Interviewee: David Cofrin
Interviewer: Samuel Proctor
Date: March 5, 2003
P: I'm with Dr. David A. Cofrin for the University of Florida Oral History Program.
It's March 5, 2003. We're in the University of Florida Foundation building on
University Avenue. David, let's get started if we will, and give me your full name.
C: David Austin Cofrin. I was named after my father.
P: What is your birth date and place of birth?
C: I was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Brown County. That's up at the body of
water connecting to Lake Michigan in northeastern Wisconsin. [I was born]
November 10, 1923.
P: How long had your family been living there?
C: My father moved to Green Bay in approximately 1910. He took a job as a
manager or superintendent in a large paper mill in Green Bay.
P: Where did he move from?
C: At that time he moved from London, Ontario, where he had a lesser type job in
an paper mill. Prior to that, he had lived in both New York City and Philadelphia.
The story that I remember is that in New York he worked [as a] shoe salesman
and in Philadelphia he worked in a furniture store. He was always looking for an
opportunity to get into the paper business, to get a job in a paper mill. He read
the Paper Trade Journal, and I think that is where he first found the job in
London, Ontario. He was single and had no family obligations at that time, so I
think that he up and moved to London, Ontario.
P: Where did your father's family come from?
C: They're from New England, in New Hampshire and Vermont. My father was born
in a small farm community in central New Hampshire. Some of his mother's
family came from Vermont. They have an early history in the graveyard, but we
really don't know too much about when they migrated from England, Ireland,
P: So they came from the British Isles to begin with.
C: My grandmother was a Ward, and we think that's an Irish name and that at least
by the early 1800s that some of her family had come to New England.
P: So your father's name was David Austin Cofrin.
C: No, I'm sorry. My middle name was from my father's [father]. My father's name
was Austin Ellsworth Cofrin.
P: What about your mother, what was her name and where did the family come
C: My mother was born and raised in the little town of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin,
which is up in the finger, Door County, Wisconsin, which over the years has
become a big resort area. She was born in 1890. [She] went through the public
schools. Her father was a shoemaker and her mother was a midwife. Both of
them migrated from Germany and Norway, respectively. Her father, without any
college or legal training whatsoever, was elected as county judge in Door
County, Wisconsin. He was one of those old-timey lay county judges, and he
served for about thirty-five years until he retired at [some age] over eighty.
P: Did you grow up with grandparents?
C: No. I knew my grandfather. My grandmother died. I visited my grandmother in
New Hampshire a couple times as a child. My father's father had died of some
acute condition when he [my father] was only thirteen, and then his mother
remarried a farmer on a little farm in New Hampshire. We visited him one time
when I was a small child. My grandmother in Wisconsin died the year before I
was born. I knew my grandfather fairly well. I remember his active years, going
to his office in the courthouse, but we were never very close. He didn't really
participate in my bringing up at all. In fact, he died in about 1933, I believe, and I
would have been ten years old. He was a cigar smoker, and I think he, typically,
died of some kind of throat cancer or what we now call smoker's cancer. Of
course, in those years, nobody worried about it.
P: David, where did you say you grew up?
C: Green Bay [Wisconsin].
P: Is that where you got your education? Did you go through public schools?
C: Yes, I went to Green Bay East High School.
P: How good of a student were you?
C: I was a pretty good high school student. I got nearly all A's. I was interested in
science, and in those days science courses where a lot different than they are
now. I graduated from high school in 1941. I had taken high school physics and
high school chemistry, and I was interested in biology. So when I went to
college, I had no difficulty getting into Cornell, although I had never taken any of
the college entrance examinations.
P: Did you have to work while you were going through high school?
C: No, not really.
P: Your family was well off?
C: I had a job in the gas station the last summer before I went to college, but we
had no financial hardships.
P: Did you have a car?
C: Yes, I did. I used the family car. My mother became an invalid with Parkinson's
Disease when I was in high school. I did have access to an automobile, but it
was a family automobile.
P: Were you a social man?
C: Fairly much, yes. I dated in high school. We went to dances and went to places
on Friday night, but that was before the wild period pretty much. When I went off
to college in the fall of 1941, which was only three months before December 7,
the Pearl Harbor attack, I was a pretty conservative young man. I had vowed not
to smoke or drink. Of course, neither of those things held up too long, but we
were immediately into the war. Of course, I was a premedical student, so it
became apparent early that premedical students were going to be exempt from
combat duty. I got into the Navy program, at that time called the V-12 program.
Eventually, in 1944, I went to medical school.
P: Before you get into that, let me ask you a little bit more about high school. How
did the decade of the Depression impact your family?
C: My father had, by that time, founded his own company, which was to become a
model of success. His [company] was very successful all through the
Depression, so we had no hardship. In fact, in general, I think Green Bay has
always been a somewhat affluent community because of the industry and factory
jobs there and so forth. My impression is that, although I was only ten or eleven
years old at the time in 1933, I don't know that Green Bay as a community really
suffered too badly in the Depression.
P: Are you an only child?
C: No, I had two older brothers, both of whom are deceased now. My oldest brother
was nine years older than I was. He went to law school. He graduated from
Princeton and went to law school. As I was growing up, he was so far ahead of
me that he wasn't at home very much. When I was eight or nine years old, he
went to college. He later became very active in the company, and he became a
financial advisor to me, which was very helpful in developing my financial
planning. He worked with my father in the paper company.
P: What about your other brother?
C: He didn't do well in school. He was considered, later, to be a psychopathic
personality. He had what they called a subarachnoid hemorrhage, which is a
brain condition that can be fatal. He did marry. He married and had two
children, but then he had a recurrence of a bleeding condition in the brain and
died in 1945. He was four years older than I was and was twenty-six when he
P: You have no sisters?
C: [I have] no sisters. My father had coined the phrase that we were "The Three
Brothers." In fact, that was the name of our little motor boat, "The Three
Brothers." He also named our summer cottage "The Three Brothers."
P: Did you participate in athletics as a student in school?
C: [I] had a considerable loyalty to try to be on the football team. We had a very
topnotch high school football team. I was a bench warmer. In the line, I was
always a little heavy and I didn't play very much, but I stuck it out. Because the
team was so good, all the substitutes played near the end of the game when we
were way ahead. Consequently, I played enough to get my letter, so I was a
letterman in football in high school in my senior year, which was a [source of] a
great deal of pride. I was never very proficient.
P: Why did you select Cornell?
C: My older brother got into Princeton and he got into trouble traveling too much into
New York City. He sort of decided that the things he had heard about Cornell
were a little different. He thought it had the advantages of being an Ivy League
school. It also so happened that in 1941 my mother and father took an
automobile trip from Wisconsin to Connecticut to where my middle brother got
married. I was the best man at his wedding, although I was only seventeen at
the time. We stopped at Cornell on the way home. We stopped at Ithaca [New
York] and I had an interview at the admissions office. As I recall, my high school
record was quite good and we had no financial problems for tuition and so forth.
At that time, it was a shoo-in that I almost had my admission guaranteed by the
time I walked out of the office.
P: So you didn't apply to any other institutions?
C: No, I never applied to any other college.
P: What was this business of your brother having a little problem getting into New
York City? The ways of evil were there?
C: Yes, he got into some drinking troubles and troubles with the law. I mean he got
arrested a couple times for drunkenness.
P: That can happen.
C: As a matter of fact, at one point, he was expelled from Princeton. I never did
totally understand this, but my father supposedly had to go and guarantee his
future behavior. My father did that, and so my father always took the credit for
keeping my brother in Princeton. He did graduate with honors in economics.
P: So probably your father was right.
C: Yes. Well, my brother was undoubtedly the smartest one in the family.
P: How was your career at Cornell?
C: I stayed a little bit off campus in what they called at that time a private dormitory.
I went through some visits to fraternities, but after visiting several fraternities, I
was prepared to not join any, and probably would not have been asked to join
any. But then the fellow who lived across the hall from me, his pledge class at
Phi Delta Theta was a apparently needing a little boosting up in numbers, so he
invited me to the latter end of the rush period, which in those years was in the
fall. He wanted me to come and visit his fraternity, which was one of the better
fraternities on the campus and one of the best known fraternities nationally. He
encouraged me to come to dinner at his [fraternity]. I was asked to join Phi Delta
Theta, which I did.
P: This is in your freshman year?
C: Yes. Then the next year, as I said by December 7, the war had started. Of
course, that changed how things were going to go. By the following summer
, I had enlisted in the V-12 program.
P: What was that program?
C: It was a college training program. It was the summer of 1943. In the summer of
1942, I was still a civilian, but because of the war, our college program had been
accelerated. It was almost necessary to attend summer school at a full academic
level in order to avoid the draft. So I did attend year round. We also, as a result,
had some acceleration of the premedical requirements, so to speak. By the
summer of 1943, I had practically fulfilled all my requirements.
P: So right from the very beginning you were a pre-med student.
P: You had committed yourself to that.
P: You didn't take any other courses, any of the literature?
C: I didn't take too many. I took a course in geology, which I didn't do very well in.
Mostly no, I didn't take any advanced literature courses. We were required to
take language, and I had taken German. I was supposed to complete three
years of German for my degree. I really only completed about a year and a half
before I was exempted. It's very strange, but I did get moved out of college to
the Great Lakes Naval Training Station [Illinios] as a medical corpsman [a Navy
enlisted person trained to administer minor medical treatment as first aid].
P: You wore a uniform for that?
C: Yes, we were in uniform. We were in uniform beginning in the summer of 1943.
I was actually an apprentice seaman, which is like a buck private. We were
apprentice seamen, but we wore midshipman's uniforms, which was so much
better looking than the corresponding Army program that we got a lot of credit for
having people think that we were officers when we were actually just apprentice
P: You were flying under false colors.
C: Sort of, that's right.
P: Well, under that program it was study, study, study, wasn't it?
C: Pretty much, yes.
P: There were no extracurricular activities?
C: We had all of the requirements. The Navy took over the fraternities and turned
them into military barracks, so to speak. We had to be accountable and we were
able to be out on the town. I don't have any recollection of what the limitations
were on going to the library in the evening, but I didn't do that very much anyway.
No, we didn't carouse around. We were required to be accounted for wherever
P: How long were you at Cornell?
C: I was at Cornell from September of 1941 until October of 1943, at which time I
shipped out to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station and became a medical
[hospital] corpsman. Although, at that time I had already been accepted at
Cornell Medical School for January 1944. I had that course of orders in place so
that I knew they weren't going to take me and send me onboard ship or to do
something else. When I went to become a hospital corpsman, I was assigned to
regular corpsman's duties. As a medical corpsman, I remember I had duty for
about two weeks in a row, and there was a very dreaded concern that if you were
caught sleeping, you would probably have received very strict discipline including
being shipped out to combat duty.
P: What were the responsibilities of a corpsman?
C: We were like you might consider a nurse's aid, but at night we were in charge of
a ward. We had to sit at a desk with a whole open ward of sick military [men]. [I
was in] an ear- nose-and-throat ward. We mostly had people with ear infections
and tonsilitis and things like that. Penicillin, by the way, had not come out until
after I started medical school. Anyway, we were responsible for making entries
on their [medical] charts. I remember the last thing we had to do at six o'clock in
the morning was go around and record everybody's temperature, so they were
nursing duties, you might say.
P: You went into medical school when?
C: I went into medical school in January of 1944.
P: You leave as a corpsman and you go into that. In medical school are you in
P: Where were you living then?
C: I lived at the dormitory at New York Hospital. The ASTP [Army Specialized
Training Program] Army students and the Navy students, we were mixed in
together. We were not separated and we all lived together in a special building
there that no longer is used, but at that time it was very satisfactory dormitory
space. All we had to do was go down the elevator in the morning and go across
the street to class. The first- and second-year classes [were] in basic sciences-
chemistry physiology, pathology, and different things like that. The medical
school is a series of buildings right on York Avenue, near Seventieth Street in
New York City.
P: Where is Cornell's medical school up there?
