DIVISION OF FLORIDA HIGHWAY PATROL
50TH ANNIVERSARY ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
Interview with Honerable Richard W. Ervin
Interviewed by Russell B. Garris
Date Intereviewed May 2, 1989
Hello, I'm Russ Garris with the Florida Highway Patrol and
today is May 2, 1989, and I'm interviewing former Judge Richard
Ervin from Tallahassee and it's for the 50th Anniversary of the
Florida Highway Patrol which is coming up near the end of this year
in September. We will be observing our 50th Anniversary and the
interview will establish your knowledge and input into the history
of the Highway Patrol. Please for our files, would you please give
me your name.
RE: Richard W. Ervin.
RG: All right sir, where were you born?
RE: I was born in Carrabelle, Florida.
RG: How long did you live in Carrabelle?
RE: About two years.
RG: And you attended school in what area?
RE: I attended -school first in Fellowship,- Florida, a little
community out west of Ocala on alternate 27 and then my father
being a school teacher we moved to other places where he had
school teaching jobs, for example, he taught in Crystal River,
Hudson, Florida, Beulah, Florida, Green Cove Springs, Florida,
and then I finished high school in Leon High here in
RG: You finished high school in Tallahassee, Leon County. And then
after high school, did you immediately go to college or
RE: Yes, I went to the University of Florida in the Fall of 1922.
RG: And you graduated from the University of Florida?
RE: I graduated from the university in 1928.
RE: Yes I took arts and science courses and then a law degree.
RG: At the University of Florida?
RE: At the University of Florida.
RG: After you finished your law degree, where did you go to work at
RE: I started practicing law in Clearwater, Florida, in the latter
part of the 1920's and then went from there to Fort Myers,
practiced law there a year, and then went to Palatka, Florida,
in 1931, practiced law there until I went to work for the State
Road Department and was a right-of-way attorney working out of
Jacksonville and then I was transferred to be the resident
attorney for the State Road Department and went to Tallahassee
RG: Yes sir. You were the right-of-way attorney with the old State
Road Department which is now the Department of Transportation
and you were instrumental in the formulation of the bill that
went before the Legislature to create the Highway Patrol in
1939. Can you tell me some of the things that
RE: Yes, I knew Colonel H. N. Kirkman in Palatka. He had been the
bridge engineer on the Memorial Bridge that crossed the St.
Johns River there and I also knew H. M. Fearnside who in 1939
was a member of the Legislature in the House of Representatives
RG: Yes sir.
RE: And Colonel Kirkman, if I'm not mistaken, after he left
Palatka, during Governor Sholtz's administration, was either
the director or captain of the road department patrol. They
were primarily weight inspectors. The road department created
that patrol division pursuant to an opinion from Cary D.
Landis, Attorney General, as I recall. Anyway, in 1939, during
Governor Cone's administration, I was here in Tallahassee as
resident attorney for the State Road Department, Colonel
Kirkman was here also and I continued to be a registered voter
in Putnam County since as a state employee I had that
privilege. Actually I continued to be a registered voter in
Putnam County until I became a Supreme Court Judge. As a
Putnam County voter I was well acquainted with Mr. Fearnside,
my state representative. Colonel Kirkman and Mr. Arthur B.
Hale, the chairman of the State Road Board, wanted to create
the Department of Public Safety, with a division designated the
Florida Highway Patrol, and a Division of Driver Licenses. In
those years as resident attorney for SRD, I handled the
legislative programs for the Road Department. Knowing Mr.
