in 1939 was G. Pierce Wood, who worked for the du Ponts. He was
from one of the little west Florida counties [Liberty County]. He was an able
fellow. He refused to go along with their tax ideas and lost his job.

P: Ed Ball [du Pont estate executor] got rid of him.
W: Ed Ball got rid of him. That is correct. He came down and worked for
Consolidated Land Company in DeSoto County after that. But the banking
industry was powerful, and the influence of Ed Ball was felt all over the place.

P: And of course gambling was influential in Florida, certainly the dog tracks and jai
alai frontons.

W: Oh, my, yes. Really everybody was a little skeptical about voting for anything
the horse tracks wanted because they were afraid of being accused of being paid
off. But they were active--influential, really. Most of the fight went on between
Hialeah and Tropical Park--and later Gulfstream--about who was going to get the
most lucrative dates for racing.

P: I know that Fuller was the recipient of some large amounts of money from the
dog track operators in Jacksonville, [from] Walter Johnson and also from the

W: Yes, I heard that he was.

P: Well, that came out, obviously, in testimony later on.

W: I had a good feeling about Fuller as governor. I thought that he had some
advisors around him who used him, but my feeling about Fuller was that he was
very honest.

P: He was conscientious and interested in developing Florida.

W: I think that he was.

P: He had always been a politician, so he was looking out for his own welfare and
furthering his own ambitions.

W: Yes, but I never saw any indications that he had sold out to anybody in particular.

P: Although a lot of his friends got jobs. Did you know Martin Segal in Orlando?

W: Yes. Martin was a mess.

Page 59

P: Martin was connected with the Wolfsons.

W: Was he the one who got shot?

P: Yes, his wife shot him, and he is paralyzed. He is still alive, but he has to use a

W: Yes, I remember him, but I have not thought of him in many, many years.

P: I see him occasionally, because he is a TEP. [laughter]

W: He was in trouble there with his wife, I remember.

P: I remember that Fuller paid off the Wolfsons well. Martin became the beverage
commissioner, I think. Lewis Schott. Do you remember Lewis?

W: Yes, I remember Lewis. What was he? He was the head of the industrial
commission or something.

P: He was head of something. I have forgotten [what]. [Lewis Schott was director
of the State Beverage Department beginning in 1949. Ed.] Lewis was in
school. He was from Daytona Beach.

W: He left Florida.

P: He lives in New York now and has become an extraordinarily wealthy man, very
wealthy man. One of his daughters is Lady Rothschild; she married into the
Rothschild family in London. Lord and Lady Rothschild.

W: Good grief. That is interesting.

P: [laughter] I was going to say those University students really go a long way.

W: They certainly do.

P: Lewis has been a strong supporter of the medical school particularly. I think he
has given them a couple of million dollars, so obviously he is well heeled if he is
able to do something like that. I have not seen him in many, many, many years.
I only bring him up because he was associated with the Wolfsons at the time,
and it was during the Fuller Warren administration that a lot of this came about.
Did you play an active role in the 1948 campaign?

W: No.

Page 60

P: But you did in 1952 when Dan McCarty was running.

W: Yes.

P: You were in school in Gainesville [then]. What role did you play in that

W: I am trying to remember. Maybe I was not too active.

P: He ran in 1952.

W: That is right. I came back down here, I guess, sometime during that campaign
and did some work locally. I guess I probably was not very active.

P: Of course, William Shands--you remember Bill Shands--was running also in 1948
against Fuller Warren. He was from Alachua County, and most of the
conservative interests in Florida were supporting Shands.

W: Well, Bill Shands was on the board of directors of Florida Power & Light and
things like that.

P: I want to ask you about another area that you may have been involved in when
you were in the legislature, and that was the decision relative to the
establishment of the medical school in Gainesville. That would have been part
of your education interest.

W: It sure would. That bill to determine the location of the [medical school] ...