C: It's at the New York Hospital, which has always been a strikingly large, twenty-six
story building right on the East River between Sixty-eight and Seventieth right
next to the Rockefeller Institute. It's also associated with the Memorial Sloan-
Kettering Cancer Institute, which has been built up with a lot of separate units
since that time.
P: You went to medical school for how long?
C: I went to medical school from January in 1944 and I graduated in March of 1947,
so it was an accelerated program there, too.
P: Had you already made a commitment as to what your specialty would be?
C: I would say, pretty much, I was leaning toward a specialty in general surgery. I
didn't really consider too much other than that.
P: What attracted you to general surgery?
C: It's hard to say exactly. I think I felt like that's where my abilities lay. I was
always interested in anatomy. Since then, there's been a tendency to associate
certain medical specialties with personality types. I know that's not 100 percent
true, but I do think perhaps certain personalities gravitate toward certain
P: You were not attracted to any other profession other than medicine right from the
C: No, in fact that's very true, because when I was in tenth grade, we all had to write
a vocational paper. I remember that I wrote my vocational paper on being a
physician. It was also true that in high school I had accumulated a few old
secondhand medical textbooks, which my father had a connection with. He used
to order books from a book company, and I found out that I could order some of
these textbooks. I remember that I had a textbook of DeLee's early textbook of
obstetrics. Of course, that was a book that showed all the pictures of how babies
were born and so forth. I can remember showing those things to my friends, and,
of course, we were all pretty much in awe of how a baby could develop and
become born the way they are.
P: Did you do post-graduate work?
C: Yes, I was planning to become a board-certified surgeon. I was not in the top of
my class in medical school. I didn't really have access to a topnotch internship. I
was sort of in the middle. Ultimately, I had what they called a rotating internship
at Milwaukee Hospital in Milwaukee. Then I went back for a year in pathology,
largely doing autopsy work in the Department of Pathology at the medical school
at Cornell. That required a move from Milwaukee back to the New York area in
1949. From there, I was looking for a residency position in the usual type of
program. I did obtain a position at the University of Chicago clinics, which is a
fairly prestigious place for postgraduate training. I stayed there for three years,
Then, they had what they called the doctors' draft. That was supposed to be that
if you went to medical school in the military program, which I did, [you could be
drafted]. Although at the time they indicated that we were fulfilling all of our
military obligations by the mere fact that we were becoming doctors, in 1952 they
were changing the scheme of things and the government needed physicians in
the military. So they had created what they called the Doctors' Draft Law .
They were actually drafting doctors to serve in the military. To avoid that I
enlisted in the Air Force for a couple of years. So from 1952 to 1954, I was in the
Air Force. I was stationed in a little Air Force base in Oklahoma, and then I went
to the University of Oklahoma hospital for a year, from 1954 to 1955. I was a
senior surgical resident at the University of Oklahoma Hospital.
P: Hold that for a just a minute because I want to back up and ask you a question.
When you were going through medical school or your post-graduate [studies],
was there a member of the faculty or members of the faculty whom you were
particularly close to who became mentors of yours?
C: Probably not, and I think I have some regrets about that. I think my friends in
later years have never considered me very much of an introvert, but in those
years I sort of felt a little differently. I think that, you might say, I have sort of a
fear of authority among the professors. It's hard to say, but I did not develop any
really close relationships to any of the instructors. I had a couple of the residents
whom I became closer to when we were doing what they call externships, but
actually I did not have close faculty relationships.
P: Were your Cornell activities a happy time for you? Were you pleased?
C: I think, yes, in general. I had met my wife-to-be and she was living in New York.
After the first year of medical school, I saw her quite regularly. We had a lot of
fun together, maybe too much fun in terms of going out on weeknights. We did
our share of visiting bars and so forth. I think that I would have to feel that I
probably neglected my duties or neglected my studies to some extent. I always
seemed to get along fairly well.
P: You came through with flying colors.
P: You had no problems, or certainly no lasting problems at all. Once again, I want
to make sure I get this chronology right. After you leave medical school, you
have your degree, you're a doctor, and you're a surgeon right from the very
C: No, actually, my first year was in a rotating internship. So I wouldn't qualify as a
surgeon, you might say, until I actually went into a surgical training program,
which was at the University of Chicago. That would have been in 1949.
P: How did that happen, you going to the University of Chicago?
C: I was in the Department of Pathology at Cornell. I enjoyed that work. We were
doing autopsies and we had a very scientific environment. I probably could have
elected to stay on and become a pathologist, but that, for some reason, didn't
appeal to me. I made it known that I wanted to go into surgical training. The
dean of students at that time-I'll always remember that he was very, very helpful
to me-his name was Dayton J. Edwards. Dr. Edwards was a guy who always
came through as being kind of prudish, but he was helpful to me. He knew that I
was looking for a residency program, and he came to me one day and said that
he had heard that there was an opening at the University of Chicago. He was
very helpful in getting me that position.
P: I see. You were there how long again?
C: I was at Chicago three years and then I had to repeat a straight internship. It
wasn't totally ideal because I didn't really get into the program at an advanced
level, but as far as my credit and my training were concerned, I thought it was
very satisfactory. I was there until June of 1952 when this Doctors' Draft Law
P: You were not troubled by the Korean War? You weren't subject to that draft?
C: I was a little bit careful. When I went in the service, I could have actually joined a
military unit that was going to be shipping out for Korea right at the moment. I
actually did try to pick an organization. That's part of the reason that I went into
the Air Force because I think I was sort of assured that I wouldn't be shipped to
Korea. There was no guarantee of it, however. Some of my classmates actually
did go to Korea. Actually, one of my classmates by the name of Hornburger, we
think, was the first one to invent the story about M*A*S*H [Mobile Army Surgical
Hospital, became a popular television show beginning in the 1970s]. We think he
invented M*A*S*H and wrote a story about it that was accepted by the Saturday
Evening Post. This is sort of all conjecture because I never verified it, but he
supposedly was paid $500 for the story which subsequently became the multi-
million dollar TV program and so forth. Then, of course, the original MASH all
began with the Korean War. It was the years of medical graduates who
participated in the Korean War.
P: David, did your family support you throughout your medical education? You
C: Well, my father had divested himself. I had an independent income from stock
dividends that my father had saved for us.
P: So you didn't have to go out looking for a job.
C: No, I've never really had any financial problem.
P: Now, once again, I'm not quite sure. After you leave medical school, what's the
next step that you took? I want to make sure that I have it correct. Is that when
you went to Chicago?
C: In order to become state licensed, there are requirements in internship. You are
required to take one year of approved internship, and I did that. I did that in
Milwaukee. I spent one year as a rotating intern in Milwaukee. Then, I went
back to New York in the Department of Pathology.
P: Let's just jump ahead to Oklahoma. I stopped you before when you were talking
about that. What was that and when did it happen?
C: When I enlisted in the Air Force, by that time I did have some advanced training
in general surgery, and I was told that I would probably qualify to be assigned to
a military hospital or an Air Force hospital that would be larger than 100 beds.
That had some significance in terms of type of cases and the quality of the
training and exposure to training. As it turned out, when my orders came
through, I was assigned to a very small thirty-bed hospital in a very dinky little Air
Force base [Vance Air Force Base] in the middle of Oklahoma, in the middle of
the Oklahoma wheat fields. I spent two years there. We moved my family. We
had two children at the time, and, in fact, the third one was born while we were
there, but we had a very pleasant time. We were treated royally. The doctors at
a small military base are always given prestigious treatment by the military
because they don't know when they're going to get sick and need a doctor.
P: Who were your patients?
C: [My patients were] military.
P: Did you treat wives and women?
C: Yes, we had a small obstetrical service. Everybody had to deliver some babies.
We weren't always the best qualified for that, but everything, I think, was
P: But they all popped out all right.
C: Yes. If taxi drivers can do it, we should have been able to do it.
P: Obviously, you did, and all of them survived.
C: Yes. We had an operating room and we did appendectomies. We also had a
consultant who was available to come out on more difficult cases. We called the
consultant to come out on things like gallbladder operations and different things
that we were doing.
P: Were you at the University of Oklahoma?
C: My little Air Force hospital was up near the town of Enid, which is in northern
central Oklahoma, about 100 miles north of Oklahoma City. When I got out of
the service, I was thinking of going back to the University of Chicago, but I'm glad
that I didn't because it would have been a hassle, in terms of moving the family
and what I would have been able to do and so forth. I was happy to take this
position which came up at the University of Oklahoma Hospital. We moved to
Oklahoma City for a year and I had a very good experience there, and then, after
that, I came to Gainesville.
P: Let's get some personal stuff in there. How did it happen that you met Mary Ann
in New York? What was she doing there?
C: Well, we had a mutual friend from Florida named Olin Shivers. He was a
fraternity brother of mine at Cornell and he was a year behind me in college and
he was a year behind me at the medical school. So, I finished my first year at
medical school in September of 1944, and he came into the freshman class. He
was from the little town of Chipley, Florida and he knew some Gainesville people
because his father had been in the legislature. They had a little hotel in Chipley,
Florida, called the Shivers Hotel. Olin knew some mutual friends, and when he
came to New York, some of his friends said that Mary Ann Harn was living in
New York City and that he should look her up. He called her and she had just
moved into a little apartment about twice as big as this room. She invited him to
come down and help these three girls paint their apartment. She said, if he
would bring a couple of his friends, medical students, they would cook supper for
us. So, we went down there on a Saturday afternoon and painted the apartment
and had supper, and that's the way I met Mary Ann.
P: What was she doing in New York?
C: She was working. She had finished her year at the Katherine Gibbs Secretarial
School, and she had gone back to New York. She had a good friend, whose
family was the Cannon family from Gainesville. Marjorie Cannon was married to
a friend of Sam Ham's by the name of George Bailey. They had been
roommates at the University of Florida, and Mary Ann had gone to New York and
finished the secretarial school and then she had gotten a job working for
Paramount there right on Broadway. She was a secretary and living with these
two other girls, one of whom was Sue Bailey. That's how we happened to meet.
P: What's Mary Ann's full name?
C: Mary Ann Peebles Harn Cofrin
P: She was born and raised in Gainesville?
P: Her family's been here awhile?
C: Oh, yes. Her mother was a Gracy in the big Gracy House in the back of the
Methodist church in that area. There are a lot of the Gracy people still around
Gainesville, several of her cousins.
P: Who is Ham?
C: Well, Sam, his family was from Alabama and they had [probably] come [from
Scotland]. His father had died at an early age. They lived in Bartow, [Florida]
and his mother was a schoolteacher. Samuel Peebles Harn was an only child.
He was originally raised in Bartow, but he went to the University of Florida. Then
he became a fixture in the Gainesville area. At one time, he was city tax
collector. He started out in the College Inn [near University of Florida campus]
P: What do you mean, College Inn business?
C: Well, there was that little store for university students.
P: I know the College Inn, but I was wondering what his involvement in it was.
C: Well, he managed it or owned it, supposedly. I mean I don't know all the
financial details. Unfortunately, I don't think he ever owned the property, but he
may have owned or managed the business for a couple years.
P: Did he have any connection with city hall? I thought he was the clerk.
C: Yes, he was the tax collector. They had some financial hardship during the
Depression. As a matter of fact his wife was Gladys Gracy, and [her mother]
inherited some of the timberland up in High Springs and the northern part of
Alachua County. Some of those areas, as I understand it, she actually
foreclosed some mortgages during the Depression. [She] ended up with a lot of
tenant farm property, and when she died....
[End side A1]
C: ...Some of her family inherited some property, which was eventually sold as farm
land, I think. Mary Ann's mother and father, Sam and Gladys, had some periods
[of hardship]. I think Sam always had a white collar type of job, but [they were]
by no means well-to-do. Their friends were in the professional group of people
like lawyers and other business people. They actually did get a small property
out on one of the lakes near Melrose where they spent time in the summer. So,
Mary Ann and her two sisters, I think, had a very happy childhood.
P: So you met Mary Ann in New York and that began the relationship.
C: Yes, we became quite close. After a year or two, it was apparent that we were
going to become engaged [and] get married.
