Group Title: Interview with Stephen O'Connell: A Biographical Report
Title: Stephen O'Connell: A Biographical Report
CITATION THUMBNAILS PAGE IMAGE ZOOMABLE
Full Citation
STANDARD VIEW MARC VIEW
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00018800/00001
 Material Information
Title: Stephen O'Connell: A Biographical Report
Physical Description: Book
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00018800
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

Full Text



COPYRIGHT NOTICE


This Oral History is copyrighted by the Interviewee
and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program on
behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of
Florida.

Copyright, 2005, University of Florida.
All rights, reserved.

This oral history may be used for research,
instruction, and private study under the provisions
of Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of United States
Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section
107) which allows limited use of copyrighted
materials under certain conditions.
Fair use limts the amount of material that may be
used.

For all other permissions and requests, contact the
SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida



















m -: -* m i -- m
-r









giag)Sia ^caammosa.s





Prepared on commission for the Museum of Florida History.
Division of Historical Resources, Florida Department of'
State. Tallahassee








Prepared by
Patricia R. Wickman, Historian
65 S.W. 14th Terrace, No. 4 Miami, FL 33129 (305)372-3455









2

"Background and Early Childhood



Stephen Anastasius Cornelius O'Connell is a deceptively quiet man.
Fortunately, for Florida, his deeds speak for him. He has had four careers
over his seventy-plus years two of which have significantly changed the
lives of Floridians. It is not that his roles have been completely diverse;
several continuous threads have run throughout all his life, such as his
exceptional organizational skills, his steadfastness, and the ability to listen
calmly to all sides of an issue. Nor has his been a life where these skills have
not been tested. Two further characteristics, however, have always seen him
through: the ability to reason wisely, and the determination, always, to doit



Steve O'Connell is the descendent of Irishmen who migrated to the United
States, like so many thousands of the Irish, during the Potato Famine of
1848. The "Clan Conaill" hailed from County Limerick, from farming land,
and, once in America, several members of the family finally settled near
Macon, Georgia. Rich Georgia farm lands had been opened in the first half of
the nineteenth century as a result of the Indian wars. The family remained
in the Macon area throughout the 1800s, as respected and well-known
members of the growing community.


Shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, a young member of the
family, Daniel Joseph O'Connell, married Anne Nora Marie McKenna and they
began a family which eventually included five children. Daniel McKenna, the
eldest (b. 1907), went-to-s shooin his-hometown, studied engineeringn and

t& ^'.>:.









went to work for t railroad. He died, accidently, in 1930, when he was
struck by a test locomotive, three days prior to his wedding. Phillip
(b.1907), attended colleges in Georgia and Florida and became a very well-
known and respected State Attorney in West Palm Beach, where he resided
until his death, in 1987. Leonora (b. 1910) and Andrew Fitzgerald (b. 1913),
both born in Macon, also moved to Florida. Only Stephen, the youngest, born
22 January 1916, was a Floridian by birth adcideIy.


My f Yanlylivedinf Ma1.ca, GArgia. but we had twe anWts who lived in West
Paljm Badj. and we used to a-=me to West Palm Baw, in1 the whste' r That:s
howl came to be toAf in West Palm Bjtea. My father owned the Orange
Crush bottlingplant whn we livAij GYargia anI I beieveP al. sownl
soQme bars


My mother died when I sAur.ya sd. n aftr her death. m y father
Ast everythingaPoef want to or' ? for a ma n by'te Z.ame of Connsrs who
was trying to develop the Everglades. We moved tP^rem Maco to the
Everglades We ved ins a house that was built on stilts on a, cnal Awt. It A 0 O
was just a group of three houses oiu got there by bovt from Lobata ee,
and the twnal wefnt to what's nowC nalJlWn- It Iued to Abe clled
Carter : toiCr -it was a trading post Tthe tvt came i on Fridays and
brought you your ma. and tool2 you down to Carter Store to do your
shopping. and brought you Aisc. There were times when the water was ,s
high th tt the only dry areas were t4. canal bal's an d the w3als ts oh the
houses One of the sports w se ya avwe was to wFlk along the' cal Awln's ) .
and srre th rabbits and other things into the water to s f the al-Jgators /
would get them.












The family stayed at Connersville for only about a year, and then moved on
to zaaby- Titusville, where they bought a house and a small piece of
property which included an orange grove. Steve's father also remarried, to
Eloise Colosia, and, between 1923 and 1933, four more O'Connells Steve's
half brothers and sisters Edward, David, Anita, and Mary Katherine- were
born.


IWmad'-d #>-bMvit s~tletrnsP sin -;saWs, n ha&t Wat uld
have bee about 19A2 My brothers. PAlU and Ia. had stayed in Mahco and
lived with an aunt remember that the first house wh wh we ljv d in
TitusviYe. was very srmal, because my brothers came to viA it onc. and Lept
upstairs ji aloft Finally. o o of my aoatshelped my father acuire a pice
of property ut erthe railroad tracks at IUS/I that he could build agas
station and a garage apartment and he also intended to build a home. We
lived i the garage apartment He never did build the home.


Young Steve went to elementary school in a two-room schoolhouse in
LaGrange where six grades were taught in the same school.
I remember thse tArer a Mrs. Wie., whose husband ran a dairy She taught
one das at a time. while the rest of us were in the bac k room. Then I went
to the school downtown to finish my grades and on to high schq lia
Titusvle.
His "Titusville High School Memory Book" has inscriptions from classmates
addressed, fondly, to "Deah Ole Hoss Colla" and "The gentleman from Georgia."
He was a serious student (despite the fact that he was especially
remembered for his "so-called wise cracks"), and a good athlete. The









Titusville Eleven finished its 1932 season, with Steve O'Connell at right end,
with a respectable 5-1-3 record. His favorite classes were sciences,
mathematics, and "aviation" which, in the 1930s, meant model airplane
building. Airplanes were a fascination for the young man.


We uIsdto have a grass strip, c /A an airport that was located about half
way between LaGrange. where Ilived and "Titusville...aand periodically, we
w.uldhave what you calldY "barnstormers "airplanes, comne through there
and stay a day or tw and give people rAiesifor two or three dollars. And I
used to go out there -you alJewaysDnew when an airplane mcarfe fto the area
ij those days. fru had to start the airplane by twirhng the prop you did r
hsave s If-start.rs in those dayV and I usIc to try to get a ib doingg that in
esaC ange for free rides It was stupAi. you ikow. because one mis stsp and
that. propeller cod .ulil you/


During Florida's Boom-Bust era of the 1920s, Steve was still a child, and the
years had minimal, but memorable, effect on tiny Titusville and even tinier
LaGrange.
I remember that the town and the area were pretty active, subdivisions
were laid out. We had a j.untry dub whicb had a gol6 curse I cadd,
there sqme. but it folded and just became wastelasd again. Oranges and
fL'ing were the t things that kept the ncmmr niity going.
Steve remained in Titusville until his senior year in high school and then, in
search of a brighter future, went to live with his brother, Phil, who"had '
become a municipal judge"., ; '







6

My brother Dan had staykA iP Ma.wn and gone to lle..ge. He went to Gtrgia
Ted. He as in one of those programs they used to have where you ould go
to sch/ for ix months and w' for Asir'months and he came an
electrical engineer Phil rad gone to Mercer Coallgeg, i6 Mafco r one rOne 0r tfw
years After a tcple of years, Pmhl moved to West Palm BRia and lived with
A untta.te.and then went on the University oAf Floria where he fin hed his
1aw degree.t One he was on his own. my brother Gerald moved down to West
Pam Beach to live with Phi, and then my sister Lenora movAe down there
also. Finally. in the summer of 193, I went to live with Phi also. Leonora
rrk'ed ifor Phil as his secretary. Gerry work- in a drugs tre.