P: First of all [talk about] the decision to open a medical school, and then the

W: The bill to locate it came before the education committee in 1949 when I was
chairman. We had been shown that down in Miami there was a big blood bank
and the big hospital, Jackson Memorial, and all of these patients available to
treat for everything, and I was pretty favorably impressed with the Miami site for
the medical school. But there was a bill introduced to put it at the University of
Florida, one to put it in Miami, one to put it in Tampa, one to put it in Orlando,
[one to put it in] Jacksonville--all around the state. So I was at a little bit of a
loss on how to deal with it. I finally decided and told the folks from Gainesville
that I would let their bill out of the committee first. If it passed, that would be the
end of it. I did that, and it did pass. That is the way it happened.

P: Why did you favor Gainesville? You said you liked the Miami situation.

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W: I really thought it ought to go down there at the time.

P: Because it was an urban area?

W: It was my understanding that they had so many indigent patients who would be
available [as patients in the teaching hospital], and they had this blood bank.

P: And yet you came out and kind of leaned toward Gainesville by letting the bill out

W: I did; I really did. As I recall it now, I was influenced to a large degree by this
medical provost or dean or something from Virginia who was an advisor. I forget
his name now. But I listened to him, and I was pretty much influenced by him.

P: Of course, Senator Shands favored Alachua County.

W: Yes. That is the reason the hospital is named for him. As a result, I said, "My
sentiments are always with the University of Florida anyway, so based on what
he had to say, I will just let that bill go first." And I did. Of course, it passed,
and the rest of them died in the committee.

P: Now, when you were in the legislature, it was not yet reapportioned, so the real
control was in north Florida, was it not, those little counties from Duval west to
the Panhandle, with the so-called Pork-Chop Gang running things?

W: Well, they did not have the name Pork-Chop Gang.

P: No. That did not come until much later.

W: We formed a small county block. See, the three largest counties each had three
representatives in the house.

P: What were they? Duval, Hillsborough, and what?

W: Duval, Dade, and Hillsborough. Then the next level had two.

P: That would be Orange County and ...

W: Orange and Polk and ...

P: Counties in that area.

W: Yes. They had two. And the rest of the counties had one.

Page 62

P: And you were in Charlotte County with one?

W: Charlotte County had one. I represented about 4,500 people. A representative
from Dade County probably represented about 250,000. It was not exactly fair
from that standpoint.
P: But it was good for the county.

W: Oh, yes. So we controlled the legislature. I remember the representative from
Dade County had instituted or had been a factor in instituting a lawsuit to attack
the equal distribution of racetrack money among the counties of the state. That
was in 1939. That litigation was pending. So the small county block had a
meeting--with Bernie Papy [Sr. from Monroe County] and a few others--and we
decided that Dade County would not pass any of their local bills. And they had
always had a lot of them. So [we agreed that] every Dade County bill would be
referred on motion to the committee on public amusements, which took care of
racing and gambling. They all went there, and Dade County was absolutely
stymied. They had to have some of this legislation, so a deal was made. They
dismissed their lawsuit, and miraculously all their bills came out of committee and
were passed.

P: Miraculously.

W: After that we submitted and succeeded in passing a constitutional amendment to
legitimize that distribution of race track money.

P: I want to get back and repeat again something I think we may have missed.
After law school, you came back here to Punta Gorda and joined the firm that
your brother Frank had already established. Tell me again where you were
located, where your offices were.

W: It was on Marion Avenue in Punta Gorda, upstairs over the McCrory's
[department] store.

P: Which is no longer in existence.

W: The upstairs is no longer in existence, and the McCrory's store is no longer in

P: I see. But the downstairs part of the building is still there.

W: There is a furniture store there now.

P: And then from there you moved to a second site.

Page 63

W: Which was on Taylor Street in Punta Gorda, across the street from the
courthouse in a one-story building that we put up.

P: Did I understand you to say that your brother had a title company here?

W: Yes, he had a title company, the only one in the county. When I came back, he
gave me a half interest in it, and we became partners in both activities.

P: When did you build this building?