P: When did that happen?
C: Actually, we became engaged in the summer of 1946, when I had been released
from the Navy program and had not graduated from medical school. I can
remember coming to Florida for a couple weeks to visit. Sam, Gladys, and Mary
Ann were over at Daytona Beach on a week's vacation. I [went there] and I
remember when we were riding in the car one time in Daytona Beach. Of
course, I had to ask Sam for Mary Ann's hand in marriage, which was the old
traditional way of doing things. I remember sort of oohing and ahhing and being
very uncomfortable sitting in the back seat. I finally blurted out something like,
well you know Mary Ann and I would like to get married or I would like to marry
your daughter, or something. Sam said, "Well, that's nice."
P: He didn't say, why? [Laughing.] That's nice. He was driving the car and giving
you his blessing.
C: He said, "Well, that's nice."
P: When did the wedding take place?
C: The wedding took place then on April 9, 1947.
P: It took place in Gainesville?
C: Yes, at the Methodist church. Then we had the reception at the Gracy House.
Of course, we have some of the old pictures of the old house at the time. Of
course now the Gracy House has become quite a landmark. Fortunately, it's in
the hands of some very interested people. I forget his name at the moment, but
he's a neurosurgeon now at the medical center, and they've taken very good
care of the house and are raising a family there.
P: Tell me about your children.
C: Well, we have five children. The first child was born in Milwaukee toward the end
of my internship.
P: Give me the full name of the first child and birthdays, too.
C: David Ham Cofrin, he was born May 24, 1948. While we were at the University
of Chicago, the second son was born. He was born on July 9, 1951, Paige
P: Is he named for somebody in the family?
C: The funny part of that is that my brother had the name John Paige, but he was
named for somebody who we later found out was really spelled Page. My
mother had made the mistake because she had never seen the gravestones, and
I'm not even sure there were gravestones at that time in New Hampshire.
Anyway, everybody in the family has come down P-A-I-G-E.
P: So, that was your second child.
C: Yes, then the [third] child was born when we were in the Air Force. That was
Edith Dee, who was named after my mother who was Edith Dehos. It was a
German name. I think it's sort of related to the German name Dehoff.
P: So your daughter carries that full name, Edith Dehos?
C: No, we just named her Dee. Edith for my mother, but we didn't like the name
Dehos too well so we just named her D-E-E, Edith Dee. She was born January
11, 1953. Then, Gladys, the fourth child, was born in Gainesville. She was born
on February 1, 1956. Her name was Gladys Gracy Cofrin. The last daughter
was born on December 19, 1959. She was born in Gainesville. [Her name is
Marcy Ann Peebles Cofrin.]
P: The total was five children, two boys and three girls.
C: That's correct.
P: Do all of them live in Gainesville?
C: No, in fact, only Gladys lives in Gainesville.
P: Have they produced a whole slew of grandchildren for you?
C: Well, two of my daughters turned out to be gay. I'm not sure how much we want
to talk about that.
P: You don't need to talk about that at all.
C: We have eight grandchildren.
P: Where do they live?
C: Two of them live in Amherst, Massachusetts. One of them is a natural child of
my gay daughter, who is very openly gay and has a gay lifestyle.
P: We can leave all that out if you want to leave it out, or we can put it in if you want
to put it in. It's up to you.
C: Well, as far as they're concerned, they don't mind having it be in. I don't care. I
mean we've pretty well accepted it and they are our grandchildren. So anyway,
then my son in Atlanta has three daughters. One graduated from Williams
College and two of them are at Cornell. One of them is graduating this year.
One of them will graduate next year or two years. My son Paige lives in Boulder,
Colorado. He has one step-child and two natural children. His marital family is
kind of mixed up.
P: So you've had a lot of happiness and a lot of times that have not been the
C: Well, we've mostly had happy times. We have been very fortunate that none of
my children have had major illnesses.
P: Right, that's important. Are you close to all your children?
C: Fairly close, we're not as close as a lot of families are. Part of that is because
their lifestyles are as I mentioned, are separate. It's been an education to be
associated with the gay world because that is definitely separate.
P: What does your son in Atlanta do?
C: He is an attorney. He is the only one who has what you might call a viable
profession or professional college training. My other son majored in real estate,
but he is now working mostly in investments and financial dealings. He doesn't
have what you'd call a bona fide career that can be well-defined.
P: It doesn't sound to me like you have any Gators in the family.
C: Actually, my daughter Gladys graduated from the University of Florida and got
her master's degree in some kind of counseling. I can't remember exactly what
her degree is called.
P: So you have one out of five.
C: The thing is, my sons are sports enthusiasts. My son David went to Notre Dame
Law School and he's a very strong enthusiast for Notre Dame. Gladys has got
very little sports interest. For years she's gone to the Gator Growl, but she really
has no interest in the football team or other sports teams.
P: Well, I always say that there is a university beyond the stadium that functions
Monday through Friday. [laughing] Let me get back to your father now. He
comes out to Wisconsin and he works in a paper mill?
C: Yes, and the interesting thing there, and a story that he liked to tell very much,
was that when he went to Wisconsin, the fellow who hired him and the fellow he
worked for was a chronic alcoholic who was drunk a good lot of the time. So, my
father ended up running the mill and pretty much ignoring his boss. In other
words, he didn't have a boss. This was sort of what my father wanted, and it
probably couldn't have worked any better for him. He developed management
skills, although, as I understand it, he was not a front office man. He never was
an executive of the company. In 1917, the company, which was family-owned,
was sold and he lost his job.
P: He didn't go with the sale then.
C: No, because the sale was to another family type situation and they wanted to
install their own people. So, he was out of a job, and that's when, very
fortuitously, he decided to found his own paper mill. Which he did.
P: That called for capital.
C: He had a stock subscription. He told funny stories about that. He had no
difficulty in that time selling the stock. His main trouble was that people who
bought the stock wanted to buy more than he wanted to sell.
P: Did he have an established reputation then in the community?
C: I wasn't there, but I would have to say, no. He really was not a downtowner type.
I just don't know. I think that what happened was, when he promoted the stock
subscription, it was such a good idea that he had no difficulty in selling it.
P: In other words, it wasn't his personality selling the stock, it was the stock.
C: Well, I think that he was a very serious minded person. He wasn't at all a
wheeler and dealer; he was strictly meat and potatoes type of stuff. [He'd] get in
and pound the nails himself. I think that there was a lot having to do with the
timing. I think it was right after the end of the war [WWI], 1918. There was a fair
amount of money in Green Bay apparently. The capitalization for his company
P: David, what kind of paper were they manufacturing?
C: [They were manufacturing] tissue paper, toilet paper, [and] paper napkins.
P: Was this wood stock? Was that the basis of it?
C: No, they started off with pulp. There again, he became a very shrewd buyer of
wood pulp. Subsequently, he found out that he could get a shipload of pulp
delivered through the [St. Lawrence] river into the Great Lakes. He could get a
boatload of pulp delivered from Norway all the way to Green Bay. He became a
very shrewd, successful businessman. He did everything. He not only bought his
materials, but he used to travel a lot and he ended up getting a lot of large
markets. He got contracts for providing the state of Illinois with all of its tissue
paper requirements, and he had New York state at one time. They were big in
commercial [contracts]. They weren't putting rolls of toilet paper on the stores'
shelves back in the early 1920s and 1930s, but they were the low-cost producer
and they were the low-cost seller on large contracts.
P: How large was the company?
C: Well, it was enlarging all the time. They claim that the growth of the company
provided a classic textbook picture of American industry at the time. It was
written up as an example of a successful enterprise.
P: What was the name of the company?
C: [The] Fort Howard Paper Company. Fort Howard was an English fort in the
Green Bay area, the site of which has been excavated partly. Of course, Green
Bay was founded in 1636 by the French fur traders, one of whom was a Jesuit
priest by the name of Jean Nicolet. [There is] Green Bay and then [there is the]
Fox River Valley. There is a short section of river, I say short, [but] it's about fifty
miles long, which goes down to Lake Winnebago. But there's a string of towns
[south of] Green Bay in northeastern Wisconsin that have all developed paper
mills. It's a big paper-making area. I mean you've got Green Bay, you've got
Neenah-Menasha, you've got Appleton. Neenah-Menasha, incidentally, is the
home for Kimberly-Clarke Corporation. They were the first ones that came out
with [disposable] paper diapers, Pampers. Oshkosh is a well-known industrial
area, which is not necessarily very much paper, but other industries. Lake
Winnebago is about fifty miles long, and this is all from glacial times in
northeastern Wisconsin. Then, at the bottom of the lake, you have the town of
Fon du Lac.
P: Was your father a pioneer in the development of tissue?
C: He and my brother, after World War II, were pioneers in the development of
P: But your father starts this business earlier than after World War II.
C: Oh, yes, but as I say, most of [the] paper was made with paper pulp.
P: What kind of paper were they producing before they got into the tissue paper?
C: It was always tissue paper.
P: When did he start this business again?
C: He started the business in 1919. He built the paper machine and started
P: It was a small-time operation, I presume, at that time.
C: It was pretty small at the time, one paper machine.
P: How did the Depression impact him?
C: Well, as I pointed out earlier, I don't think Green Bay was hit very hard with the
Depression. My father's corporation paid dividends every year during the
Depression. As I say, he was always very shrewd in his business practices. He
was a low-cost manufacturer and a low-cost seller. He also did some things that
were very helpful. For instance, he always prided himself in that he had a [first
class] machine shop. They machined all of their own parts for refurbishing their
paper machines. By the time I was coming along, probably they had four
machines. So they weren't as big as the mill that he had left, which later turned
out to be International Can and James River [Co., but Fort Howard became well
known.] It was very common to see our Fort Howard fixtures in New York City,
for instance, in all the major cities. Then, when my brother came in after the war,
they went through further expansions.
P: How large did it become?
C: Later with mergers, they became a Fortune 500 company. They became an
internationally known [company].
P: It was always the tissue paper that they were manufacturing?
C: They had some other lines, but the major line was always [tissue paper].
P: Did they make Kleenex?
C: Kleenex, it so happens, would be one of the lesser lines.
P: That's relatively recent, isn't it?
C: At one time, they were the biggest maker of paper napkins in the world. Of
course, they began to supply all the fast food companies. [They had] big
contracts with McDonald's and Wendy's and all those things. Then, when they
got into the recycled paper business, they became the low-cost producer.
P: When did your father give up the paper mill?
C: He never gave it up.
P: He died?
P: When did he die?
C: Well, he had a subdural hematoma, if you know what that was.
P: No, I don't.
C: Well, he had an accidental fall and had a brain injury. In fact, he was operated
on here at the medical center in 1959. He never had full recovery, but he was
president of the company at that time. My brother was sort of working as his
right-hand man, and when that happened, my brother became president of the
P: So it was a family business, then?
C: It was always considered to be a family business, but the truth of the matter was
that the family interest in the corporation never exceeded 25 percent. That was
the way the original stock had been set up.
P: Are we talking about a big-time company? I mean is this a large corporation with
lots of money?
C: It became a Fortune 500 corporation. That means it's one of the 500 largest
corporations in the United States, so yes.
P: That's why your father was still in the company?
C: Well, after 1959 and having his brain injury, he was more of a figurehead. He
was born in 1883, so in 1960 he was seventy-seven years old. My father wanted
to continue to have an interest in the company. At one point, he thought he could
do more than he really could. My brother had to sort of manage him, you might
say, and arrange for his medical care. Maybe in 1965 or 1966, my brother more
or less insisted that he be relegated to a non-active status, but he still had his
office and he still came to work every day. He would tell you that he came to
work every day, but he didn't do anything.
P: What happened to the business?
C: Eventually, my brother took over in the 1960s and he was trying to manage the
company in a way that controlled the price of the stock. They were trying to keep
the price low for the purpose of estate evaluations and so forth for the original
stock holders who were dying off. However, that became impossible to continue.
So, in 1971 the company went public with an IPO [Initial Public Offering].
P: Where did this leave you?