Steve completed his twelth grade at West Palm Beach High School. A former
coach and close friend, Carlos Proctor, remembered the young student and
the excellent athlete he was becoming. He recalled: "My first contact with
Steve O'Connell was while I was coaching at West Palm Beach High School. He
came out for the team...weighing about 160 pounds full of determination,
with a lot to learn about football! He was willing to pay the price. He learned
not only what he had to learn, but spent many extra hours working to
improve himself thereby becoming an outstanding young guard on the
team. I've often said that Steve could have played on any college team in the
country had he weighed fifty pounds more." The promising young student
was rapidly becoming an able and enterprising young man. He graduated
from high school, set the stage for future successes in sports, and, certainly,
learned the value of hard work.


I did monstructonj obs and wrked in a thing store on the weekends.
remember working for one firm that was building j etties and groins in front







7

of J2ah1n onyedy :' faily.'s hme. Ju J .iud. n t hrl' hJ g t ide., .I s we.
had to wrk at all hjjtour whenever the Aow tides were. Then, on the
wAkend. I went t hwrk Afr W ibur h Cothig.g rve. That as Wllbur
Maoq. and I Wrd Afor him on weekeds ajll though igh sza, and then,
after I wnt to tllege, I muld wrk for him it the summers and that's how
I wmul wimd up .ith my clothes far the nest cA lege year


Those ee e yarrs hcoJing out of theA Dpression and I think that the ark
ethic and the s.n.s of values thatpeople had were mitch different from
those of later generations. In those days. if you wante to fijisd high shoo 1,
then you rely wanted to be someboay -you wanted to accomplish
something I en more so f you went to llege. Far fewer people went to
caege., and the majority of people i Florida went to the University of
Florida that i the men di'd -and the wmen went tor Tahlaassee Florida
State College for Women/FSCWI. Seme went to Stet.sn. and .me went to
Roll ns, bu tat h as ony Afor the w thyv









College Days



In 1934, Steve O'Connell entered the University of Florida, where his original
plan was to become a dentist!
I just iivu&l ?. mtea it financially I took two yars of pre destal and then
deNcded that gong off to dental C0kege -as too e&V peA.sve. So 1 changed to
law or. business administration and law Then., Ji your fourth yar you
oultd go ijto la wsJsoo and get a s.mbinat.An degree Ji a totalJ of si years
-get your B.S and your law degree whih I did
Despite the hardships of earning all of his own tuition and living expenses
for college, Steve O'Connell is one University of Florida alumnus who
remembers his college experience with a very strong, positive, emotion..
Gwing to tohe Uni versity rally pened the widow of the world for me. I fe
a very great debt ofgratitude thoe schAoo


About 2800 students attended the University when Steve O'Connell began.
At that enrollment, the University was still small enough for students and
faculty to know each other well and for a student to be involved in
numerous facets of campus life especially one as enterprising and
determined as Steve O'Connell. A photograph from a local newspaper,
ca 1940, depicts O'Connell and twelve other graduates, and declares, proudly:
"They Worked 100 Per Cent of Their Way Through College." Dr. Manning
Dauer, a member of the faculty during O'Connell's matriculation, recalls:
"[He]... entered the University in 1934. That was my second year on the
faculty. When I first met O'Connell, he was...working his way through
college...and held down several jobs.... When I was invited to the Alpha Tau









Omega fraternity for a meal, I found him waiting tables. A bit later he was
manager of the dining room. When I got my mail at the campus post office, I
found he was the janitor." The post office janitor's job paid $13.00 per
month.


From waiting tables for Alpha Tau Omega Steve went on to become president
of the fraternity and one of its most distinguished members. In turn,
fraternity members supported their "Brother Steve" in successful bids for
president of the sophomore class, president of Florida Blue Key, and
president of the campus Young Democratic Club. He reached his highest
campus office as president of the University of Florida Student Body,
succeeding his classmate and good friend, George Smathers [later United
States Senator]. Another strong supporter in the run for the top office was a
classmate and friend, John McCarty, brother of the later Florida Governor
Dan McCarty.


The race for Student Body President was an especially exciting one. The front
page headline of the Alhrator, the University's student newspaper, for
Friday, 1 April 1938, proclaimed: O'CONNELL WINS IN FSP LANDSLIDE
Record Vote Cast As Over 2,500 Go To Polls." The report continued:
"Culminating two weeks of intense propaganda, heated speeches, frenzied
rallies, and general ballyhoo...," Florida Student Party candidate Steve
O'Connell beat out his "bitterest rival," the candidate of the opposition
University Union Party. Neither campaign put forth a strong platform;
President-elect O'Connell won his race on his reputation for integrity and
ability a reputation which was already becoming widely recognized. A





*1







10

congratulatory telegram which still is prominently displayed in his college
scrapbook is signed "Claude Pepper USS."


If one is to judge by his list of activities, however, it may be that President
O'Connell never had time to shape a platform. Among many other activities,
he went on to become a member of the University's Student Executive
Council, in 1938, and was elected to the University Hall of Fame. In addition
to his work, studies, and political activities, he also participated in ROTC,
where his record of achievement was equally impressive. He became a
corporal, first sergeant, and, finally, cadet captain and lieutenant colonel in
his senior year.


Not only were his professional achievements impressive, but Steve O'Connell
was also known as quite a handsome young man about town and he took
some good-natured kidding from his friends about it. When Paul Whiteman
and his famous orchestra came to town in 1939, it was the dapper O'Connell
who squired Whiteman's pretty vocalist, Joan Edwards, around campus.
Fraternity brothers jokingly sent a Western Union telegram from "MGM"
which was picked up by the local newspaper: "Our scouts report you have
everything including oomph. The idol of hundreds of women as the hottest
he-man on your campus. Gable in Atlanta. Taylor married....will you accept
life contract...and save movie industry and millions of feminine hearts...."


The time which was not devoted to studies and politics he did not devote
entirely to feminine pursuit, however. The avid interest in sports which he
had developed during elementary and high school years reached a well-
earned pinnacle during his stay at the university and Steve became involved









in the sport which would become one of the central activities of his life.
Former Coach Proctor recalled: "During the summer of 1934 I was called
back to my alma mater [UF] to coach boxing and assist in coaching football.
So here [Steve and I] were, together again. Realizing that he was too small for
college football, Steve decided to come out for the boxing team. He had some
boxing experience through his brother, Phil, who had boxed on the
University team at the same time I did, and who later coached the team
during my senior year....Steve was a coach's dream. He..Iound time to
develop into one of the finest boxers I have ever seen. He was always tough
when the going got rough and was always at his peak against tough
opponents. Against opponents who were not so good, he stayed ahead just
enough to win never trying to hurt or discourage them."


"Steve won every honor as a boxer: [he was runner-up for] the Southeastern
Conference Championship, captain of the team.and, later, assistant coach. [At
one point, he even held the SEC record for the quickest knockout twelve
seconds.] In a long coaching career I have never known a man with more
desire to be the best in whatever he was doing. I am sure he would have had
a fine chance to become middleweight champion of the world, had he
decided to turn professional. But he never gave it a thought, and I'm glad he
didn't He had too much to give in other ways."