W: We built it in the 1970s; I forget now [exactly] when it was. Then we later sold it
and leased back the top floor. That is the status of it right now.

P: So you have had three sites here in Punta Gorda.

W: That is right.

P: Now, I was asking you also, Leo, about the status of this firm. You have seven
attorneys in the firm?

W: Yes, counting my brother, who is of counsel semi-retired.

P: And your two sons are here with you.

W: That is correct.

P: What kind of law does the firm practice?

W: We are engaged in a general practice with some emphasis on real property: real
property law generally, real property litigation, environmental law.

P: Has environmental law become a big thing in this area?

W: It is a tremendous thing everywhere, I am sure, and certainly here. We do a lot
of estate practice--estate planning, probate, and that sort of thing. That is a
substantial part of our practice because this is a retirement area. We do quite a
bit of environmental law, as I said. [We handle] general litigation, [and] we do
some personal injury law. We do not intend to get on television and talk about it,
because I do not favor that sort of thing.

P: You yourself do not make many personal appearances in the courtroom any
longer, do you?

Page 64

W: Not nearly as many as I did, certainly not as many jury trials and things of that
sort. But I do some. If a case comes along with some kind of special interest, I
take it on. We have younger lawyers who are doing trial work, and they like to
do it. It takes a lot out of you, too.

P: You and the Farr firm are the two most influential firms in the Punta Gorda area?
W: Yes, I would say so. There are getting to be so many law firms here now that it
is hard to [keep up with them all].

P: That is true everywhere, is it not? We have an abundance of lawyers all seeking

W: That is correct.

P: But is this the oldest firm in town?

W: No, I think that the Farr firm was started first. I know it was. Earl Farr came
here in the 1920s during the first real estate boom and opened a law office and
continued on. Then our firm started when Frank, my brother, got out of law
school in 1940. He opened an office in an arcade building where the post office
used to be. He had two rooms in there and paid three dollars a month rent.
For a while there he did not collect enough to pay his $1.50 light bill.

P: What happened to Frank's office while he was in the service?

W: It just closed up. He did not have a whole lot of law practice then. See, he got
out [of school] in the spring of 1940. He was in the naval reserve and was called
up to active duty on December 8, 1941.

P: Pearl Harbor.

W: Yes. The day after Pearl Harbor his orders came through, so he really had not
gotten started at that time.

P: So when he came back [from the service] he reopened the office and
re-established the firm so that when you came in in 1953 things were moving

W: That is right.

P: Let me ask you--we are going to be closing this, and I know you have other
things to do--about your activities other than law. You have been in banking and
in other things, and I wish you would explain some of that. Talk about the
banking first.

Page 65

W: Well, I started two savings and loans. I started one back in the early 1970s and
merged it into another one.

P: What were the names?

W: The one we started then was Charlotte Federal Savings and Loan.
P: Here in Punta Gorda?

W: Here in Punta Gorda. We merged it into Freedom Savings and Loan, which was
a large one over in Tampa. I was on its board for a while after that. It, of
course, has gone by the wayside. It is one of those that went under. But in the
middle 1980s I started another one which is a stock savings and loan--the other
one was a mutual--called Murdock Savings and Loan.

P: Where did you get that name?

W: [That was the name of] the community in the middle of Port Charlotte, where we
decided to locate. We changed its name to Murdock Savings Bank.

P: I thought maybe it was Wotitzky spelled backwards or something. [laughter]

W: No. The Mackle brothers started Port Charlotte. There is a canal out there
called ... What do they call it? Mackle backwards? Elcam waterway.

Murdock Savings Bank is going along quite well now. We had some trouble with
that in management, but now it is doing all right. We have total assets of about
$70 million.

P: Now, the savings and loan is no longer in operation? What has happened to the
first savings and loan?

W: Well, the first one that we had was merged into Freedom Savings and Loan, and
it disappeared. But this one, Murdock Savings Bank, is doing quite well.

P: Where is it located?