C: It left me a lot richer than I thought I was.
P: And you thought you were?
C: Yes. I knew that we were well-to-do, but when the company went public and I
participated with some of my shares into the IPO, it was fairly obvious that our
assets [were great]. All my children had assets, they had gifts of stock from their
grandfather, so they all became wealthy.
P: Do you want to document the amount, or do you want to just leave that?
C: I think it's probably better not to try to do it.
P: Well, then don't do it, don't do it. Be happy with what you say. I don't insist on
anything. When did your father die?
C: He died in 1980, but my brother had died in 1974.
P: What did your brother die of? He was a young man. You said he was a smoker,
C: No, I was talking about my grandfather at that time, but my brother was a terrible
smoker and drinker. He carried some of his drinking habits from college. He
definitely had a drinking problem, but he also developed throat cancer which
remained undiagnosed. There was a Mayo clinic trained ear, nose, and throat
man in Green Bay who actually missed diagnosing his condition for at least a
year. He ended up with a lump that was almost that big around. He ended up
with a lump [on his jaw] which his doctor didn't even see. Right here, I mean you
could look at him and see it.
P: It seems pretty obvious.
C: It was terrible about his mis-diagnosis, but he had a condition which is
questionably curable. He eventually, in 1974, went under treatment. He
received radiation and radical surgery with Dr. Million and Dr. Nicholas Cassisi at
the University of Florida.
P: You brought your father and your brother to the university for medical attention?
C: Well, my father was here in 1959, but I wouldn't have necessarily brought him
here, but he was here when he had his [accident]. He was visiting when he had
his trouble, and he was misdiagnosed, too. You probably know [Dr.] Richard
P: Oh, yes.
C: He was on his case early on. It was Lamar [Roberts], the neurosurgeon guy,
who said, "I think he had a brain tumor." They took him into surgery and he
nearly died, and that's when they discovered he had a blood clot over one side of
his brain. They evacuated it and saved his life. He went down to Ocala.
Anyway, my brother brought in another, younger man who became president and
chairman at the time. [My brother] died in 1974. My father, by that time, he was
almost ninety years old and he was staying at home.
P: You've got a great memory.
C: Fair, yes. Some of those stories I've told so many times. My father loved to tell
the story about going to Green Bay with this drunk. He met him in Detroit, as a
matter of fact. He met him in Detroit and they both came [by train] to Detroit to
talk over this job. My father came from London, Ontario, to Detroit, and Fogerty
came [from Green Bay]. When my father got there he was drunk. So, they went
around and caroused around a couple of bars for the evening and he got drunker
and drunker. Finally, my father had to catch the train back to London, Ontario.
So, he put this guy to bed and they had never even discussed the job. They
never talked about the job at all. So, he got back to [his job] the following
morning, went back to work, and thought he'd never hear from him again. [He
figured] it was just a useless trip [because] they never talked about the job and
he didn't know that he would even remember who he was. So, anyway, after a
week went by he got a letter from Fogerty offering him the job at Green Bay.
P: He was a good party man.
C: He went to Green Bay and took over being the superintendent of the Northern
P: Is the paper mill still in operation today?
C: Oh, yes, it went through several changes of ownership. You've heard of [the
advertising slogan], "Don't squeeze the Charmin?"
P: Oh, sure.
C: Well, that's Northern Paper Mill. In fact those little babies were Northern
something or other, weren't they?
P: I know what you mean.
C: Yes, the three biggest paper mills, one, I think, may still be operated by Proctor
Gamble; one became operated by James River, which merged with Fort Howard;
and then there was Fort Howard, which had become the biggest company in
P: David, you moved to Gainesville. You had never lived in Gainesville. What
C: Well, I was opening my practice of surgery.
P: You decided on Gainesville?
C: Yes, I knew that Mary Ann would like to come back to Gainesville. Of course,
her father was ill with the neurological condition that was going to take his life in a
couple years, and he died in 1957. I knew that she would enjoy coming back to
Gainesville. I think really that part of the decision was that there was no great
financial concern. I mean, I wasn't worried about financial difficulties. The other
thing was that Sam Harn was noted for making the remark about people retiring
to the South. He said, "You never hear of anybody retiring to the North."
P: He's right.
C: So, when I came to make my choice about where I was going to go and started
thinking about going back up to Green Bay and opening up a practice in Green
Bay, I thought, why do I want to go up there with all that cold, snow, and ice?
P: Had you been to Gainesville already? You came when you got married.
C: Well, [I came] even before that. Not very much, but I had been here a couple
times. Anyway, when we came to make the choice, it was not hard to decide that
I didn't particularly want to go back up to Green Bay.
P: You didn't want to be affiliated with Shands [Hospital]?
C: Actually, that was never an opportunity. I didn't have the qualifications to
become a professor, I don't think. You may remember that we developed a
rivalry between the town [doctors with Alachua General] and the gown [doctors
affiliated with Shands medical center] for a number of years. That was in my
early years here in Gainesville that everybody was worried about losing all their
patients to the medical center.
P: I wanted to ask you about that. That's a question that I have here, but before I
do that, let me get you settled. Where was your office?
C: My office was down by Alachua General [Hospital]. I was in that original row
offices, which was not completely demolished. I moved in with Dr. George
Putnam, who was a urologist. I moved into a little space in his office, and, then, I
eventually became associated with Edwin Andrews. Not actually contractually,
but we worked together a fair amount. When Edwin Andrews eventually retired, I
took over his office although by that time, he didn't have the biggest practice in
the world, either.
Of course, there are some things about the medical story, but at the time that the
Shands Hospital opened [October 1958], there were a lot of things in private
medical practice that were quite competitive. We had probably more general
surgeons than we needed. There were about six of us I can name. There was
me and Allen Delaney, Glenn Summerlin, [and] Henry Babers. There must have
been someone else I'm missing. Anyway, that was a period of development of a
lot of the sub-specialties. When I first came to Gainesville, we did not have a
well-qualified or well-trained orthopedic surgeon, so all the general surgeons
were doing a fair amount of orthopedic work. But as the orthopedic surgeons
came into town and set up their practices, they got a lot of the orthopedic
practice, which I think cut into the work of some of the general surgeons.
P: You performed all your surgery at Alachua [General Hospital]?
P: How satisfied were you with their facilities, coming out of Cornell?
C: Well, that's another long story. The facilities at Alachua General, when I came to
town, were not adequate or satisfactory.
P: Would you label them as being primitive?
C: That's perhaps is a little bit too strong of a word. In 1965, Ed Kissam, one of our
colleagues, went to visit in Russia a few years later. I'll always remember, he
came back and he said that the medical practice in Russia was comparable to
what things were in the United States during the 1920s. In other words, he was
intimating that they were at least thirty or forty years behind. I'll say, when I
came to Alachua General, things were a lot like the Depression times in the
1920s. Of course, the Alachua General Hospital, I can't even remember when it
was built. It was probably built in the early 1920s or something like that. It was
fairly primitive, but the quality of the medical treatment was superior to what you
might call primitive because there were a number of specialists who were well
trained. I think, by and large, there was a lot of good work being done, but the
facilities were definitely limited.
P: What kind of a staff did you need when you started up?
C: I just needed an office nurse, just a combination receptionist/office nurse. I had a
rather small practice. My practice never went according to any real plan,
because when I was in medical school, I probably would have thought that I
would never be an individual, solo practitioner. I always thought that I would join
a group, which is certainly more common nowadays than it might have been
then. It was only because [of] my solo practice that I was compatible and
developed friendships to the other surgeons, that it became relatively easy to
utilize their help like for assistants in surgery and so forth. We were a fairly
compatible group at the same time as being moderately competitive. I would
have to say that I was fairly well treated. We had some funny things that
happened, but the development of the medical situation and the medical
community is sort of a different story. If you're going to do an oral history
concerning the medical situation, that almost should be separate from my
relationship to the community.
P: Where did you and Mary Ann live?
C: We bought a house near J.J. Finley Elementary School, which was very
convenient because the children could walk a couple of blocks to school in the
morning, which we thought was very wonderful. Then, in about 1960, we bought
the property out on Eighth Avenue, which belonged to Dr. Pollard. Do you
remember Dr. Pollard?
P: Yes, I do.
C: Well, anyway, he had developed that property of about twenty-five acres. I
bought that property from his widow in 1959, and we moved out there in early
1960 and did some remodeling in the house. We lived there until 1991, so we
lived in that location on Eighth Avenue with the large acreage of woods and so
forth for thirty-[five] years.
P: What is this business with you and racing horses?
C: That's a long story, too. I had always been somewhat interested in horses. We
had a friend who introduced us to these South American horses, which are
known as Paso Fino.
P: Are they small horses?
C: They were raised as small horses because the riders in South America are small
people. They were raising these horses to develop a special, smooth gait, or
what they call a running walk. That's what Paso Fino actually means in Spanish,
"fine gait." I'm not well acquainted with Spanish, but paso, I think, means walking
or gait and fino means fine. We had this opportunity to get interested in the
Peruvian variety, which I call Peruvian Paso horses. Among the aficionados,
they don't like to be called Paso Finos because that's a generic term. They prefer
that they be called Peruvian Paso. The Peruvian were considered the best by
our group, so we started. We imported several Paso Fino horses from Peru.
P: Did you have to go down to Peru to select them?
C: I didn't, but other people did. We eventually ended up having over thirty horses.
P: What did you do with them?
C: Not very much, we were trying to sell them and the whole enterprise got out of
hand. In the meantime, I had purchased some property out in Jonesville
[community just west of Gainesville] area. I moved some of the horses out there.
P: There's a ranch out there now in Jonesville, I think, with small horses.
C: You're talking about the miniature horses. No, these are not miniature horses.
These horses are riding horses, but when you said small, a lot of the people refer
to them as ponies. A hand is four inches, that's supposed to be the width of your
hand. A horse that's under twelve hands is considered a pony. Shetland ponies
could be in the area of possibly nine, ten, or eleven hands high. Twelve hands
would be forty-eight inches to the withers, and that's where the horse is
P: Did Mary Ann share your support of the horses?
C: Not in the training, the breeding, or the raising of the horses, but she got
interested in riding. She eventually had a few of her girlfriends who came out
once a week and went riding. We got to the point where we could saddle up four
or five horses at a time. She had this riding club, so to speak, and for a couple of
years they were riding horses every week. We had the ability to ride back in the
woods, we cleared out a little area.
[End of side A2]
C: [We called our property] Rancho Neglecto, which was sort of a humorous term to
describe a sort of semi-professional situation that we had. There again, the
details get rather tedious. There was a short period of time when I felt that it
might be financially remunerative that we might actually develop a market for
these horses. There were two problems. One was that the major interest in the
breed was limited to California, which is a long ways away. The second problem
was that in Florida the interested people got more interested in the Paso Fino
generic horses than they were in the Peruvian horses. They also were Latin
people from Cuba, who became more or less clannish and developed their own
group, so to speak. We had a problem of breaking into the group. We didn't
have the professional expertise to do it, and partly we didn't speak Spanish.
Down in the Hernando area and some of the those areas there were a lot of the
Cuban immigrants who were interested in these horses, but we never did mesh
gears very well.
P: The interest in the horses was not in racing them but in riding them?
C: They were always raised as show horses. The idea was to raise these horses
with a special gait. We did go to horse shows for a time, and I had one employee
who became quite well known in the Peruvian horse world in the United States.
We did breed some horses that eventually became nationally known within this
small circle of Peruvian enthusiasts, but it was never financially successful. We
went through a period of fighting with the IRS on a couple of occasions as to
whether we were operating a bona fide business or a hobby. You probably
remember that business affected even the thoroughbred horse owners in Marion
County. If they didn't show a profit in a certain period of time, the IRS was
categorizing them as a hobby and wouldn't allow any tax deductions. We were
fairly successful in fighting that situation on a couple of occasions, but we also
took some hard licks on a couple of the cases.
P: How long were you in the horse business?
C: Well, longer than I should have been. I would have to say, almost twenty years.
P: Did you then sell the property?