Years later, when he was back at the University of Florida as its first
alumnus president the boxer would reminisce about his attitude toward
athletics and their importance to his life.







12

The benefits of athletIcs t a3n JwdIvidual are many The first,. of c.urs.. is
the t a ctg of sef-dn^Jpljin of thfe inodidual. in all that he dVes -
encgouraging the proper care of G most precious gift to ay person, that is
Jhi. body It also twedies wi.aom. in that it maesit very obvious that the
individuall can t matte the same mistake twie without suffering physical
pain or pllrishment This wisdom -learcmng not to mak the sare mistake
twIs. It almv taices why we ha ve riLes and regulations and the n Awsty
for them if we. re goi g to have ordered living. whether it e on the playing
fields or n ourlivs off oit And thef our th.f ar he matter of
sportsmnansh it., wh fis a vry vital and portant partmf athletCs if we
ever Jos t t a attitude of WninJg fairly and squarely givjig our best and
beingrecrgmni edfor u best efforts thea I thinly. iwe illhamve lost ruc
of the value of athletic







13

Early Career and Military Service



As soon as he had completed his college and was admitted to the Bar, the
young lawyer decided to relocate to Fort Lauderdale. He had visited the town
during his high school years, and had liked it. Two contractors, friends whom
he had met through his brother, Phil, loaned him seventy-five dollars to
make the move from Gainesville and get started. The decision proved to be
an excellent one, for a number of reasons.
I dYided I didn waint topractir, in the same town asPhil and be hislittle
brother c I went to Fort lauderdale. looAingor a job or aplacv to practi..
[But] there were manyjobs forlawyers. Those who were luciy enough to
find aM asm ^atiVn...got about fifty doaLars a month. It was September of
J19? andf nobody had[anything available] e l ptAJMiAfJiwla. Al wasa
lawyer and a Rhodes Solar. as a matter of act Hs wfe ran Pine Cr est
.Scol. He had a ffifce over a tzr downtown, at the corner of Andrews street
and NewKRiver.Drive. The Blount Building was thegn eig constructA across
from the Governors ClJub Hot, and he said he was going to move there. He
diydn have a/o [to offer me], but he had a library and a sea etary III
wanted to move in there. I could have the office spac9 and use hLk secretary
and library uti I could get on my feet He also sai thatLhs wife ran the
[Pine Crest] s ool. and thatif I wantY tzo ias tanns and bog theypd
give me a place to live and a place to eat .So lived out at the scoo. with my
roommate the swimming .a, AJl ordoi, a great fellow There were t
many lawyers around [the area] the4, and they were very helpful to a young
lawyer getting started. They would send you little cases they didno wast
and help you to handle them they were very kv d [So] I lived there with







14

[the McMillans] and developed a little lawpractice and became active in
things around the community [For instance] the jayte.s were list belg
organizeM. A me of the younglawyers were putting it together


These were good days for the young man. During the one short year which
he would spend in Fort Lauderdale, he shaped a life of increasing
professional stature and visibility. Moreover, he formed friendships which
would be instrumental in determining the direction of much of the rest of his
life. He also enjoyed the easy lifestyle of the Florida coast playing
badminton in the evenings at the Coral Sands or Chick and Charlie's Bar.
There was even an opportunity to put some of his good looks and talent to
use in one of the many movies for which Florida was rapidly becoming a
popular set.


My brother Pu/Ai wife had a chusn in New' JwFrk who wash the fil
industry, aod he was the casti g dre.tor fr the's movie. It as a llege
pkjtur., and they neded a rommmate Ar the star that as LA Jaan.e
the chjid star. my /co.sn-in-l-Jawggotme the part I was ojly 1 about ten
s.cn ..S butit payed ged money about fifty dollars a sCe. .S R I was
morlifg i Fort lauderda/ it was easy to go down to Coral Lables, where
they were filing. / I thi' it was the big buLY/ag[ l which is now called the
Colonnade, on Miracle Mile]. That as theft Xll of J1940. I think they were
goLg to cal the film "4dolesncer "but I rdo t. believe it ever made it to the
movie houses. I sure hope it didn t/


The peaceful interlude in Fort Lauderdale was not destined to last; the
advance of the war in Europe was about to engulf the United States as well.







15

Commanding General Hap Arnold decreed that United States Army Air Force
troops should participate in regular physical training programs and that, for
reasons of npet ed morale, the programs should be set up and run by
civilians. So, early in April of 194 1, the 3rd Air Force, which covered the
southeastern United States, began a search for a physical training officer.
They contacted the University of Florida asking for recommendations, and
Dr. Tigert, who was then president of UF, advised them to look up a former
boxing champ, Steve O'Connell. The young lawyer told them that he had just
started his practice and would like to continue, but theysaid I c.Ll'd either
tImP vowlutartrJy or they wuAld activate my ROT commission. S. i went to
SJTaXmp t set up a physical A educat trainmgprogram for the ,dAirForc..


O'Connell set to work organizing a physical training course which was quickly
implemented by the 3rd Air Force throughout its entire command area -
thirteen states. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, however, O'Connell's
status was changed to active duty and he was transferred from the Infantry
to the Air Corps. In the summer of 1943, he was sent to Australia as Special
Services Officer with the United States Services of Supply, which represented
all of the units in the South Pacific.


I dcid t.li'e that hbMaus you rally had very little ?.tact with the trIps I
had a friend. Cal ll PaghA from oFrt Mywers and he Ja vited me to transfer to
Als unit asM .euative Otffi.r s. that they uld prepare to move up [to the
front lines]. That was the 312th ,kmb Group IMMe4dm) They flewA 20 I
spent the rest of my service Sth them. We moved up to New Guinea. and
thArough the PhippinL e andY then. finally, movAl on to Oiaawa,. where we
were when the war endfe We came home by trap ship and had to take a







16

train arssLr country. A d to Fl9nrda. I Sar iv at Camp Blandin g[between St.
Augustine and Gainesville I and was mulstere out on /January 9Ip


There was never any doubt in his mind about his next move: Major
O'Connell wanted to return to Fort Lauderdale and re-open his law practice.
This time, it was a little easier, too, with many contacts already in place. He
found an office in a former Presbyterian church on Las Olas Boulevard. A
local publisher/developer, 'Governor' Gore, had purchased the building and a
friend of Steve's, real estate broker George McFadden, leased it. They
removed the pews and divided the space to make four offices: McFadden's
real estate office in front, and three law officers for O'Connell and two other
lawyers, Tom Berryhill and George Laird, in back.


"During that first year back at home, Steve also fell in love. Her name was
Rita McTigue and she was the lovely daughter of a local developer, Martin
McTigue. They had met before he left for the service, but now the friendship
deepened. She had beauty, and a graceful style, and she loved the handsome
young lawyer, too. They were married in November 1946 and their
partnership would last for thirty-one years, until Rita's death, in 1977. Those
early years in Fort Lauderdale were exciting though. Rita's father managed
properties for the Wells family, major developers of the Las Olas Boulevard
business district of Fort Lauderdale, as well as numerous other properties
around town. Steve and Rita spent half of each year living in various of the
Wells' properties and, in the summers, they "housesat" for owners who only
occupied their homes throughout the mild south Florida winters.