W: It is out in the middle of Port Charlotte where a community known as Murdock

P: OK. You do not have a branch or anything here?

W: We do not have any branches. We are trying to build it in one place right now.

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P: All right. Is that the extent of your banking activities?

W: Not entirely. A group of us back in 1965 bought control of First National Bank in
Punta Gorda. That bank was later sold to First Florida Banks.

P: First National? Was that part of the du Pont [empire]?
W: No, that was Florida National. First Florida Banks grew out of the First National
Bank of Tampa. My brother is still on the advisory board here of that bank. But
that is pretty much the extent of it.

P: Tell me about your activities in communications, TV. That should be a
fascinating thing.

W: Oh, my.

P: Are you saying that in disgust or enthusiasm?

W: Right now, in disgust. Seven or eight years ago a friend of mine came in and
said that he and some others had learned that a television license for a television
station was becoming available in the Cape Coral area--that is down in Lee
County--and they were applying for it. Did I want to be a part of it? I asked,
"How much is it going to cost me?" They said, "Not much. $2,500 or so." The
upshot of it all was that there were several applicants, and our total investment, I
think, was about $25,000. We got the license. We gave half interest to a group
in Tampa that had put together a successful station up there. We did that
because we found out it was going to cost $4 million to put a station on the air.
We put it on the air, and within a year we sold it for $17 million.

P: That was a good investment.

W: Yes, it was not bad. There was quite a group in it. They had half of it. Then
we heard about a station in Green Bay, Wisconsin, that was in trouble. We
thought all you had to do was get one of these and make money. We had
absolute confidence in the fellow who had headed this thing up for us down at
Cape Coral. We sent him up there to look at the station, and he said, "It is a fine
station. We ought to do it." So he put together a group that funded it, and we
all became general partners in it, like fools.

And he went bad. He has just been indicted. We wound up in debt about $4
million, and we had plenty of trouble with it. We had to put it in Chapter 11 to
stop the lawsuits against us personally. Right now we are trying to put together
a sale of the station up there. We were supposed to have it sold. We went up
to Green Bay to close the deal, and everything went fine except the people did

Page 67

not get the money they were supposed to get.

P: So you have had kind of an interesting career as a TV magnate--up and down.

W: Yes. I made quite a bit in one place and lost it in another.

P: So as it stands right now, you are a lawyer, a banker, and a TV magnate. You
have not disposed of the TV [station] yet.

W: No, I have not been able to dispose of it.

P: And you are hoping that that day comes soon?

W: Yes, I sure do.

P: You gave up on the newspaper, obviously, a long time ago.

W: Yes. When I came back from law school that was the end of that.

P: So you did not pursue your career in journalism.

W: No. I was a stringer, as they called them, for the AP [Associated Press].

P: Did you write a little bit for the Tampa Tribune once?

W: Oh, yes, for years. They used to pay me ten cents an inch for whatever they

P: You just covered everything? Did you do everything from sports to ...

W: Everything that came along that I thought they might print I wrote up.

P: Hoping for the best.

W: That is right. That went on for quite a few years.

P: It sounds to me like you have had a busy life, Leo.

W: Well, I have. It has been interesting.

P: Has it been a good life?

W: Yes. I have no real complaints.

Page 68

P: How is your health?

W: Pretty good, really, considering that I am seventy-nine years old now.

P: But you come to the office every day, do you not?

W: Oh, yes. I do most everything I ever did.
P: But I mean you have not had any health problems--no by-passes and that sort of

W: No, nothing like that.

P: And you still feel energetic, obviously.

W: Pretty much. I will not when I drive all the way to Georgia.

P: What do you do for fun?

W: Not much. I work for fun. My brother has his boat, and he loves it. He spent a
month on it; he is coming back from the Keys this weekend.

P: Your two families have been close?

W: Yes.

P: I heard you say you live next door to each other. Do your children get along well
together with Frank's children?

W: Frank does not have any children.