C: No, I never sold the property and we always had a few horses around. This is
taxing my memory considerably, but eventually we moved all the horses away
from the Eighth Avenue property. I don't think that was actually until I retired
from medical practice in 1985. I think that was about the time that we gave up,
and, of course, we moved away from the property in .
P: Where you presently live is where you moved in .
C: Yes. The children felt that we should retain the property. My daughter Gladys
was still married, which she no longer is, but my daughter Gladys decided that
she wanted to buy the property. She was financially able to buy the property, so
we just sold it to her. I understand now that she has finally completed successful
negotiations to have the property converted into a park. I was rather surprised
because I think that there are some disadvantages to that area as a park, but
she's been promoting this notion for a couple of years. Apparently, they'll make
the newspaper when it happens. She's now got this thirty acres designated as a
P: Will it be a recreational park?
C: In some ways I'm not sure what recreations. I don't think that they're going to
build any tennis courts or baseball diamond or anything like that, I think it will
always be maybe a walking park with maybe certain plantings. I don't know what
they're going to do with it, because I've kept out of it. Frankly, I never have been
that much interested and I didn't think it was going to be successful. You've
heard of the blue gumbo clay?
C: The blue gumbo clay in that area is terrible. It's hard to control the subterranean
water. I just don't know what's going to happen. The house that we lived in
should be torn down. It's right on the edge of the creek and the creek is eroding
badly. There are serious problems there. I don't know how they're going to
P: David, I want to get back to the conflict between town and gown. By the time you
came and opened up, Shands was here.
C: I came in the late summer of 1955 and Shands had not actually opened. The
first class in medical school I think started in 1956.
P: But the decision to locate the medical school had already been made.
C: Oh, yes, the decision was made and the construction was probably underway,
but the hospital didn't actually open for patients until [October 1958].
P: Now the feeling with many of the local doctors was that they would lose patients
and lose business.
C: Yes, I think that's fair to say.
P: Where did you side on that?
C: [I] felt, in many of the specialty areas, we could provide services that were equal
to Shands. So we were trying to discourage Shands from doing the routine types
of surgeries, for instance, that we could do at Alachua General [Hospital].
P: Was there an effort being made, now with the Shands presence, to increase the
facilities and so on at Alachua [General Hospital]?
C: Well, I don't know. As I said, the facilities were inadequate when I came here. I
think that there were some plans for the new plan, which was ultimately called
the 1961 Building, the main red brick addition to Alachua General. So we went
from 1957, you might say. I can remember a few meetings that were held at the
old brick Alachua County Health Department, which used to be in that area and I
don't think is there anymore. I don't know where it is, but I remember there was
a small auditorium there that we used to field these questions of how we were
going to deal with patients going to Shands. There was a development that
Shands supposedly agreed to, that they would not accept self-referrals. [A
patient] couldn't walk in or make an appointment. You had to have a referral by a
physician. That was not terribly successful. If I was sitting in my office and you
were my patient and you looked at me and said, I want to be referred out to the
medical center, what could I do to counteract that? I pretty much had to
acquiesce. I think there was a factor of looking at Alachua General and saying,
it's not an adequate hospital, but that only existed until 1960.
P: The thirty years that you practiced here as a general surgeon, you didn't deal
with Shands at all? All your activities were held at Alachua?
C: I referred patients out there and I asked for consultations and so forth. I had a
good relationship. I trained under Dr. Ed Woodward [Edward R. Woodward,
Chairman of the Department of Surgery, UF College of Medicine, 1957-1982] at
the University of Chicago.
P: One of the best interviews I did was with [Ed] Woodward.
C: He was an interesting guy, [but] he was also a big fat liar.
P: I didn't get that in the interview, but it was a good interview. [laughing]
C: Ed had the ability to speak grandiosely. That was one of the things I remember
about him. Of course, he was a controversial character.
P: He had a terrible temper, I understand.
C: I saw that on a couple of occasions. I worked with him as his assistant resident
at the University of Chicago for a year.
P: So, you knew him before.
C: I knew him before he came here. In fact, one of the search committee came and
interviewed me about him. I can't remember that fellow's name, he was from
Starke and he was in the Department of Pathology. I can't remember his name.
P: David, your career then as a surgeon was a successful one.
C: No, it really wasn't. I don't look upon it as being terribly successful. There were
some people who knew from the beginning that I was financially independent,
and that worked partly against me. We had situations like Dr. Babers and Dr.
Glen Summerlin were both local boys, they were both Gainesville boys. They
had doctors who had a lot of loyalty to them, which was fine, I mean that's the
way it should be. But there was an attitude that patients were being directed
toward [other] specialists.
P: Away from you and to them?
C: Well, not so much away from me, but toward the local, hometown boys.
P: You can't fight that.
C: You can't fight city hall. You might say something similar to that. So, I never had
a large practice. In some ways, I went through a period of resenting it on
occasion, but I had some fine associations. I had some very fine patients and I
had some very rewarding cases and so forth, but I wouldn't say it was perfect.
P: I was going to say, it must be comforting to know that here, some years
afterwards, that people know who Cofrin is, and Babers who?
C: Well, that might be because I'm still living. But there are a lot of people who don't
know who Cofrin is too, that's all right.
P: I want to get this onto the tape. You were a diplomat in the American Board of
Surgery. What does that mean?
C: That means that I have fulfilled and prescribed a period of treatment in approved
P: 1957 was the day that happened.
C: And [it meant] that I had passed the examinations.
P: Was this like a postgraduate degree?
C: I guess you might say that. It's also of interest that all of the specialty boards
only began essentially after VWWII, which is something that is hard to understand
for a lot of people. In other words, the American Board of Surgery was
essentially only twelve years old when I took the examinations. Prior to that, in
the 1920s and 1930s, the American College of Surgeons was the most
prestigious organization, which didn't involve individual specialties but was made
up of all of the surgical specialties. Of course, the American College of Surgeons
has continued to be a very prestigious organization, but the sub-specialties of
neurosurgery, orthopedics, gynecology, thoracic surgery, all of those things only
came into their own as specialties after VWWII.
P: Did you develop a specialty?
C: There again, you're asking a question which betrays ignorance because general
surgery is a specialty. That's one of the problems that we've contended with. I
would say that there is a large body of intelligent people who didn't understand
what general surgery was as a specialty. That was part of our difficulty. If you
ever knew who Dr. Ed Kissam was, I worked with him in orthopedics a fair
P: I do.
S: We were bemoaning the fact that if I had a college kid in the emergency room
with a broken arm or something that I was going to treat, and the next thing I
knew I got a call from the mother in Miami, and she would say, are you a bone
specialist? If I said, well, I'm a general surgeon, she'd say, well, I want my son
to be treated by a bone specialist. So, then, I would call Ed Kissam or
something. Well, that happened a few times and it was, of course, a demeaning
type of development, but Ed Kissam said to me one time, "Well, the problem with
general surgery is that you ought to get away from the word general."
P: All I was going to say, all you need to do is just change the title.
C: General surgery as a specialty probably had characteristically, and I used to talk
to people like Henry Babers and other people with it, but general surgery as a
specialty probably had the worst publicity and the worst overall public relations
situation of any specialty.
P: See, you've educated me.
C: See, there again, I've educated you, but when I tell you that in the 1920s and the
1930s there were no surgical specialties. It is true that general surgery remained
a hodgepodge, because I came into town, I said there were no orthopedic
surgeons in Gainesville, so who was going to take care of the people with broken
arms? Naturally, it fell to the general surgeons. If I had a woman who had a big
fibroid tumor or something like that, I would like to do the hysterectomy but that
made me a gynecologist.
P: It sounds to me like you were all things to all patients.
C: My point is, we started off that way. That's what I say, we were a bastard
specialty, but we were a specialty. There again, I'm afraid I could talk for the rest
of the day on this subject, but the American Board of Surgery was never called
the American Board of General Surgery, it was called the American Board of
Surgery. Well, then, the question is what kind of surgery was the American
Board of Surgery limited to? Well, we were limited to the field of general surgery,
because at that time the American Board of Surgery and the general surgeons
were the same group. So [there's a] reason that you come along and think for
years and years, with perfect reason, that a general surgeon was a general
practitioner who did surgery.
Again, there's a background for that. That's exactly what Edwin Andrews was.
He was a general practitioner who did surgery. Edwin Andrews had his surgical
training when he was in the army during the war, which is the way a lot of people
did it. They came back and they had no formal training, they couldn't qualify to
become diplomats of the board, but they could come back in and do surgery. Dr.
Edwin Andrews, in many ways, was a terrible surgeon. God bless him, he was a
nice gentlemanly sort of guy, but there were a lot of things that he didn't do very
P: David, during the thirty years that you were a doctor here in Gainesville in
practice, what changes occurred in the medical field?
C: Well, that subject, again, is a very big subject. In a way, it would almost be a fair
statement to say that part of the reason that I quit or that I retired was because
changes were occurring so rapidly that I couldn't keep up with it. One of them
was the field of laparoscopic surgery.
P: What was that?
C: Laparoscopic surgery is performing surgeries through an endoscope, through a
lighted tube, so to speak. Of course, the laparoscope had begun to be used
probably ten or fifteen years earlier than that, but it was mostly limited to rather
minor operations within in the abdomen and particularly by the gynecologists who
were clipping tubes or performing sterilizations through the laparoscope. That
was referred to at the time as belly-button surgery, which means that the
laparoscope was a lighted tube about as big as your little finger and they could,
with the techniques, insert that through the abdomen, blow up the interior of the
abdomen with air, and create an operative space to which they could do
surgeries. Then, five or ten years after that, they first began developing many
types of extensive operations.
P: All of these were revolutionary changes or things that were revolutionizing
C: These were revolutionary changes. There again, there were local surgeons here
in Gainesville who were learning these techniques, but part of my problem was, I
didn't have a big enough practice to have enough cases to learn those things.
They began, of course, it was after I retired largely, but they began doing
gallbladder operations through the laparoscope, which was a really big deal. It
was a wonderful development because it just changed the field so completely. It
made the gallbladder surgery a relatively minor operation from the patient
standpoint. It's still surgically a major operation, but if it went well and there were
no complications, the patient could go home the same day or the next morning,
and it's a marvelous development. I don't know how often they're doing it now,
[but] I've also learned that some [surgeons] were doing appendectomies through
the laparoscope and they were doing more extensive removal of the pelvic
organs like an ovarian cyst or something like that. Plus, I would say, there are a
lot of other inventions that are difficult to keep up with. The field of vascular
surgery was developing very rapidly with a lot of tremendous improvements in
surgical techniques and things that I was trained in.
P: There were lots of improvements in cancer activities.
C: Well, the improvements in cancer activities, there again, that is a big subject. I
think that a standard radical mastectomy, which was in vogue for a long period of
time, almost fifty years, was a great disgrace to the surgical profession. As it
turned out, it was probably an improper, incorrect analysis. That takes a lot of
explaining. In the field of breast surgery, for instance, the improvement in the
treatment has been largely [accomplished] by downgrading the surgery or
changing the surgery to lesser operations rather than bigger operations. One of
the most famous surgeons in New York at one time when I was in training and
was in practice, claimed that if you didn't spend five hours doing a radical
mastectomy, you weren't doing the right kind of thing for the patient. That turned
out to be totally incorrect. That was the worst thing you ever heard of. That
same person went together with a prominent pathologist in New York and one of
his major contributions was to show that there were a lot of cases that were
being operated on by a lot of [surgeons] all over the country that should not have
been operated on because the disease was too far [advanced]. At the same
time, they thought they were recommending larger operations, they were also
finding a series of cases that shouldn't be operated on at all, which was an
P: David, who made up your clientele?
C: I would say that I would never have been considered a high society doctor. My
clientele, my patients were made up of average people.
P: You were seeing black and white patients?
C: We had rural areas here from Cedar Key and Lake City and Trenton and all
those places that rural people were coming [from] to Gainesville.
P: Did you have black patients?
C: Oh, yes, I had a lot of black patients. In fact one of my closest alliances
professionally was with Dr. Cullen Banks.