. _------







17

Ever the activist, O'Connell also broadened his professional base even as he
became involved in fraternal organizations and in local politics. In 1948, he
joined colleagues Bob Saunders and Frank Buckley in the law firm of
Saunders, Buckley, and O'Connell. The partnership grew until, five years
later, O'Connell moved to separate quarters and began his own firm. His first
employees were [now Circuit Judge] Bob Scott, Bill Leonard, and Curtin
Coleman. ll says that I startA lim at seventy-five dollars per week.. I
thought was fifty dollars We agree ta, r hat whatever the amount he iws
overpaid/


He joined the Elks Club, the Jaycees, and the Broward County Chamber of
Commerce; campaigned for the Polio Fund Drive, and became chairman of the
Broward Democratic Executive Committee. He worked hard on campaigns for
his friends Dan McCarty [gubernatorial races, 1948, 19521, George Smathers
[United States Senate, 1950], and Leroy Collins [gubernatorial race, 1954] -
campaigns which had a profound effect on his future. Contrary to the beliefs
of many individuals .(then and since), however, Steve O'Connell never had
any political aspirations of his own.


I ne ver really wanted to be poJlitjAc as an office-holder. I can remember
standng outside the Sigma Alpha Ep'sin house [in Gainesville], ta I )g to
George Smather, in his sezAVio yea and he tAld me atwut his ambitions -
aboutwatwht he ated to do. .ut that w&snot[my ambition). I toMl im that
all wanted Aws to be a very ge'dlwyer: that / wante to o. tribute to tthe
system around me and the people. by supporting those Lssues and canddaltes
that I though were p Rrtrn.n and gm dfor Ath state ad h t nd the cntry. And
th at w t L iwh ten l ded to do to be a very goA suc sstullawyer to







18

take care f my dVients their neds tLo je care of mylfamily/frst, but then,
to help others who nted to be in public life -and that's what I di and
that': what trapped me (into public life].


That' what I /,d supportingAn [McCarty], who was just superb pe.rsj
He could ?t be elected tofay He was just too sm cere and intesns. and not
fjamfboyant or enough 0/f saman, other than [the salesmanship of] his own
mtegrity whic showed through everytjhighe did....ee, we didn have
much tele vision n those days, so you '"tump spoke. J'T went to every
farmers'martet, you went to the court housl. which wts where you usually
spoke -you got a eiowd and a [microphonel...but what ow controlled
almost entirely by TV then was [determined by] personal app eranc: e and
shinghands But, the state is mucb biggernow -you couAln t shae all
those hands


But, then. [there was] Dn, and George Swnather.s and LeRoy Collins and
helping those people get elActed[was important]. And, then, when they get
elected they ha ve the right tor turn to you and say "TOu can t Jeave me here.
now, withouthelping me to do this thing that you helped me to get elected
to do/' Under Dan. was C^ef Counsel to the State R Kod Aepartment That
was a political pliI. I cwnt2Iued to practice law and to run that department
You see. Dan was office only nine months [he died in September 1956]. ,(X-7-
And when Charley hns too overlas governor], he wanted ll of us to
resign and he promised to reppointre and some others so we culd
become hin appointees which we refused to do... Well. that was a different
side of the pitical ledger in those days. LVarley ohns represent the Prk
Chop" element of the state, and we wr n what ws characterized as the







19

"Whit. ZAight 'sde. ._me of the press. hd dubbed leAoy Collns and lAw
M trty the "WVhits KAight "side.


It was also the press which had come up with the original epithet, the "Pork
Chop Gang." Specifically, it was James A. Clendinan, in an editorial for the
Tamps Tribuot, penned on 13 July 1955. Governor LeRoy Collins had just
been elected to complete the remaining two years of Governor Dan McCarty's
term, and was embroiled in his first major political battle, over Legislative
reapportionment. Governor Collins, like his friend and supporter, Steve
O'Connell, was a man whose convictions were quiet but very, very strong.
Clendinen later explained: "I charged the opponents of reapportionment -
specifically, the Senate group with fighting for pork, rather than principle.
In an editorial three days later, I labeled them the Pork Chop Gang. Since the
group was dominated by rural legislators, the pork chop struck me as being
an appropriate symbol for their self-interest in this battle."


Governor Collins, known as a moderate in southern politics, had a strong
commitment to rational government and political integrity. He chose his
governmental appointments from among men of like character, and, in 1955,
one of his early appointees, to the post of Chief Counsel for the State Racing
Commission, was Steve O'Connell. Within the year, however, Governor Collins
found a far greater challenge for O'Connell's talents. Florida State Supreme
Court Justice Tom Sebring had resigned his position in the summer of 1954 (_S i( I)
to take up the post of dean at Stetson Law School, and Governor Collins asked
O'Connell to fill the vacancy on the Court. 0dil ^\







20

Florida Supreme Court



As he recalled later: "I never considered'anybody but Steve for this position.
There was then no justice on the Court domiciled in the Broward-Dade area
of the state, Florida's heaviest populated. I had previously appointed
Campbell Thornal, and the two of them could have been cut from the same
mold." (The governor's remark was very perceptive in this regard. Justices
O'Connell and Thornal would become close friends.) He continued: "I called
Steve on the phone and asked him to come by and see me for a talk, not
telling him what I had in mind, and in a day or so he showed up in
Tallahassee." O'Connell did not completely reject the governor's offer right
away, but he did demur. By this time, he and Rita had finally bought a home
of their own, they had adopted four small children, and his practice was
bringing in over $ 100,000 per year. Governor Collins was asking them to
leave the city which they called home and move to Tallahassee for a job
which paid a "miserly" $15,000 a year!


When Mrs. O'Connell's initial response was also negative, Collins pressed.
Finally, O'Connell invited the governor to come to Fort Lauderdale where the
three of them could discuss the matter together. Governor Collins made his
strongest argument: "I want both of you to understand that the people of
Florida need the best government possible from us. We gave our blood
almost in [my] campaign to assure them that this was our purpose, and a
goal we would achieve after all the campaign hoopla was over. The only way
I can succeed as governor is to have the help of people like you. I do not look
upon the Supreme Court as some mysterious resting place for aging lawyers







21

to ponder and pontificate. I see it as the leading force of a vibrant and
expanding judiciary that will courageously and forthrightly do the work of
government as co-equals with the legislative and executive branches." The
next day, upon Collins' return to the Capitol, his friend Steve O'Connell called
to say a hesitant, "Yes, we will come."


At only thirty-nine years of age, he was not only the junior Justice in
seniority but also the second-youngest Justice ever appointed to the Florida
Supreme Court. He joined Justices Glenn Terrell, T. Frank Hobson, BX.
Roberts, E. Harris Drew, Campbell Thornal, and Elwyn Thomas. In an unusual
move, Governor Collins and 175 State dignitaries and Broward friends
attended the swearing-in ceremony. State Attorney Phil O'Connell was a
speaker for the occasion. Justice Terrell, known for his uniquely homespun
remarks, known to his colleagues as "Terralisms," welcomed the newcomer to
the Court and quoted the early American jurist, Joseph Story, saying a judge
should "know when to keep his mouth shut and his mind open." It was a bit
of advice that the new justice would learn to treasure.