Fearnside real well, I went over and talked to him about
introducing a bill to create the Department of Public Safety
and he agreed to do it. He was a member of the House of
Representatives Committee on Motor Vehicles and Carriers. I
prepared him the bill and he introduced it and after we made
several changes in it, the bill finally came out as a committee
bill of the Motor Vehicles and Carriers Committee and passed
through the Senate and House and then went down to Governor
Cone. During its passage Governor Cone said that he wouldn't
sign it unless the executive board was changed as we had it in
the bill from the State Cabinet to the Governor and the
chairman of the State Road Department which we agreed to and
the Legislature agreed and that's the way it wound up and
became law. During the period when the matter was pending
before the Legislature, we had a great deal of help in passing
the bill. Colonel Kirkman was active in the American Legion and
he had many friends that supported the idea of a Florida
Highway Patrol. I remember Ted Riley of I believe Lake City,
Fitzhugh Lee, Mead Wilson and others whose names I don't
recall, lobbied for the bill. We made some kind of accord with
the sheriffs. I remember, we particularly wrote into the bill
that we wouldn't interfere with the sheriffs regular duty and
would deliver any people arrested by the Florida Highway
Patrolman to the sheriffs. We also agreed that the county
judges would sell the driver licenses. An original operator's
license, I think, was sold for 50 cents and the chauffeur's
license for $1.00. We also got the Motor Vehicle Commissioner,
Noon Wainwright to agree to be the Director of the Driver
License Division so to speak, at least in so far as the
licenses would be prepared by him and delivered to the county
judges and sold by them. Being attorney for the Road
Department, I also served as first attorney for the Department
of Public Safety and if you want me to, I can go into that.
RG: Yes Sir, back now when the bill was being drawn up and you
handled the legislative program for SRD, were you instrumental
in actually writing the bill.
RE: Yes, I prepared the bill originally and made several changes in
it before it was passed as a committee bill.
RG: You actually did it yourself.
RE: Yes I prepared the bill, of course, I had model copies from
other states that had Highway Patrolman and Driver License
statutes and we borrowed the best of those.
RG: Was Ohio one of those?
RE: Yes Ohio. I remember Captain Mingle, head of the Ohio Highway
Patrol at that time, came down from Ohio and helped us with our
first patrol recruit school.
RG: You started to go into another phase there that you wanted to
RE: Well, first thing we did, the Governor appointed Mr. W. T. Bill
Reid from Lakeland as the first director of the Patrol and
Colonel Kirkman, if I have it right, was the first captain, if
not, it was Pea Greene. I forget how that worked out.
RG: I think Mr. Greene was there too with them but I don't know for.
RE: I don't remember exactly what the original set up was but do
remember that between Colonel Kirkman and Bill Reid there was a
little jealousy there or conflict as to the division of their
roles but it all worked out. Bill Reid and I worked out a
purchase agreement to buy 20 Fords, pledging the receipts to be
derived from the sale of the driver licenses. We also had a
provision in the new Department statute that we could get some
money for a short period of time from the General Fund to start
the Patrol. We bought the Fords and then we went down to
Bradenton for the first trooper recruit school. Captain Mingle
of Ohio came down, and he helped us, Colonel Kirkman was there.
We had some 20 or so recruits at Bradenton. We were there at
the old civic building on the river. I remember some of those
recruits had a heck of a hard time of it, some of them had
never ridden motorcycles and they were out there gunning those
motorcycles in that heat and sand, the roads that they rode
them on and some of them gave up in despair and left the
RG: That was approximately what month in 1939 do you think?
RE: I don't know exactly, I think it was in the middle of the
Summer, I'm not sure.
RG: Do you remember some of the outstanding people that may have
been on the Dave Scholtz Patrol that switched over and were in
the first school?
RE: I think Ted Riley, Fitzhugh Lee were some of them, but I am not
RG: What about Tony Maseda?
RE: Tony was there but he wasn't on the Dave Scholtz Patrol. He was
the pet of Mr. Arthur B. Hale and came up with him from Tampa
during the Cone administration.
RG: Yes sir.
RE: Tony was very expert, physically strong, he could handle a
motorcycle or automobile, didn't make any difference. Tony was
a number one recruit. A great fellow, whose had an historic
background in the Patrol.
RG: What about Reid Clifton?
RE: Yes Reid was there.