P: But when you came here and opened up in 1955, segregation was very much
still in place.
C: Yes, and that is a big area I've been thinking about how much you might be
interested in. I'm sure that a lot of the doctors who have given interviews have
talked about the segregation at Alachua General, which really was quite
disgraceful. At that time, for instance, the blacks were limited to the area called
the Annex, which was essentially the basement. Of course, I don't think there
was any air conditioning in the whole hospital, but the annex was right over the
boiler room of the hospital and they were not even segregating black obstetrical
cases. Segregating obstetrical patients was supposed to have been a
tremendous factor of improving postpartum infections by not having them
associated with infectious diseases in other parts of the hospital. In the Annex,
obstetrical patients were being taken to the delivery room, to the common area of
the white and black delivery room area, but they did not have their hospital beds
in a segregated area. This was really a very disgraceful situation to be existing
at that time, 1955 to 1960.
P: Things began to change in 1960?
C: As soon as the new building was opened in 1961, then I think the black
obstetrical patients were moved into the desegregated area.
P: During this period there were other changes that were taking place that have
been controversial, Medicare and Medicaid, for instance, came into existence.
C: Yes, the medical profession opposed medicare. Everybody in the medical
profession, we knew that it would be an explosive type of development, which
proved to be correct. Also, I believe that Medicare has been associated with
considerable deception and fraud. If you know, the HCA hospital had some
executives who faced serious fines. There was a time when we thought, and my
knowledge is strictly from newspapers and so forth, but there was a time when
some of those people were thought to be going to jail because they were
changing Medicare diagnosis. That isn't actually as bad a practice as it might
sound to be, because there is a slightly logical explanation for some of it, but they
were still doing fraudulent things.
P: The presence of Medicare and Medicaid were not things that compelled you to
say, I've had enough of this foolishness, I'm going to get out of it?
C: I never considered resigning for that reason alone. I was faced with early
retirement partly based on malpractice insurance premiums. I was faced with
some large insurance premiums. The other decision to retire somewhat early
was the fact that one of my closest colleagues in practice was Dr. Harry Walker.
Harry decided to retire. I have subsequently come to conjecture that he partly
retired for health reasons, which I didn't know at the time existed. He had a heart
condition, which he eventually died of, suddenly, that I didn't know he had at the
time. That might have been one of the reasons that he retired. When he retired,
he had been my sign-out partner a lot and we helped each other in the operating
room. So, when he retired, I felt that I had lost a good friend in the profession. I
think it encouraged my decision to retire also.
P: So it wasn't the problems of the federal government or the pressures?
C: Not really at that time, I didn't retire because of Medicare.
P: You had the complaints about government interference.
C: Well, that was at the beginning, but as far as I was concerned Medicare allowed
me to get paid for surgeries that I might not have been paid anything. They were
charity patients to begin with, and if they had Medicare that was great. Certainly,
early on, I always accepted Medicare.
P: What was the percentage of your clientele were people who were too poor to pay
C: Oh, a lot, it was certainly greater than 50 percent.
P: Fifty percent, that's a lot. There was a level of poverty, then?
C: I tell you, there were some funny things that happened. There were a lot of
people in this area who felt that they really shouldn't pay their bill, they didn't
need to pay their bill. There was an old man who lived up in High Springs and
his name was Max Edel. He was not related to Dr. Max Edel.
P: I was going to ask you, was this the famous Dr. Maxey Dell?
C: No, Dr. Maxey Dell, he ought to have a statue put up to him because he was a
great man. No, this was another Maxey Dell. In fact, I believe this other Maxey
Dell, if you know [that] out toward Newberry there's a road, 241 North, that's
called Maxey Dell Highway. Well, I think that was him. Anyway, I did an
operation for him. At that time, there was a lady who was running the admissions
office of Alachua General and she admitted whoever she felt like admitting as a
P: She was the empress of the world.
C: I know who she was. I could name her name, but I probably better not. It's
better not to.
P: Yes, we don't need that.
C: Anyway, she was a friend of this Maxey Dell. She admitted him as a free patient,
so when I tried to collect my fee, this was before Medicare, of course, they didn't
feel that they needed to pay any bill. But his wife was related to the president of
the bank in the town of Alachua. So, it seems to me like I pressured him
somewhere and they did pay the bill, but they were unhappy about it.
P: You should have published it in the Gainesville Sun.
C: We had a lot of free patients in those days. I knew some doctors up in Green
Bay, when I'd talk to them, I'd say, "You don't really know what poverty is." In
Green Bay, nearly everybody had insurance or they worked in a factory; there
was no poverty in Green Bay.
P: It's hard for people coming in from the outside to realize the level of poverty in
C: Of course, the other big element was the emergency room clientele and the cuts
and shootings we used to get into on Saturday night and all that stuff. Most
people in Green Bay, the doctors in Green Bay, would have no idea what went
on and things like this.
P: There wasn't any single thing that brought about your retirement?
C: Actually, I retired very promptly for the moment. By that time we were going up
to North Carolina in the summertime and I was taking a fair amount of time off.
My nurse came in to see me in the month of June, I think it was 1985. As I say,
Harry Walker already retired. She said, "you've got this big malpractice
insurance premium coming up and we've only got so much money in the bank;
you've got a bunch of bills that are going to be paid, and if we're going to pay this
insurance premium, you're going to have to put some more money in the bank."
I remember looking at her and I said, "To hell with it, I'm quitting." I said, "We're
not going to pay that insurance premium," which was a little bit unusual. I don't
know if you've talked to doctors enough, but have you ever talked about doctors
protecting their tail?
C: Well, you see the tail on your insurance premium policy meant that as your
practice moved forward like a comet, the head of the comet is up here, but there
is a streamer that extends backwards. So, you might have somebody that, two
years after they had their gallbladder out, they discover you left a stitch in or
something. So, they're going to sue you two years after you think they're long
gone and they're still around. That's what they mean by tail. There was,
supposedly, a statistical analysis which showed a very high percentage of
malpractice cases occurred in the tail. I never believed it myself, and it never did
[happen] to me. I never had anybody come back a year or two later and say,
"Hey, you did something wrong two years ago." We had a couple of malpractice
cases, but that's another story.
P: You said to the secretary, "We're stopping."
C: I said, "I'm just not going to pay that." I said, "I'm going to quit, I want to retire."
P: She said, "What's going to happen to me?"
C: I owned my office building and I was able to rent my office immediately to
someone who wanted it, and I just quit.
P: Tell me again where your office was.
C: Well, it was down by Alachua General.
P: It was in one of those little office spaces?
C: [It was] actually in the block that was east of Alachua General toward downtown.
Dr. Kissam built a building; Billy Brashear, Evans, and Casey had the building,
and then somebody else had built the building in back of that, which I purchased.
And then I built another building eventually.
P: You became a landlord.
C: Yes, I became a landlord.
P: I'm still waiting for you to tell me what happened to the secretary.
C: Oh, she still works for me.
P: She's the nice lady who answers the telephone?
C: Yes, Maxine, she hasn't had a lot of raises, but it has actually suited her to keep
working. One time I said to Maxine, "Maxine, how old are you?" She looked at
me and she said, "I'm the same age you are." Her husband retired. At one time
they were operating a little dry cleaning business for Rip Van Winkle. Do you
P: I do.
C: Anyway, her husband retired but they liked to have some continuing income. I
don't pay her very much, but what's happened is that instead of giving her a lot of
raises, I reduce her working time.
P: When did you acquire the property in North Carolina?
C: We got that in 1983. My friend Bill Barkley, the automobile dealer, was a close
friend of mine. He's the one who talked us into coming up there, and we were
visiting him for a few days. He said, well, how would you like to look at some real
estate while you're here; why don't you look at some houses? I said, well,
Sunday afternoon, and he said, I think I can get my lady real estate agent to
show you some houses. She was delighted and she was available, so we
started. We must have looked at a half a dozen houses and we found a nice
property on the lake.
P: That suited you well.
C: Yes. It was a bigger property actually [than average]. The way property value is
up there, if I was low on cash I wouldn't be anymore because the properties up
there have [increased in value]. They say now that in our lake [area] there is no
lakefront property that's worth less than a million dollars. Some people are
buying for a million dollars and tearing the house down and starting a new house.
P: That's happening a lot.
C: In fact, I know a person who did that over at Doctors Landing at Jacksonville. He
bought a beautiful lot on the St. Johns River.
P: A lot of it is being done at Ponte Vedra Beach.
C: In fact, one of the nicest houses on our lake is going down. In fact, one of the
nicest lots on the lake was bought by a fellow by the name of Marcus, and he's
the head of Home Depot in Atlanta. He tore that house down and that house
was owned by a millionaire shipping magnate from the Palm Beach area. He
tore that down and built about a 15,000-square-foot house that just about covers
the whole lot.
P: You can't see it anymore for the house.
C: Yes, you can't see the lot, no.
P: So what have you been doing since 1985?
C: Well, [since] my brother had died I was on the board of directors of the company.
P: Are you still?
C: No, the company is gone. The company went through a leveraged buyout in
1988 and at that time I had been on the board since 1974. I would say that
we've done a fair amount of traveling, but then I've got investments that I spend a
little time at. Of course, I spend a moderate amount of time with philanthropic
P: Tell me a little bit about the philanthropic things. I know that you're the donor for
the Harn [Museum of Art].
C: When the money started rolling in, which, as I say, really began in 1971 ...
P: And you're living now in Gainesville then.
C: Yes, the first philanthropic thing that we got involved in was with building a small
theater out at Oak Hall School. That was an interesting project. That was later in
the 1970s. I don't think that theater was actually finished until 1979. Dr. Bill
Hadley and Caroline Richardson were both very interested in getting an art
museum at the University of Florida.
P: Caroline was my across-the-street neighbor.
C: Bill Hadley was very active in that also. I talked to my children and we came up
with this gift for the University of Florida.
P: Do you want to say how much that gift was?
C: It was a total of $3 million over three years, but it was participated in [by my
children]. Fifty percent of it was from my five children who gave one-fifth of one
half and Mary Ann and I gave the other half, but it was over three years.
P: Why have you been reluctant to use your name, Cofrin?
C: There is an appearance that I've been reluctant, but the truth of the matter is that
the library at the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay is named after me. I got
my name up there. My name is probably as big as this whole wall.
P: See, I didn't know about your Wisconsin gifts.
C: We got involved with a performing arts center that actually had nothing to do with
building the library, but it's the biggest building on the campus. It's about fifteen
stories high, and because of what we donated for the performing arts center
there, which has been a big success, they [named the library for me]. They had
been naming some other buildings. In fact, there was a rule in Wisconsin ...
[End side B3]
C: In Wisconsin, in the university system, they had a rule that there was nothing
named after a living person, but we helped them to change that because the
founding chancellor was a fellow by the name of Weidner, and we insisted that
the performing arts center be named after him, which the Board of Reagents in
Wisconsin finally agreed to. They may have actually named something else
earlier for a living person. I'm not quite sure, that may have been the first one.
Anyway, by the time they came along in 1990, they decided to name the library
after me, which they did. I think I had a reluctance [to use my last name]
because my father was sort of the same thing. My father didn't want to name his
company with his name. He named it Fort Howard, so I had a feeling about it.
P: When it came to the art museum, wasn't there pressure to name it for you, the
C: No, because my children wanted to name it after their grandfather. Sam Harn
was their grandfather, that's the way I talked them into donating the money.
P: I see, well that's perfectly satisfactory.
C: The other thing is that the theater at Oak Hall that we built in 1977 or 1978 was
named after my mother. I named that after my mother, Edith Dee Cofrin. We
had indicated to them that if the theater was going to be written up in the
newspaper or anything that we would prefer them to call it Oak Hall Theater, but
in the publications and things out there they always refer to it as the Edith Cofrin
P: Now the Harn Museum cost more than $3 million.
C: Well, of course, [there is a] marvelous [state] matching program. That's what
makes it attractive to donors.
P: I wonder if the Florida legislature this year will do it.