Another of the Justices who was pleased to welcome O'Connell was Judge
Elwyn Thomas, then Chief Justice, who had served on the Court continuously
for thrity-eight years. "O'Connell," the Justice told him, "I've been waiting for
you for seventeen years." It seems that, when Thomas had first run for the
Supreme Court position, in 1938, he had asked three University of Florida
law students to serve as his campus campaign managers. Steve O'Connell,
George Smathers, and John McCarty were instructed to conduct "a vigorous,
hard-hitting campaign." When the students asked for funds for campaign
expenses, however, they were given five dollars. That was fine, Justice







22

O'Connell recalled but it was a real shock when Judge Thomas later asked
for an accounting of the funds!


The Florida Supreme Court of the 1950s was, without doubt, an underpaid
body with a vastly overcrowded docket. A seventh member had finally been
added to the Court in 1940, but the state had experienced a period of
explosive population growth in the post-World War II period, with a
commensurate rise in the amount of litigation. The Court had been working
short-handed since Justice Sebring's resignation the preceding summer and
there was no time for the new Justice to learn the ropes slowly. He left his
practice and his offices in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, 20 October, and was
sworn in on the next day in Tallahassee. When the Court reconvened on
Monday, he was sitting on the bench and hearing cases. He drove a green
Jeep station wagon to work, parking it alongside the Lincoln Continental of
one of his new colleagues, and the Rolls Royce of another. "Yet," as one
reporter put it, "his dignity was never in doubt. It [was] not the trappings
but the man himself who [won] the respect of all who [came] in contact with
him."


Justice Thornal later described his new colleague as a "youngish, pugnacious,
strong-headed, delightfully cordial and congenial Irishman." O'Connell
applied himself to the task of sifting through the mountain of information
which was presented to the Court with his usual determination to i it well
"He insisted that inefficiency in the administration of the judicial process
tended to corrupt the law as a canon of truth. In his view, it generated public
suspicions of the very foundations of government."







23

O'Connell was also aware that his youth made him suspect in the eyes of
some, but he would not allow that factor to deter him. Governor Reuben
Askew recalled his own introduction to the Justice, which centered on that
same theme. "In November of 1955 1 was a senior in law school and justice
of Phi Alpha Delta, one of the legal fraternities at the University of Florida.
Justice Elwyn Thomas, then a national officer of PAD, invited the fraternity
to come to Tallahassee and lunch with all of the Supreme Court. That was the
first time that I met Justice O'Connell. I was trying to run around and
organize the luncheon as there was supposed to be a justice sitting at each
table. I came over to one table, very upset, and said, There's something
wrong here. There's supposed to be one of the justices sitting at this table.'
Steve held up his hand meekly. He was that young looking."


As his legal secretary, the new Justice had his sister, Leonora, who had also
worked for his brother, Phil. Theirs was a close and supportive relationship.
His research aide was Dr. Ernest E. Means. The Justice took great delight in
introducing his Ph.D. aide and informing visitors that he attended the
University of Florida College of Law and was on the staff of Florida State
University.


Constitutional revision and its sub-theme, Legislative reapportionment,
dominated the politics of the 1950s and 1960s in Florida government. In
addition, there was a growing controversy which centered on the need to
effect some long-overdue court reforms. Justice O'Connell, true to his
penchant for activism, was involved. In 1956, voters approved a revision of --
Article V of the State Constitution which broadened the jurisdiction of the
Supreme Court. In 1958, Justice O'Connell and Chesterfield Smith, president







24

of the Florida Bar Assocation, approached a new Legislator and fellow
lawyer, Reubin Askew, to ask him to push for further revision of Article V.
After much debate over the dubious wisdom of opening the Constitution to \ /
change, and much opposition from powerful members of the Legislature, the',
system was left intact, however, until 1972, when an amendment provided
for the simplified judicial system which is currently in operation. Throughout
his term as Chairman of the Judicial Council, which ended in 1967 when the
left the Court to go to the University of Florida, Justice O'Connell continued to
speak out for court reform.


Despite the seeming contradiction of his position on Court reform, Justice
O'Connell's philosophical position on the Court was described by fellow
Justice BX. Roberts as being "just a little bit right of center." On many
occasions the two men were able to support each other's authorships,
although not without some criticisms from Court observers. In the wake of
the United States Supreme Court's landmark civil rights decision, Brown v.
Board of Education, for example, the Florida Supreme Court issued a series of
decisions concerning the right of a Florida Black student, Virgil Hawkins, to
be admitted to the University of Florida's Law School. The Florida Supreme
Court decisions, in the last of which Justice O'Connell joined, upheld Hawkins'
right to admission, but declined to require rapid compliance on the part of
the university. Supporters of the decision claimed that the Supreme Court's
prudence prevented needless confrontations over the issue of desegregation
at the state's institutions of higher learning. Opponents of the decision,
however, viewed it as an example of 'foot-dragging' and continued racism.








25

A year after his appointment, as he mentally reviewed his decision to join
the Court, and his period of service, however, he felt only one
disappointment.
In ac..pting the appointment, J'Iooked'Afrward to the opportunity, as every
la wyer doe, of ta'ing legalproblems case. and having a sufficient library
and sufficient time, without interruption, t thoroughly analyse, study and
research them to the point that when the job "was done. I couAl say. 7t ave
done on that se all that o.uld be done. under the present cndi-tion of the
dot'et of this Court, su.1 iiMposAble.A While I am no perfa tionist4 the
gnawing feeling that I dAdn do all Ishould have or could have, had there
been time, continues to the present, There is always the feeling that a better
job could be done if this opinAin could be rewritten wonce more, but on the
other side is the equally disturbing 'owledge that there are other cases still
waiting to be studied and decidAed and that the people in' voved are waiting
for a deZin that iuAldnmean much neeed money, freedom and sometimes
life.


Justice O'Connell remained on the Court for twelve years. During that time,
he stood for election and reelection three times. He was the author of over
300 decisions, not including concurrences and dissents. His friend, Justice
Thornal recalled: "It woud be...fun...Iif it were possible to]...open some of the
doors to the Conference Room the Court's 'inner sanctum' or...spend some
time amidst the forensics of the courtroom where an incisive mind led him
to questions lawyers so exhaustively that we dubbed him of the quiz kids.'"
The impact of his work upon the lives of Floridians would have been
substantial had he remained in that position alone, but such was not to be.







26

The greatest challenge of his life still awaited, and another of which he was
to be solely the recipient not the instigator.







27

SThe University of Florida



The growth of a system of higher learning in Florida, disrupted in the
nineteenth century by the tumult of war, was not fully resumed until the
early twentieth century. The Buckman Act, promulgated by the State
Legislature in 1905, institutionalized a coherent system of universities to
operate under the aegis of a statewide Board of Control. By the end of World
War II, Florida began to experience a period of explosive population growth
which threatened to overtax the half-century-old institutions. In 1965, the
number of residents topped the five-million mark, putting Florida into the
top ten populated states nationwide. As a direct response to this growing
V need, a nine-member, governor-appointed, Board of Regents took over the
policymaking from the earlier body, and began to expand the state's higher
education system.


Another outgrowth of the changes in population in Florida after mid-century
was the election of the state's first Republican governor since 1872. Governor
Claude Kirk quickly adopted a strong style of personal administration which
frequently put him at odds with a Democratic Cabinet, as well as with
Legislators of both parties. On the subject of Florida's universities, however,
Governor Kirk was generally oblivious until 1967. In that year, President J.
Wayne Reitz of the University of Florida resigned and the governor moved to
have Congressman Sid Herlong, a friend and political supporter, appointed to
the position.