RG: He had not been involved in the truck inspection?
RE: I don't think he had, I'm not sure exactly which of the
recruits for the Florida Highway Patrol made the transfer from
the old weight inspection patrol.
RG: You went down to see them train several times?
RE: I went down to teach them the traffic laws at three of their
first recruit schools.
RG: Oh you did.
RE: We had classes there and I taught traffic laws, taught them the
provisions of the new Department of Safety laws which
prescribed violations of traffic laws, the arrests by
patrolman, what they should do, what kind of bonds they should
take from arrestees and so on. We had daily classes there.
RG: Yes sir.
RE: I continued for three years afterwards to go to the Patrol
recruit school and teach the recruits during the period they
RG: Do you remember the transition from the Director of the Highway
Patrol from Reid to Kirkman. How much later, probably
RE: It wasn't long. It must have been shortly after the end of
Governor Cone's administration. I think Bill Reid went out as
Director and Colonel Kirkman come in but I'm not quite sure
about the dates on that.
RG: They went to Governor Cone to start with. They wanted it to be
the Governor and the Cabinet as the Executive Board and he
changed it to what?
RE: We wrote it originally that way in the bill for the Governor
and the State Cabinet to be the Executive Board. Governor Cone
said he was going to veto it if we left it that way, in fact,
he never did sign it. He said he was going to veto it unless
they changed the Executive Board from the State Cabinet to the
Governor and the Chairman of the State Road Department Board
and the Legislature made the change to satisfy the Governor and
he let it become law.
RG: Okay, so there was only two people then?
RE: That's true, that's the way we operated. However, as soon as
Governor Cone's administration was over, the Legislature made
the State Cabinet the Executive Board of the Department of
RG: Back to the Governor and the Cabinet?
RE: Yes, that's right. The dates, I'm not quite sure when but it
was changed in Governor Holland's administration.
RG: Okay, then after you left the State Road Department, you went
into the House of Representatives or to the Attorney General's
RE: I did take off and go over to the Attorney General Office and
worked there as an Assistant Attorney General during World War
II years, a year and a half.
RG: As his assistant?
RE: Yes, Assistant Attorney General, and I went down to the
Railroad Commission, what is the Florida Public Service
Commission now, I was secretary down there about six months and
the rest of the time, I stayed with the Road Department until I
went into ----- became Attorney General.
RG: Okay, and as the Attorney General, of course, you were on the
Executive Board of the Florida Highway Patrol.
RE: Yes, I was Attorney General fifteen years and worked with
Colonel Kirkman and the Patrol officers during that time. I
remember the Patrol officers were fine men and did a great job
administering the state traffic laws. They rendered the public
a great service.
RG: Do you remember any outstanding things that occurred that you
may have been involved in as the Attorney General or a member
of the Executive Board for the Department during those years?
RE: There were many things I officially did as Attorney General but
most were extraneous to the Highway Patrol and the Department
of Public Safety but I do know that whenever we called upon it,
if there was any problems of public safety, riots or disasters,
the Patrol always responded, did a great job. I know too, that
when I recommended a sheriffs bureau to the Legislature that
was the forerunner of a State Department of Law Enforcement, we
had the full cooperation of Colonel Kirkman who wanted to see a
State Department of Law Enforcement started even though we set
it up in just an embryonic kind of way as the sheriffs'
bureau. But it was a state board and we got together a system
that worked with the State Department of Public Safety for
statewide law enforcement which for example, coordinated wire
service information about crimes, criminals, fingerprints that
sort of thing for all law officers. The Florida Highway Patrol
certainly lent its best efforts towards creating an original
department of law enforcement and helping it function
effectively on a statewide basis.
RG: So there was no opposition there from Colonel Kirkman or
RE: No. We had some opposition from some of the sheriffs but most
of them cooperated since the Bureau was headed up by seven
sheriffs appointed by the Governor.
RG: Wasn't the sheriff's office in Manatee County instrumental in
helping to train the first class?