C: Well, I don't know if they will this year, but they did for the Ham Museum. So, we
immediately had $6 million. E.T. York did a marvelous job of raising an extra
million or $2 million. He got a number of gifts, most of which were in the $10,000
range, but that adds up.
P: Caroline, I know was very active.
C: Well, she and Jim endowed an acquisition endowment, plus they named one of
the galleries. Jim was very philanthropic, but he was a tightwad philanthropist.
P: I knew Jim before I knew Caroline.
C: In fact, the story that [the museum director] told me about Jim was that Jim would
come around, he'd make an appointment and go in to see Budd Bishop about
something to do with paintings and Jim would say, "Well, when are you going to
put up the name in the gallery? When are you going to put up the Caroline
Richardson... I wish they'd named that after her only, but they have it the James
and Caroline [Richardson]. Anyway, Jim would say, "When are you going to put
up our names in the gallery?" Bud Bishop would say, "Whenever you donate the
money." [Laughing.] He was piddling it in a little at a time. I understand that
Jim's trust fund is probably larger than anyone [else] thought it was. I [never
knew] the details.
P: Well, it's a magnificent addition to this campus.
C: Also, of course, now we've got the addition. Didn't you come to the thing that
they named for Mary Ann [Cofrin]?
P: Are they working on that already?
C: I don't know, I don't really think so. They're working on some things.
Supposedly, the butterfly [institute] thing is going to be a little bit ahead of it.
P: I thought it was going to be just the opposite.
C: One thing that they have said about getting the money was the fact that McGuire
had stipulated in his gift agreement that if the matching funds were not made, he
was going to take the gift back, so that scared them into doing that. Of course,
now future people who make large gifts are going to be doing the same thing
They're going to be saying, if you don't get those matching funds, we'll take the
gift back. Ours was never that way, so they found the money for matching our
gift, and I'm not sure where they found it.
P: You know, I go back to the 1930s. I came as a freshman in 1937, and I can
remember when we had no art here or the little that we had they had to use the
walls in the library. So the Harn has really brought us into big time. Do you know
Mickey Singer [UF graduate who donated a Monet painting to the Harn Museum
of Art in the 1990s]?
C: I met him on one occasion. In fact, I think I met him over at Caroline's house.
P: That had the party for the Robertsons.
C: Was it that party or another one?
P: Anyway, I think I saw you there that morning and Mickey Singer was there.
C: I think the party that I met Mickey Singer at was after the Robertson's party.
P: Oh, no, I knew Mickey when he was a student here, but I saw him at one of
Caroline and Jim Richardson's parties.
C: I had some thought that I was not terribly happy about the Monet thing ["Oat
Field" painting]. I'd rather have seen them donate the money than the picture.
P: I don't think he had any question, did he? I don't think he gave them that choice.
C: No, he didn't give them any choice.
P: He said I'm getting you this Monet if you want it. The gallery wasn't going to say,
C: That was one of the things that poor old, the short-lived director who was here.
She was there during the time that they accepted that.
P: Your philanthropy has not stopped with the Ham though, has it?
C: No, we're still active. We have a family foundation now.
P: Aren't you supportive of the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts?
C: Not to any great extent. I'm an elite auxiliary member of the performing arts
P: But you haven't made any major gifts?
C: No, [I haven't made] major gifts.
P: The same thing is true of the museum?
C: We made the gift for the Mary Ann Cofrin Pavilion because of divesting stock to
avoid capital gains tax.
P: Was the pavilion going to be just at the Harn or is it also going to be gardens
leading into the museum.
C: It's interesting you should say that. It sounds like you know something I don't
P: I don't know, I'm just asking.
C: There's going to be some landscaping. They've been trying to put a lot of fear in
our mind about what might happen down at the corner of Hull Road and
[Southwest] Thirty-fourth Street. There's a big hole there, and I know that they've
also found some subterranean caverns in there that could cause construction
problems. Mr. Bishop said to me last year, which is after he left, but we
happened to meet on another occasion, he said, "You've got to watch out." He
said, "That damn John Lombardi [president, University of Florida, 1990-1999]
would like to put a classroom building down on that corner, you want to make
sure that he doesn't do that. Well, I've since then talked to David Colburn [UF
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, 2000 present] and a few
others and they pretty much have guaranteed us that they're not going to put a
classroom there or any other building.
P: No, they'll keep that the cultural center.
C: That means that the area around the Mary Ann Cofrin Pavilion, which is also
known as the sculpture garden, is going to have to be landscaped and there's
going to probably be special plantings and different things of that sort. It may
mean that we'll have to pony up some money for that, too. I think Louise
Courtelis is interested in that spot also.
P: Are you talking about the garden spot or the empty spot near Hull Road?
C: Well, it's all the same project. In other words, the way I picture it is the butterfly
thing is here and the Museum of Natural History is here and the Ham Museum
here and the Mary Ann Cofrin Pavilion is here. [Interviewee is describing
positioning for the benefit of the interviewer only.]
P: What's in between that?
C: I think it will either be subsequent additions to either one of the existing buildings,
I don't think they'll put anything extraneous.
P: I don't think that either. I think they probably will add onto the Ham.
C: Well, it would certainly be possible, but it's nothing that I have much of any idea
about. As far as we're concerned, this is the end of our tenure there. We're still
supporting our tenure there. We're still supporting the museum with acquisitions.
In fact, they've got a big computer system that they needed funding for and I'm
helping them with that. It's an object locator data system.
P: Whatever that means.
C: Well, they want to have every art object in the museum in the computer and be
readily accessible. I think it will also be accessible from probably remote
locations back at the art college for students to look up different things like a
library system. They'll make a library system out of the collection.
P: David, I want to ask you some other questions now. Did you grow up in a
P: Religion didn't play a major role in your upbringing?
C: No, my father, he didn't attach a great deal of importance to it, but he was
probably a very devout agnostic. In other words, he also was in his thinking and
talking. He also used to decry the oppressions of the church like the Inquisition
and all the things that happened in early days of the Christian churches, and he
never went to church. My mother was raised as a Protestant.
P: So, growing up, you didn't go to church regularly.
C: No, but for a couple years in high school I sang in the junior choir, but that was a
social thing. We had our girlfriends and we all went to choir practice, I think, on
Tuesday or Wednesday night.
P: What about now?
C: We don't go to church. We got into the Methodist church at the tail end of
Thaxton Springfield's thing, and, of course, when he left and retired, I don't think
they were as successful with their subsequent minister assistants. We tried to
get the kids to go to Sunday school at the Methodist church and we live not too
far over in the Finley [School] area, but the kids hated Sunday school. They
didn't enjoy it at all. Finally, Mary Ann decided... I wasn't going to church. She
wanted to move over to the Presbyterian church, but I think the only thing that
she was interested in was having a church for her daughters to get married. But
as it turned out, none of the three daughters got married in the church at all.
Gladys got married at the Thomas Center. She had a pretty big wedding. She
stayed married for ten years and then she got divorced. My father, as I say, he
never went to church. My mother, the last ten years of her life was a Parkinson's
[Disease] victim and she wasn't active in the church during that time.
P: You and Mary Ann aren't active now.
C: No, we're not active. I think I would, if I had a better understanding of it, I would
probably consider myself an atheist, but I like to feel that there may be a God
associated with the dynamic force of the universe. That's my concept of it.
P: How much of a social person are you?
C: Oh, I think we're pretty social. Mary Ann has always accepted her social
[obligations]. We accept invitations to dinner all the time, and she's always tried
to repay her social obligations. She belongs to a couple of small bridge [card
game] clubs. First of all, you know Sam [Samuel P. Harn, Mary Ann Cofrin's
father] was a big Kiwanis [member]. Then again, he was an invalid all that time.
I never was invited to join a luncheon club in my early years, and then, finally, I
think I was invited to join one that I really wasn't too interested in. By and large, I
never have particularly wanted to have the regimentation of going to a luncheon
club regularly. So, it was easy for me not to join a luncheon club. I usually
worked or went to the hospital during lunch hours. I ended up always saying to
people that the reason I didn't join a luncheon club was because I don't like to
sing a song before lunch.
P: Now that's a very good reason, I give the same one myself. I've never joined
Rotary or Kiwanis or anything because I don't like to sing.
C: Anyway, I have friends who have very successful relationships with their
luncheon clubs. Rotarians have done a great deal charity-wise and Kiwanis
does, too, but I just haven't gotten involved in it. As I say, we accept most all of
our social invitations and Mary Ann, more than I, has tried to repay our social
P: What do you do with your time?
C: I waste a lot of time.
P: Are you a TV watcher?
C: Yes, I surf the TV sometimes and maybe I'll find something. I read a lot of
magazines, but I don't read any of them thoroughly. For a time Mary Ann said
we're inundated, we'd have ten or more weekly magazines. We used to get
Time, Newsweek, and US News, and I would like to look at them at least and find
the interesting articles. Now, we've decided to give up on Time, now we've only
got those two. I also try to look at Forbes. I also have some nature magazines.
I like nature things. We get the Smithsonian. We get the Natural History. I've
made some patron-sized donations to the Museum of Natural History in New
York, also to the Smithsonian [Institution]. We also have a major involvement
now, what most people would consider major, to the Smithsonian Tropical
Research Institute in Panama. We met somebody from there and got interested
in it and they invited us to come down for a trip last year, which I took some of
the fellows from the Natural History Museum, Doug Jones and Bruce McFadden
and Darcy McMahon.
We went down there and, of course, it was a solicitous program. They really
treated us royally. They treated me like a millionaire. Naturally, at the end of the
program they asked me what I wanted to donate to. The other thing that I didn't
tell you was, Mary Ann has had a big classroom building named after her at the
University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. That has a lot of energy-efficient
construction, one of which is a solar photovoltaic roof with those things. So
they're building a new research building in Panama and they didn't have the
money for the photovoltaic roof, so that's what I said. When they said they
needed some money for the photovoltaic roof, I said, well, Mary Ann is getting
big into photovoltaic roofs, so we're going to pay for the photovoltaic roof in the
new research building in Panama.
P: I remember Mary Ann telling me you all were going down to Panama.
C: Yes, it's a very interesting place, the work that they're doing down there
worldwide. Believe this or not, they've got 10,000 trees identified by satellite all
over the world and they're collecting data on what those trees are doing. Can
you believe that?
P: That's a mammoth project.
C: These trees are all located geographically with an X-marks-the-spot. They're all
located everywhere in the world. They're all identified by the species of the tree,
type of tree, type of leaves, and they're making annual measurements of what
they're doing in terms of growth.
P: So you're very much into conservation also and the environment.
C: Yeah, of course, I'm not very much into the so-called radical environmentalists
like the Green Peacers or people who are trying to tear down electrical stations
and things like that.
P: Those people say, save the lions, save the whales.
C: I firmly believe there is a conflict that exists in me. We've always loved animals
and had a lot to do with animals, but I feel that humans are worth more than
animals. I don't like to build an animal shelter. I'm very much in favor of the
euthanasia of animals. Now, it's getting ridiculous. I just found out, for instance,
not too long ago that it probably would be illegal for me to euthanize some of my
old horses out there that I'm feeding. I have to be very cautious or I might get
stabbed with a cruelty to animals [charge].
P: David, you said you watch television. Do you go to the movies?
C: Yes, we like to go to the movies. We're kind of particular about movies. We
frequently go to a movie that we don't like or don't think we enjoyed it that much,
but there have been a number that we loved. We loved to see the movie
P: Oh, yes. That was great.
C: We didn't see the Greek Wedding movie until quite late, but we liked that. We
saw those movies with [Leonardo] DiCaprio, went to those ones. The one about
the Gangs of New York was kind of interesting, but it was a little bit too much.
P: David, do you and Mary Ann travel a lot?