Board of Regents Chairman Chester Howell Ferguson considered over 100
names suggested by the Board's Selection Commitee and by a faculty
advisory committee from the University. Dr. Wayne McCall, a dentist from
Ocala and a Kirk appointee to the Board of Regents, attempted to maintain
the viablity of the Governor's candidate, but quickly found himself in
opposition to the Board Chairman. Accusations and counteraccusations were
leveled by both sides in what quickly became a very heated and visible
process. During the summer of 1967, however, one name emerged as a
strong contender. Stephen C. O'Connell, recently chosen Chief Justice of the
Florida Supreme Court, was clearly the choice of the faculty advisory
committee and quickly received the backing of the Board with the
exception of the Kirk faction.


Early in July, as Chief Justice O'Connell and his family were leaving for an
American Bar Association meeting in Hawaii, he received a telephone call
from a member of the search committee informing him that he was being
considered for the position and asking if he might be interested in pursuing
the possibility. He declined the offer, citing the new responsibilities which he
had recently acquired on the Court. The committee persisted, however, and
finally, Mrs. O'Connell advised her husband to meet with the committee if
only because of his love of the University.


A meeting was arranged in Tampa, in the law offices of Board Chairman
Chester Ferguson. It lasted for three hours. O/ Course.. I was -costered jAut
the fact that I/had o academieA Ac'groun but then they told me that the
faculty committee. had approved me that the lacultVy c.mmittte felt that
mvy c"ose a .tio ith the iAnstitutian over the years was important and









they felt that the rest would twr" itself out. They needle someone who as
kiosledgable about Florfida government and the people of the state. I said
that/ I would 'disuss it with myfamJiy and I jdd, and they advis.y me to
a.ept l also d Risussed it withi one other per.so and that was [Justice]
Campbell Thornal whoas a member of the Court at the same tme. I Jfoind
they had.talked to CampbeJ already andhe t3e hou'wh thatit wouM d Awnr out
q) that was it


During the final voting, the Board split 5-4 on O'Connell's appointment and
the Chief Justice, frustrated by the public wrangling, composed a letter
asking the Board to reconsider his nomination. He wrote: ...a.5-4w vot.istnot
enough for the president of thris nstitution.... we must dr de and agree now
that our relat/onship wi either end amitably here tday or it W71 be
commen.'wi asit sh/ouA f on a firm A.sis of pressed and wholesome mutual
respect and confidence.


But the Board ended its in-fighting in a burst of unanimity which obviated
the resignation: Dr. McCall called for the appointment of O'Connell by a
unanimous vote, and it was given. The new president was able to begin his
tenure with the cohesive support which he would need so much during the
tumultuous days to come. Governor Kirk called for the resignation of
Chairman Ferguson, but it was Vice-Chairman McCall who finally resigned
instead. The governor made no further attempts to influence the course of
higher learning in Florida.


At an event honoring the Chief Justice upon his resignation from the
Supreme Court, Steve's good friend, Campbell Thornal, spoke almost







30

prophetically about O'Connell's upcoming presidency. "He once told me that
his nose was broken nine times during his career as a collegiate boxer. This
does not happen to a fellow who runs from a scrap. During twelve years of
the closest possible professional association, I have never known this man to
'run' morally, intellectually or spiritually. This is a quality which should
stand him well as a university president. It is not a fabricated courage. It is a
natural product of native intelligence, experience, self-confidence and a
sense of personal dedication to achieving the objectives to which one
commits himself."


Sdid r At.inowa real what ts coming I'knew that there was, sme
t.ntroversy over some elements of the facuity...some :isdents.. who were
trying to influen tete tto rebel against the faculty. But I never
wresa w -and I don t thint many people did the tremendous revolutAon
whitb ws going to come among the college and the students. NoAIy knew
about the Vietnam hWv or that Martin Luther "ing wuld be Atelld or the
other indents that le to uprisings. Ju see, [much of the bange ddn t.
happen when the itAA got to oY1ege. It happened long bore that, Ak' in
nigh l oo. in the way parents began to relay' their authority. But the iaw
was ear. the old doctrine of in loco parentss. by whizc the university actAe
i place of the l rent, rws dad. So those in'ds of restriction that
Universities used to e ..ardse, were no longer valid. The b'sayit g was that
the ConstitutAn has come to campus The student was a dtiA.n, had all the
rights of a dtize.n, and unless you could show that it. was absolutely sessentia
for the welfare of the university and the sttident you couldn irm pse
different &stinctions on them that were not academically reltae things -
than you could on any otnerperson. I respect the Iaw..[but]... I think that









put the tuiversities in a very diffiult and delicate position be .aust parents
and the public genraTly epectEtd the university to do whatit had dne in
days ast and it uAli no Jonger dio ?. under the Iaw


On the day when Prsident O'Connell arrived to take up his new duties in his
Tigert Hall office, the University's student newspaper, the AJllgatjr, just
couldn't pass up such an opportunity. Its headline announced: "HERE COMES
DA JUDGE!" With the clarity of hindsight, it now seems obvious that it was a
judge's patience and balanced quiet skills in unravelling complex and volatile
issues which the University of Florida would need most from the president
who would lead it through the 1960s and early 1970s. The major changes
which had taken place in Florida over the first half of the twentieth century
were quintessentially American changes. The state had begun to assume the
role which has characterized it throughout the ensuing decades that of
national cultural microcosm. Population had not just grown, it had exploded.
Demands upon government and infrastructure services were outstripping
the productive capacities of half-century-old systems of supply. On Florida
campuses, time-honored systems were experiencing diminished viability, as
throughout the nation generally the 'next generation' was finding its political
voice.


At the University of Florida, the post-World War II expansion was obvious.
The university had become coeducational in 1947. In the 1950s, a medical
school and hospital were added. By 1967, the university had become
Florida's most important educational institution, worth approximately $150
million, with an annual budget of $170 million. Current enrollment had
reached 19,000 and was expected to top 25,000 by 1975. In his inaugural







32

address to the university, President O'Connell outlined a number of the areas
of operation in which improvement might be needed.


It had been alleged, for example, that the University of Florida was over-
regulated. I cannot conafrm or deny that we are ver-regulatA. but I do
'ao w thMt. are under -d&rn ist.red in several of tle critical artas of
need... We have simply outgro wn our adristrative org3aniaation...He
questioned the efficacy of current teaching methods and asked whether we
[are] instructing t&o mucd and ljaspiring t JittMle... He determined to
institute methods for evaluating the effectiveness of teaching for the benefit
of the individual student as well as for the basis of determining
advancement. He asked whether undergraduate programs were being
neglected in favor of research and graduate programs...whether student
educational program counselling was as bad as had been charged...whether
rules and regulations were really outmoded, unreasonable, and
unnecessary...whether the university had actually acknowledged the women
students on campus and their curriculum needs...and whether the university
as an institution had become too impersonal to serve the needs of any of its
students. Protests against these possibilities, he said, and in quest of reason
and logic, were demonstrations which were not only constructive, but ones
which he was prepared to lead.


The fight went uphill, almost all the way. O'Connell's tenure, from 1967 to
1973, covered some of the most tumultuous years in the history of the d .'.
University of Florida and some of the most visible of its problems, as well
as some of the most important of its successes. As president, he attempted to
balance the needs and, frequently, the demands of very diverse









constituencies: students, faculty, legislators, alumni, local residents, and
Florida citizens generally. Special interest issues consumed major amounts of
time and meant, for some of the years of his administration, that activities
relating to the normal growth and enrichment of the institution had to be
conducted as secondary, rather than primary, affairs.