P: Oh, he does not have any children. So he, in a way, then, has adopted your

W: Well, sort of. Yes.

P: Are you involved in any sports?

W: I do not do very much. Frank plays a little tennis. He lives with his boat.

P: Do you watch sports?

W: Yes, I watch sports, but I do not really participate.

P: Are you a reader, Leo?

Page 69

W: Yes.

P: What do you read?

W: A lot of books about current events. I read some of George Will's material. He
is pretty darned conservative. I read some historical material.
P: I hope Vernon Peeples has gotten you interested in local history.

W: Well, sort of, in a verbal way. Not much in the way of writing or reading. But
every now and then I come on some book about some historical events in this
area, and I find them very interesting.

P: Are you and your wife very social?

W: Fairly so. We are not active in too many social activities. I am chairman of the
hospital foundation [the Medical Center in Punta Gorda].

P: You have been interested in that for a long time, have you not?

W: Yes. I was chairman of the hospital board for a good many years.

P: What brought you into that activity?

W: I was friendly with one or two doctors who were here back in the early days, and
we felt the need for some kind of a facility here. We started talking about it back
in the 1930s. The nearest hospital was up in Arcadia, and it was a very small,
inadequate thing. So we started out that way and gradually grew.

P: Are you still involved with the hospital?

W: Only in the foundation. I am chairman of the foundation, which is the
fund-raising wing.

P: But you have a good facility now here in town?

W: Very good. It is now operated by the Seventh-Day Adventists. They have a
worldwide chain of hospitals.

P: I did not know that. And they handle all kinds of cases here, or do you have to
take some patients elsewhere?

W: I guess a lot of patients go elsewhere, but they have an open heart facility, an
oncology unit, cancer treatment.

Page 70

P: Has your work with the hospital been your main civic involvement in Punta

W: Yes, I guess so. I have been involved in a number of other things, like
campaigns to support a bond issue for schools, to some extent in creating the
county charter here, and activities of that sort. Almost everybody that has a
cause invites me to participate. I helped establish the United Way here. My
son Edward was president of it last year.

P: Do you and your wife travel?

W: We travel very little. We are planning to go to Switzerland, though, next month.

P: Have you been to Europe before?

W: Yes. I went to Israel and Greece one time with a Florida Bar group. About
three or four years ago or so, maybe five, I was in London for part of the
American Bar Association convention that year. We rented a car with another
couple and drove up to Scotland.

P: Leo, have you moved completely away from Judaism? I know you still consider
yourself, obviously, to be Jewish.

W: I am not active at all, but my brother and I usually go to services at Yom Kippur.

P: Where?

W: In Port Charlotte.

P: There is a congregation there?

W: Yes, there are two or three or four hundred people there.

P: Oh. You belong to the synagogue?

W: Yes, I belong to that. I just do not do anything about it.

P: Do they solicit you for things like UJA [United Jewish Appeal] and that kind of

W: Oh, yes, I contribute.

P: So you just are not that actively involved, but you are certainly Jewish.

Page 71

W: Oh, yes.

P: But your children are not.

W: They are not.

P: They are being raised as non-Jews?

W: Yes. They were in Pi Lamb, for example. They understand.

P: But after you, the Wotitzky family, as far as Jewishness is concerned, will
probably cease to exist.

W: I guess that is true. I have not thought of that, but I am sure that is true.

P: Have you had a good life?

W: Yes, I think so.

P: I mean, you are seventy-nine years old, you say now.

W: Yes.

P: As you look back over the years, have they been good, fulfilling years for you?

W: I think so, yes.

P: Is there anything you would like to have done differently?

W: Probably. But considering the circumstances when opportunities arose and all
of that, I guess not.

P: I mean, it sounds to me like one of the disappointments was not being able to
become a lawyer earlier on.

W: That is true.

P: But on the other hand, you seem to have enjoyed your teaching career.

W: Yes, I did. I taught for about twelve years, and I enjoyed that. I could not make
a living doing it, but I enjoyed it.