C: Well, we did, we've made I guess about four or five or six trips over a period of
years. We've been to a lot of major cities. We've been to Istanbul, Turkey, but
we've never been to the Far East. In fact, we had been thinking about going to
China. We've got an opportunity to go. I've been collecting imperial jade for the
last five or six years or more. My jade dealer in San Francisco wants to take me
on a trip, which he says I don't have to pay his expenses for. I don't quite
understand that one, how that's going to add up. We're considering it, but with
the war developments and so forth [we might not go]. I've been having trouble
with my right hip, I don't know if I mentioned that, but I've had some pretty severe
pains. If I don't have that taken care of, I would not like to be in a foreign country,
although, I haven't been disabled. I do have another health problem. They've
diagnosed me with a condition called polymyalgia rheumatica. Have you ever
heard of that?
C: Well, I hardly ever had either. It's supposed to be an auto-immune thing like
rheumatoid arthritis. It affects the muscles sometimes and causes your
sedimentation rate to go very high. I had that last year after I got back from
Panama. For a couple months, we thought it was that I had gotten some virus
down there, and we messed around with different tests and so forth. Finally,
that's what they've decided I've got.
Mary Ann goes to the fitness center and she's in very good shape. She still plays
tennis maybe once in a while and would like to play every week. She can still do
the most amazing exercises. She can get down on the floor and do sit-up
exercises that you wouldn't think anybody over the age of thirty could possibly
P: How old is she?
C: She's a year younger than I am. She's seventy-eight.
P: She looks so much younger than that.
C: Yes, her poor sister is ill now with a disease.
P: I met her sister at the groundbreaking, we were sitting together at that.
C: Yes, Margaret, since then, has had surgery for a lesion on her tongue that turned
out to be cancerous. Well, they knew it was cancerous, but she looks like she's
going to go down hill. She's having some interior bleeding now that they haven't
been able to identify.
P: David, what kind of a political person are you?
C: Well, my father was a very strong conservative. There's an interesting story
about him, though. He always voted Republican. When Barry Goldwater [1964
presidential candidate; U.S. Senator for Arizona] came up, my father had already
had his brain condition. My brother tells the story that my father had to vote by
absentee ballot, but my brother determined that he was unwilling to vote for Barry
Goldwater. My brother said that it was one of the hardest things he had to do
was to mail my father's absentee ballot, because he was going to vote for
Lyndon Johnson [U.S. President, 1963-1968]. I've, since then, figured out how
that story should be told. Although my brother never admitted it, I know from
what I know about my brother [that] he probably never mailed that absentee
ballot. I'm quite conservative. I'm more conservative. My children all voted for
[William Jefferson] Clinton [U.S. President, 1992-2000]. All five of my children
voted for Clinton both times. Of course, this was a great disappointment to me.
P: You didn't disinherit them as a result, did you?
C: No, if I could have, I might have. That's the trouble with me and my children, I
can't disinherit them because they got all their money from their grandfather, not
P: I was going to say, you have no weapon to use.
C: Anyway, I'm not as ultraconservative. My kids always put up the guy from North
Carolina, Jesse Helms [conservative Republican senator for North Carolina,
1972-2002]. They say, you don't think we should vote for Jesse Helms, do you?
Of course, I did support Jesse Helms early on, and I, basically, would be
considered a Jesse Helms supporter. There again, his ultraconservative and
anti-black and all that stuff I don't think is very real, although it was at one time.
Of course, I'm shocked to think what could happen to Trent Lott [conservative
Republican senator, 1988-present] from Mississippi. Of course, he was just so
dumb. I must confess that I've never been terribly fond of him, and I've never
known why but now I know why. He's too damn dumb to pound sand. To do
what he did is just [dumb]. [Trent Lott lost his leadership position among
Republicans in the U.S. Senate when his comments lauding former
segregationist and Senate colleague Strom Thurmond caused a public furor.
Lott's comments were captured in television coverage of Thurmond's birthday
P: What are you going to do about Bob Graham [Contender for the Democratic
presidential nomination at the time of this interview who pulled out of the race in
October 2003; U.S. Senator for Florida, 1987-2005]?
C: Well, it depends on how the president [George W. Bush] does in his war [with
Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom]. If the president is successful in his war and it
turns out that everybody else is wrong, I guess I'll have to vote for him. If I had to
vote for a Democrat, I think Bob Graham would be as close to whom I'd like to
vote for as anybody.
P: Bob Graham was once my student.
C: I did not like Buddy MacKay [Florida Lieutenant Governor under Governor
Lawton Chiles, 1991-1998] I thought he was a little bit of a pip-squeak. I'm not
lock, stock, and barrel in favor of the governor [Jeb Bush, 1999-present]. I don't
understand half the things he's done. The thing about the schools, I just plain
don't understand it. I don't understand, if they have an F-rated school that's
going to close down, where the hell are they going to move to? I don't have any
notion. They're not going to go out to Oak Hall. They haven't got room to take
them out there.
P: And it costs money to go out there.
C: Well, supposedly they're going to get money from the state, they'll get the
P: So, David, are you unhappy or happy about the political situation now in the US?
C: Part of my problem is that I am not too happy about these religious politicians,
and I'm not too happy about the Bushes and their religious situation. I'd hope
that the president knows what he's doing on this thing. He certainly isn't telling
anybody. I have a feeling that every time they destroy these missiles and the
White House says, it's not going to work and they're faking, and all this stuff, I
think that's all canned material. They've decided what they're going to say and
how they're going to impress. They certainly don't want Saddam [Hussein,
former Iraqi leader deposed by the United States in 2003] to think that they're not
serious. I have to have some confidence in Colin Powell [U.S. Secretary of
State, 2001-present]. I mean, I have a lot of respect for him and I have a lot of
respect for Condoleezza Rice [National Security Advisor, 2001-present]. I think
there's some very smart people.
P: She certainly is.
C: I wouldn't want to say that I understand it. Frankly, my political attitude is, I'm
just an old man who's sitting by, watching to see what's going to happen.
P: Are you happy with the world we're living in?
C: No, because, there again, it comes down to religion. I think, for instance, this
televangelism is so bad and so awful, terrible. You take these guys like the
Armenian Benny Hinn. I don't want to call him Benny Hill [Benny Hinn, a faith
healer], but he was a comedian. All of these televangelists with the things that
have happened and so forth, the money that they've raised, and the people who
send money to them, I think is terrible. If you take the cross-section of America
and the terrible things on television and the terrible things that are going along in
the subculture, it's not hard to understand why the Muslims hate us. So many
things are being squandered. Take things like these stupid nightclub fires and so
forth and terrible, terrible, sad things that have happened. I think there's a large
element of degeneracy in the population. There was an elderly professor at
Chicago by the name of Bloom. Anyway, he wrote a book and I remember I
wrote him a letter one time and I asked him if he'd come down and give a lecture
at our school. He wrote me back and said, no. He was past that, he couldn't
take on any more lecturing schedules. He was talking about the music culture
and the preoccupation with sex and the bad things that were happening, the
drugs and the bad things that were happening. I think that those things are not
being controlled the way they should be.
P: Do you think they're getting worse?
C: I think they will get worse. My brother, of course, he claimed that there would be
a race war in the United States.
P: Well, that did not happen and will not happen.
C: Well, you say that. I think you're right except the Hispanics and the Asians are
going to become the majority population in the United States. I believe in that
sociologist guy, [B.F. Skinner] who came to lecture here. He said he thought that
the human race could save itself if it wanted to, but he didn't see any evidence
that they were trying very hard.
P: David, do you have any grandchildren?
C: Yes, there's none younger than ten or eleven now.
P: The reason I asked you that is, I wondered if they were here and you had
occasion to talk to them, what kind of advice or counsel would you give them?
C: Well, I think they should have active careers. Four of my children don't work. My
son David is the only one who has an active career. I think that this is a very
serious imposition. My one daughter in Atlanta probably is active enough in
volunteer work to where she could say that she has a career. She's been
president of volunteer societies and different things that have made her fairly
busy. I think the work ethic is necessary for psychological mental health. I think
part of my children's problems [are] related to the fact that they don't have to get
up and go to work in the morning.
P: Are they setting a bad example for their children?
C: Well, two of them don't have children. [They're] not entirely [setting a bad
example], because all my kids graduated from college. David has got the law
degree. Gladys has got her master's degree. Gladys almost has a career at the
crisis center, but she is not a paid employee.
P: So you're presuming that your grandchildren will be college graduates also, and
you're emphasizing the work ethic to them.
C: I don't really have that much of a close relationship with them.
P: I understand that, and they're not here. I was just asking what you would say to
them if you did have that opportunity. I would say to them that I hope that they
would subscribe to the work ethic. In a way, the oldest grandchild has a very
good job working for a private foundation in Washington D.C. She's got a very
nice job. The one who is graduating this year is also getting a good job in her
field. So, as we stand right at the present moment, they're doing okay. The girls
all did extremely well in a private high school in Atlanta. They all had excellent
high school experiences. Two of the girls played on the basketball team and had
very successful extracurricular activities.
The next one in college, my son in Boulder, his oldest son who is a stepson, just
finished a term at the University of Colorado unsuccessfully. At least the story
that we get is that he's dropped out of college for the time being. We don't know
what it means. His father recently took him on a trip abroad to Switzerland for
something. I don't know exactly what it was. He gets along with his stepfather.
His natural mother is now divorced from his [step] father. She has had all sorts
of mental and alcohol problems. She's pretty bad off.
P: David, believe it or not, we've talked for three and a half hours. What have we not
said that needs to go on the tape? What have we left out that I didn't mean to
but did? I thought I covered the waterfront.
C: I think we covered an awful lot.
P: You've got a wonderful memory for detail, excellent. When I talked to you on the
telephone, I thought to myself, I wonder if this guy's going to cooperate.
[Laughing.] You did beautifully.
C: I'm not so sure that I'm taking old age very well. I've had difficulties being as
active as I would like to be, which I think is mostly due to this polymyalgia
business, but my wife would say, and I would have to agree with her, that there
may be a large element of laziness. I don't really have as much energy. I'm not
able to walk a mile. She and I both started off thinking that walking was the
answer to everything, and there was a time, as [recently] as five years [ago],
when I thought I could start walking and would never have to quit. I mean, I
would think I could walk for five miles. I had a friend who got me into mountain
hiking, but that was in 1979. One of my famous feats that I should mention is
that I climbed Longs Peak in Colorado [in Northern Colorado Rockies]. Are you
acquainted with Colorado at all?
P: I've been to Colorado, but I've never heard of Longs Peak.
C: Well, Longs Peak is in Rocky Mountain Park and it's a similar kind of mountain
as Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, which is about 100 miles south. The two
mountains are about 100 miles apart. Anyway, we climbed Long's Peak [14,255
feet high] with this friend of mine who was a classmate in medical school. That
was a considerable feat, which I was quite proud of at the time. We walked nine
miles up and nine miles down, starting at four o'clock in the morning.
P: That is a feat.
C: Yes, 5,000 feet [14,255 feet high] of elevation [over] nine miles.
P: You started at four o'clock in the morning and you got back the following week?
C: No, we got back at six o'clock in the evening, which is a lot longer than a lot of
P: You walked eighteen miles.
C: We saw a college student, believe it or not, we were in the middle of it and we
saw her pass us going up and she passed us going back. Some of those athletic
college kids can do it [quickly]. We took fourteen hours to do this hike, and some
of them can do it in two or three hours. They jog most of the way.
P: I couldn't have done it in fourteen hours.
C: Are you a golfer?
C: [You] never have been?
P: I exercise three times a week, but none of the other thing.
C: [You exercise at] the fitness center?
P: No, I go to the one on campus at Yon Hall. They have a gym for faculty and
staff. It's a wonderful set up. Well, David ...
C: Is that going to do it?
P: Well, I'm waiting for you to tell me, you forgot to ask me the most important
things of all, but you're not going to ask me that.
P: I'm just waiting to hear what I have left out.
C: Oh, I'm trying to think of it.
P: You're going to be able, of course, to add to this if there are things that come to
mind, I wish Proctor had asked me about this. You'll just write it on the back of
the sheet and we'll add it to the interview completely. I can tell you, and I've
done a lot of interviews over the years, this has been a very successful interview.
[End of interview]