Above all else, however, Steve O'Connell had one virtue as president of the
University of Florida which continuously shone through the problems one
which was undoubted except by the most determined of the campus radicals
his sincere love for the university and its students. The Alhgat4r: cover
for inauguration day carried a line drawing of the O'Connell profile,
superimposed upon which was the quotation: The heaviest bwrdce which a
manW caabn beas a debt ofgratitude wbich can ever be fIzly repaid... The
new president recalled the educational opportunities which had been
afforded him by his alma mater with gratitude, indeed, and truly enjoyed
the role of a personal administrator who saw his students as individuals and
attempted to respond to their needs. He made regular visits to dormitories
and campus activity centers, and stopped, unexpectedly, all over campus, to
hear students' views. Some were so surprised to discover such an informal
avenue of approach to their president that they had difficulty responding. A
few, however, found their voices all too readily.


Militance over desegregation and the rights of Blacks, for example, was
increasing steadily, not only among members of the student body, but among
faculty also. One of the earliest campus conflicts centered on the previous
dismissal of Dr. Marshall Jones, a white professor who vocally supported civil
rights and had advocated the use of violence, and militant faculty demand







34

for a rehearing of his case. President O'Connell's controversial decision, not to
countermand the decision of his predecessor, Dr. Reitz, unless it could be
demonstrated that Dr. Jones had been denied due process. Consequently,
President O'Connell refused to reopen the case. Critics of the system believed
that the case was giving Florida a black eye especially in conjunction with
outmoded school regulations concerning political activism by faculty, and
stringent disciplinary rules.


Students charged that the administration treated them like children; even
the often-quoted epithet 'future leaders' was unrealistic they said. Half of
America's population was under twenty-eight years of age and it was time
for older people to change their condescending attitudes towards the young.
One of the students' requests was for the opportunity to hear Adam Clayton
Powell first-hand. This outspoken Black leader had been branded 'dangerous'
by conservatives and the students wanted to invite him to speak on campus
so that they could decide for themselves. President O'Connell saw this as a
fair request and gave his permission for the talk to be scheduled amidst
much criticism, this time, from conservatives. Powell later cancelled his
appearance, however.


Within the first full year of his tenure, O'Connell faced one crisis after
another some inherited, but all nonetheless serious. Nixon Smiley, reporter
for the MiamiAHraJlt told Floridians that peaceful little Cracker Gainesville
was having a revolution. The town had recently gone 'wet' after sixty-one
years of "moonshine and whiskey-runners." Just a few months before
O'Connell took office, a University of Florida coed posed in the nude for an
off-campus publication and, to cap it all off, the Johns Committee, appointed







35

by the Legislature, "swooped upon the campus to investigate 'Communists
and homosexuals.' By the time the new president arrived, "the atmosphere
[had become] loaded with apprehension for academic freedom and mistrust
of state leaders."


The single individual who stood at the nexus of all these virulent, sometimes
violent, and competing factions, was Stephen O'Connell and the president
took his appeals for reason and order directly to the students. He met with
them individually in his office. He answered each and every one of their
letters, in a personal and respectful tone his presidential papers in the
University Archives are filled with their comments, most very supportive.
One wrote: "I have, since my freshman year, admired the dignity and honor
that seems to follow you...." Frequently, O'Connell spoke to large groups on
the Plaza of the Americas, and another of the students recalled "...many of
the wise and wonderful messages..." that he had delivered.


I wanted them to hear that, .i ttuhsmatter of YreY*o. '[the University] ws.q
first and Afremost arn AucatioalJ istitution. They were there to learn, nad
anything that they did that impAded the progress of J aAig e as cozuter t
their bestt intersts and the uniiverity .' sterests as wel. [I wanted them to
know] that there were ays to say what they wanted to say without doing it
Sa violent wy. And most did that Unfortunately, t& many of [the
students] just enjyei the strident-voit type activities. What they said was
sad in such a wry. and under sutc d rciuanstances. that obotdy W u lM isten
to them in a reasonable wy And it k tA tad that they had to say [it] ji
sucw a ay that it repulsed the listert .








36

"Black activists continued to berate the efforts of the administration to recruit
minority students and faculty and to meet their needs, even though their
numbers increased from sixty-one to over 400 by 1971. They particularly
mistrusted the Judge who had particiapted in the Hawkins decision. For his
part, President O'Connell decried the inability to attract quality Black
educators, especially with the extremely non-competitive salaries available
as a result of inadequate Legislative funding. A Black Student Union was
organized on campus in 1968, by Blacks who felt that they had "nothing or
very little to relate to" in the rest of the University's programs. Radical
whites countered with the creation of the Union of Florida Students. Tensions ')
increased.


In an attempt to circumvent growing Legislative funding problems, which
hampered desperately needed campus improvements, O'Connell instituted a
program of development, seeking private funding sources for the
University's programs. Despite Florida government's fiscally conservative
philosophy that state institutions of higher learning should not actively seek
donations, O'Connell brought together the powerful Alumni Association with
the University's Development Office, and hired the University's first
professional fund-raiser to head the department. That office now constitutes
a multi-million-dollar annual funding source for University programs.


Protests against the Vietnam War precipitated much unrest on American
campuses, and the University of Florida was no exception. Student leaders
pushed the president to publicly denounce American involvement in the
war, a stance which O'Connell was unwilling to take. It was his position that
it was not the business of educational institutions to dictate governmental







37

policy. On 6 May 1970, however, he did declare a Day of Mourning for the
victims of the Kent State shooting, suspending classes for the day and
conducting a memorial service on the Plaza of the Americas. Student activists
accused him of using the publicity to his own ends, however, and
demonstrations, rallies, and parades continued on campus, nonetheless.


Pressures on the president were immense. Even students who were not a
part of the day-to-day confrontations responded to the feeling of mounting
tension. One, whom the Alligator dubbed simply "John," to ensure his
privacy, wrote what was surely the most heartfelt plea received by O'Connell
during those trying years. John wrote:
"I feel sorry for you...I saw you crucified on the plaza about a week ago [by
jeering students]. I think any man deserves better than that....You are, to all
effects, the University of Florida you personally are it....It doesn't matter
one bit...who favors FBI on campus, or who does anything, if it's done here or
in any way connect to U of F, it's automatically your fault....I suspect that
things have happened here that you don't like, and there will undoubtedly
be many more....and it hurts a lot to be blamed for it, because you not only
didn't do it, but you also didn't agree with it. I've never heard such a
brilliant expression of responsibility as the one that you made on the Plaza:
'I'm not allowed the luxury of a personal opinion,' and I've never seen the
implications of such a statement missed by so many people....For your own
sake, get out of the circus before you start to hate. It's terrible thing, and
there are enough people hating already....What I am saying is that you will
literally and figuratively kill yourself and many of the people you love if you
do not stop now....Just drop it all and take your family and run like hell and
never come back. It's no use. Don't you realize that?"











The president responded to John in an open letter to all the Gainesville
students:
your thoughtful Jetter h more deeply appreciate that you will ver
understand.... am sure that you recognie that those who inB your M rds,
"zrutfie ft'me on the Jaza last week fail to remember that human
judgments (and theirs) are fallible.... Unfrtunatly such situations are
aggravated by the absence i practice of thase Mwnderfurly snple but
terribly important rules of persoal conduclt.good manners common
decency. courtesy. mutual trust and respect...