RE: I'm sure they were. I've forgotten the personnel there in
Manatee County but I think there were. some sheriffs that
welcomed the Patrol since it would help them with traffic
problems and many other problems that related to public travel.
RG: Whenever the bill was going through, did you have much
RE: Strangely, we didn't have a great deal of opposition, only a
handful of legislators voted against the bill. Henry Fearnside
got Ernest Overstreet the chairman of his Motor Vehicle and
Carriers Committee to support the legislation strongly. And
there was a pretty strong lobby for it.
RG: I know from knowing you and your history that you had an
illustrious career as a politician and a public servant with
the state and after you were Attorney General, you were
appointed to the Supreme Court. Will you tell us about some of
RE: I always had many friends in government and many friends among
the people. I was able through my Road Department beginning to
get to know the county attorneys, the county commissioners, the
municipal officers, and the like, I built many contacts with
those people which enabled me to make a successful campaign for
Attorney General. During the time I was Attorney General, I had
a wonderful staff of attorneys that really helped the public
officials and the citizens of the state by furnishing them
information about the laws, giving them copies of decisions and
working out legal problems for them. I had, as I said, a
wonderful staff of attorneys. I was blessed in a time when we
had great progress in Florida and reasonably peaceful times,
except on the problem of desegregation. But we were reasonably
successful in working that problem out peacefully and gradually
without great clamor or uproar in the state. During my time,
the Department of Public Safety and the Florida Highway Patrol
made great progress. We were successful in getting Florida's
claim to the tide lands in the Gulf of Mexico approved by the
Supreme Court of the United States. Those were some of the
things I am proud of, but as I say, I had the help of a lot of
people. We got along well in the Cabinet, had good Governors to
work with. Governors Fuller Warren, Dan McCarty, Charley Johns,
LeRoy Collins and Farris Bryant worked well with our state
agencies including our directors, like Colonel Kirkman.
Colonel Kirkman was there the whole time I was Attorney
General. I went to the Florida Supreme Court by appointment by
Governor Bryant in 1964 and stayed until mandatory retirement
RG: Sixty-four that's about the time that we had some problems in
St. Augustine too, I believe.
RE: I left the Attorney General's office in January 1964 to go to
the Court. Right after I left the Attorney General's office I
believe that problem broke out in St. Augustine, but we had
some fine assistant attorney generals left there, like Joe
Jacobs and Ralph Odum. They went down there and helped work
out that problem peacefully and satisfactorily. But that
happened after I left the Attorney General's office. You might
have been there, Captain Garris.
RG: Yes sir, I was at the time. I was stationed in Jacksonville at
that time. Actually in the beginning, you saw the beginnings
and the first training school and were involved with other
schools. Do you feel, how do you feel about the growth of the
Patrol as it is today? Has it grown like you thought it would?
RE: I think it has grown as we envisioned and become what we hoped
it would be. I'm not familiar with all the intimate details of
the progress that has occurred but from what I see from a
distance, it seems that it has fulfilled the dream that we had
way back there in 1939, fifty years ago. It certainly has
justified its creation and been acceptable to the public. It is
an institution which Florida a state with as much highway
traffic as we have requires the service of the Patrol to help
people traveling our highways. It is indispensable to a modern
RG: Thank you. Is there anything that you would like to add that
we may not have covered, I think
RE: I think I've tried to answer you as best as my memory would
allow. I hope that I haven't seemed to be overweening or
immodest in telling you about my part in it, but that's the way
I recall it.
RG: I know that I do and the present Director Bobby Burkett
appreciates your interview and also is aware of the history of
the past and your key involvement and development in the
beginning of the Patrol.
RE: I would conclude by saying some of the finest men I have ever
met were in the Highway Patrol and it was my pleasure and honor
to get to know them as friends and to observe their high degree
of character and dedication to the public service.
RG: Yes sir, okay, we'll conclude the interview in your office