P: No, but you may not have been able to make a living as a lawyer, either, then.

Page 72

W: That is true, during that period of time. It surely is. So I probably became a
lawyer at a very opportune time.

P: So as you look back on your life, if you were having to write your own epitaph,
what would you say?

W: I do not know. I guess I would have to say I have just been blessed in so many
ways. I have been able to earn a good living, earn some recognition as a
lawyer, in the legislature, and in the community. It has been a satisfactory life.

P: Well, you know, not everybody can say that.

W: No, I guess not.

P: And you have had all your family with you.

W: Yes.

P: And no great tragedies in your family.

W: No.

P: I do not know what else we could expect.

W: That is enough, is it not?

P: That is enough. Absolutely. As you look around to the future, are you unhappy
with what you see in the world and the community?

W: People have asked me that before. I enjoyed this area of Florida the way it was,
but I am interested and I guess kind of excited about what is here now and what
is coming. So I just like it.

P: Are you afraid of the future as far as your grandchildren are concerned?

W: Not really. There always have been challenges, and there will be more of them,
and more immediate and lethal challenges in the future. But they will meet

P: The newspapers are filled with the stories of crime and all of these other social
and economic problems. Is the world going to go to hell with it?

W: No, I do not think so. I think we have a lot of challenges and a lot of problems,

Page 73

but I do not think the world is going to pot. I have too much faith in the good that
is in human nature.

P: What kind of a political philosophy [do you hold]? Have you been a Democrat all
the time?

W: Yes. If I had to characterize my political philosophy, I would say I would be a
liberal in the sense that I think government is supposed to serve people. So I
would be supportive of education, health programs, programs that serve the
elderly, and things of that sort. I do not believe that the government ought to be
a place that does nothing but enforce the law and conduct wars. I just think
there is more to it. I think the government is made for people. For whatever it
is worth, that is the way I feel.

P: Have you voted consistently Democratic?

W: Yes. I have not slipped very many times.

P: I have not slipped at all [laughter], I am happy to say at this late stage in my life.

W: I have had to do it on some local matters once or twice, but very rarely in my
life--almost never--[have I voted other than Democrat].

P: Good. [laughter] That is very good. Now, what role do you play with the
University [of Florida]? Have you been active as an alumnus?

W: No, not very.

P: You have been a supporter of the law school.

W: Yes, I make contributions there every year, and have for a good many years.
They offered me an opportunity to endow a chair. Well, I did not have quite the
resources to accomplish that.

P: I think that is a marvelous idea, particularly if it is going to be in the history
department. [laughter]

W: I believe that was over in the law school. [laughter]

P: Oh, well, they can take care of the George Proctor/Sol Proctor chair over there.
So you obviously, then, decided you did not need that great honor.

W: I could not afford that much of an honor.

Page 74

P: You liked the honor, but it was a little bit more than your pocketbook could take
care of.

W: It was like that story attributed to Lincoln about the fellow that had been tarred
and feathered. If it were not for the honor of the thing, he would just as soon it
had not happened. [laughter]

P: Did you tell them that?
W: Yes. [laughter]

P: Oh, I know they are always after everybody. Leo, what have we not put onto
this tape?

W: I cannot think of anything. I think you have about run me dry.

P: Well, it has been a very interesting experience for me. I have heard about you
for a long time, and I have heard about you really in terms of your Jewish past,
because when your family came here they were in every way pioneers.

W: That is right.

P: I really long wanted to get that information, and I think it is important, if for no
other reason just to have that documented. But I am really pleased, because I
did not know about your legislative career, either, to the degree that I have
learned here. It has been a great experience for me. I am just sorry you have
to leave town, and for the reason you have to.

W: Well, I am awful sorry, too. I was looking forward to being with you and your
wife and Vernon and his wife this evening.

P: That would have been a great time.

W: We would have had a bull session.

P: I was going to say we would have been quiet, and Vernon would have taken
over. [laughter]

[End of the interview]

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