As I ha ve said many times and .ill con tinu e t sa.y on and off this Campu.s I
know that the very great majority of our students and faculty do not agree
with the vulgatithe ja of common ,ourtesie.s decency and respect
shown to others by the few wh while chanting the cry of freedom, deny it
to others by their humane conduct...Letme assure you that the
teperinces I suffer, the unfair crtijdsm and indignitiesrece.ive, and the
continued[verbal] shooting atme dts not and iWl not ciuse me to hate
those who in venting their overloaded splens spill it t out on me....To hat
wuAlipla.ce me on the level of those who. kno wigly or unkowringly.
furnish cause for it


lnquestionably the conduct which has repulsed you and many other
pressures may shorten my ife. It makes it less pleasant and reduces the
satisfaction ga ted from striving to serve and st. n urs h my dear family
more than me. but hopeftuly it will not kl them. Nor wiljit cause me to
"tZae my family and run "as you suggest My deep sense of obligation to yogu







39

"to our many dedicatey and s.incre faculty, students and staff and to the
University which I J ove deeply cmrpel me to stay and try to help to wbui a
while longer.


And to you. pI plad with you not to permit your eper9.nces... to sur you on
the human rac. to hats or cauz cs you to aws. to try to cause man to mnduct
him.nlf as he ought to and make hsq institutions operate as they should. Your
fello woman needsyour help, as do I and your University We have a grater
need for models than for critics You are already a model for me. You can be
to others if you wi0J but try


Antagonisms between Blacks and whites continued, unabated, throughout
1970. Finally, on 15 April 1971, a day remembered as "Black Thursday" in
campus history, a delegation of Black students marched to Tigert Hall to
demand the establishment of a Black cultural center. Although President
O'Connell agreed to discuss the matter with representatives, the ebbing
crowd was augmented and, by noon, there was a sit-in outside the
President's office. Seventy-two protesters were finally arrested; sixty-six
were students, and six had no University affiliation. As word quickly spread
across campus that the students had been arrested and also faced
suspension, a mass rally took shape on the Plaza. Police finally had to use
tear gas to quell rioters, but the respite lasted only a few hours. That
evening, about 2,000 students marched on the president's residence but, this
time, their demonstration was a peaceful one. They sang songs of protest,
prayed, and, by midnight, dispersed. In the wake of the confrontations, 123
Black students withdrew from the University and two faculty members
resigned. On 11 February 1972, a Black Culture Center was dedicated and, by




i ___







40

1973, the first all-Black fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, was installed on
campus.


Controversy over Vietnam continued to cause much campus unrest also. On
9 May 1972, following U.S. governmental announcements of the mining of
North Vietnamese harbors, protests spread to the street outside Tigert Hall
and police from surrounding counties were called in to help disperse the
growing number of students. At one point, fire trucks turned hoses on the
group to help reestablish a thoroughfare for traffic, but to no avail. Faculty
members, including Drs. Michael V. Gannon and David Chalmers of the
History Department, were especially active in their efforts to convince
students to avoid a physical confrontation. Police, however, finally used tear
gas on the protesters, 336 of whom were later arrested while over two dozen
were injured.


Meanwhile, the real business of the university continued, under the control
of President O'Connell, in a surprisingly positive fashion. A legal dispute
between the University and its student newspaper, the AligaItor, over
editorial control was settled and the newspaper moved off campus to
become The Jndepe.ndetFlorndaIIgaltr. O'Connell saw to it that the
publication received substantial 4rt-term support from the University, in
order to establish itself on sound financial footing, and it continues to this
day, one of the best student newspapers in the country. Another dispute,
this one between the University and one of its professors, Dr. Robert Cade,
the creator of Gatorade, was settled out of court. The University began to
receive twenty percent of the royalties from the sale of the product, owned
first by Stokley-Van Camp and later purchased by the Quaker Oats Company.









The funds were allocated to the Gator Trust Fund to support research
projects, especially in medicine. They continue to provide in excess of $1
million annually for the Trust.


During the tenure of Stephen O'Connell, seventeen new buildings and
research centers were added to the list of the University of Florida's
educational facilities. Among them were the Florida State Museum's new
building on Museum Drive. The energy-saving design, based on that of a pre-
Columbian temple mound, garnered a national award for its architect. The
museum is considered the best Natural Sciences museum in the southeastern
United States. The Spessard L. Holland Law Center was opened in 1969, as
well as a new Engineering complex, agymnas and a University Activities
Center. Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney dedicated the C.V.
Whitney Marine Research Laboratory at Marine Studios, on the coast in
Flagler County, in 1972.


An interviewer recalled, some years later, that O'Connell had said at the time
of his presidential appointment, Its either the greatest deadon I ever mad
or the wrst From this vantage point of time, the interviewer then asked,
which would you say it was? I mudan give up that experience for
atnythimj g







42

Return to Private Life



Nowadays, his life centers around the farm, Turkey Roost Plantation, outside
of Tallahassee. He sEast bought the 3,100-acre working farm, in
partnership with three friends, during their Supreme Court years in the
capital. For many years, it produced tung oil, a lucrative product which was
used in the manufacture of varnishes and paints. The farm was both a
business and pleasure venture for the O'Connells and they had long planned
to build a home there and retire into some well-earned peace and quiet. A
part of his decision to leave the University, however, was predicated upon
his wife's failing health. Diabetes, exacerbated by the stress of those exciting
Gainesville years, was taking its toll.


For about the first year after their return to Tallahassee, the O'Connells
resided in a condominium on the north side of town. Some oafthemost
miserable days of iy 2i e were spent i that c1dominium. I djlikedivi/ng
that way I cam t out here to Athe farm almost very day. In 1975, Steve
became chairman and CEO of the Lewis State Bank. Finally, in 1976, Steve
and Rita moved into their long-awaited home at Turkey Roost. Their life
together there was short-lived, however. Rita McTigue O'Connell died in
1977. O'Connell later reentered private practice, opening the Tallahassee
branch of Cason and Henderson, an old friend's Tampa law firm. I always
enjoyed the practice of aw and just asntd to do it ae mor time. He
retired from the law practice in 1987.







43

The Judge still lives at Turkey Roost, and loves it. ItAkeepsme alive and
active The tung oil machinery has been systematically sold off rising
production costs finally made it unprofitable. The tung trees were pushed
over and burned, and much of the land was planted in pine trees. Several
hundred acres have since been developed for homesites. "The ranch" as he
now refers to it, consists of 2,000 acres of mixed-use land, which is run
under his personal supervision. Some is-cropped and some, around the
house, is pasture for his cattle. He knows every one of them, and they
recognize his voice. He frequently goes out, on foot, at twilight, to call them
in coming back to the peacefulness of the house, soaked to the skin from
the summer heat. The telephone rings incessantly. Florida still needs Steve
O'Connell. The telephone, however, is definitely the best way to reach him
for, as two orange-and-blue signs at the gate proclaim: "ENTER AT OWN
RISK...LIVE GATOR AT LARGE!" ...That's a fact.





University of Florida Home Page
© 2004 - 2010 University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries.
All rights reserved.

Acceptable Use, Copyright, and Disclaimer Statement
Last updated October 10, 2010 - - mvs