Interview with Stephen C. O'Connell, 1991-09-13

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Interview with Stephen C. O'Connell, 1991-09-13
O'Connell, Stephen C. ( Interviewee )
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University of Florida Campus (General) Oral History Collection ( local )


This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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UF 186 Stephen C. O'Connell 9-13-1991 ( SPOHP IDENTIFIER )


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Interviewee: Stephen C. O'Connell
Interviewer: Samuel Proctor
September 13, 1991

P: We are doing an oral history interview this afternoon, September 13, 1991.
[This is Sam Proctor, and] I am with former president of the University of
Florida, Stephen C. O'Connell. We are working in the [Florida] Museum [of
Natural History] conference room [on the University of Florida campus in]
Gainesville, Florida. This is for the Oral History Program of the University.
I am going to start off by asking you, if I can, Steve--this is going to be a very
informal kind of an interview--to tell me your full name.
O: Stephen Cornelius O'Connell.
P: I am glad you gave me that middle name, because I had never heard it very
much. It was always Stephen C. O'Connell, and I was wondering if that was
one of the family secrets or something that you were keeping. [laughter]
Where did that Cornelius come from?
O: I had an uncle, my father's brother, by the name of Cornelius, and I assume
that it slipped in there.
P: You were born when?
O: I was born January 22, 1916, in West Palm Beach, Florida.
P: Tell me a little bit about your family. Who was your father?
O: Daniel J. [Joseph] O'Connell.
P: And your mother?
O: Nora McKenna O'Connell.
P: I have an Ann Nora McKenna [on your background information]. Was Ann
her first name?
O: That could be.
P: OK. Ann Nora McKenna. Now, they both sound like Irish names to me.
O: They were both Irish, yes.
P: The family came from Ireland?
O: Yes, their parents did.
P: So they were born here, then, in the United States.

O: In the United States. Yes.
P: So both the McKenna and O'Connell families came from Ireland.
O: True. Yes.
P: Have you gone back to visit the old homesites?
O: Well, I did not find their homesite. They had been gone too long. But I
found the great patriarch of the O'Connell family, the great [Carin] Daniel
P: You could trace [your ancestry to him]?
O: Yes. His residence is still there. It was in disrepair, but it has been repaired
now, at Cairn Daniel in Ireland on the coast.
P: Now, I noted when I began doing the research on you yesterday that when
your family came over they settled in Georgia.
O: That is true.
P: How did that happen?
O: I assume that they came into Savannah, which was a port at which many Irish
came into this country. I do not know much about the grandparents, but I
think that is probably where they came in.
P: Were they farm folks?
O: Most people were at that time, as you know, unless they had money. But
when the Irish came they had very little.
P: Do you know when your family came over? Was it a result of the potato
famine in the 1840s?
O: I think it is related to that, but I am not sure.
P: Of course, there was a great migration of Irish to the United States in the
O: True.
P: Let me ask you about your father. I understand your mother died while you
were very young. But what about your father? Who was he and what did he

O: My father, earlier on, I understand, owned and operated an Orange Crush--
which was a drink such as Coca-Cola in the early days--bottling plant and
sales operation.
P: In Macon, Georgia?
O: In Macon, Georgia. Of course, my mother did not work. Most women did
not in those days. He also, I am told (and this is mostly hearsay and not
anything in writing or history), owned a number of bars across the city. When
my mother died he lost most everything that he had, and we moved to
Florida. He sold our home, and we moved to Florida.
P: Of course, the bars would have closed anyway with the coming of Prohibition.
O: Correct.
P: And Georgia went dry even before the Eighteenth Amendment.
O: I am not sure these were legitimate bars.
P: Now, you grew up, of course, knowing your father.
O: Yes, I did. I lived with him.
P: Were you close to him?
O: Yes, I would say so. Although he was not the kind of a person that was very
loving, he took care of me and my brothers and sisters, those who lived with
him. I would say I had a great deal of respect for him, but he was not a
person you got very close to.
P: Now, your mother died when you were very young.
O: [I was] four years [old]. She died in 1920.
P: You were four years old, so you probably have very few memories of your
O: Very few.
P: Now, it is my understanding, once again in checking through this data on you,
that your family split up after your mother's death.
O: When my father brought part of the family to Florida, my two older brothers--
Daniel, who is the eldest, and Phil--stayed in Macon and lived with an aunt.
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Phil had completed high school, and Dan had already enrolled, I believe--
and if he had not he was completing school--[in college]. He ultimately went
to Georgia Tech and became an electrical engineer. Phil stayed there,
finished high school, and then went to Mercer College in Macon for a couple
of years. The rest of us moved to a place called Connersville out in the
Everglades. My father went to work for a man named Conners.
P: It was named for Mr. Conners?
O: It was a group of three houses, and all the people were working for Mr.
Conners, who was trying to develop the Everglades. You could reach it only
by boat through a canal that started near Lake Worth and went west to
Twentymile Bend and then turned north and went to Lake Okeechobee to a
settlement called Carter's Store, which was a trading post in that area [now
Canal Point, Florida].
There were not very many white people living in that area at that time. One
of the families was the Belle family, for whom Belle Glade was named. We
got there by a packet boat that came every Friday, as I recall the day. It
brought your mail and took you down to Carter's Store to do your shopping
for the week and then brought you back. It dropped you off at the little dock
along the banks of the canal. I am not sure just how long we stayed there.
P: How did you go to school there?
O: I did not there. I think I must have been about five years old when we went
there. I must have been about six when we moved from there to Titusville,
P: Now, you said that your two older brothers stayed on in Macon.
O: Yes.
P: Who moved with you to Florida?
O: My brother Gerald, who was two years older than I, and my sister Lenora.
Andrew Fitzgerald was his name, and we called him Gerald.
P: Is your sister the youngest in the family?
O: She was the third eldest. Daniel was first, Phil next.
P: Did they have middle names?
O: Yes. I cannot remember Daniel's middle name. I think it was Daniel J., but
I am not sure. That was my father's name. Phil was Phillip Dillon, another

family name. Lenora Mary was number three. Then Andrew Fitzgerald
O'Connell was [fourth]. I was next. Then my father married again [in 1920]
when we were living in Titusville, and there were four children by that
P: So you grew up in a large family.
O: But we were never all together.
P: When you moved to Titusville, what was the purpose of that move?
O: I do not know what happened to my father's job with Mr. Conners. I assume
it just did not work out. Mr. Conners never did reclaim the Everglades, or
his interest, that is, he had hoped to [reclaim]. I think through the help of
an aunt, my father's sister, he purchased an orange grove on the outskirts of
Titusville. We lived there for a year or two. Then he purchased a piece of
land at Lagrange, Florida, which is north of Titusville about halfway between
Mims, Florida, and Titusville.
P: I have never heard of Lagrange. I have heard of Mims, of course.
O: Well, Lagrange was nothing more than a whistle stop on an old railroad that
ran from Titusville, I believe, to Deland. All there was was a little railroad
station there, not manned. They would dump off supplies and other things
for the farmers in the area.
P: Was there a school there?
O: I attended school until the sixth grade. There was a two-room school about
a mile and a half from where we lived. One teacher taught six grades; she
would teach one grade--there were not many students--and the rest would be
in the back of the room. The older students would help the younger ones.
She rotated the teaching of those six classes. We only used one room, as a
matter of fact. There were two rooms there, but only one was used.
P: So you did your elementary school work, then, in Lagrange.
O: Lagrange. Yes.
P: When did you get to Titusville?
O: At the seventh grade, I believe.
P: I see. So you were in the Everglades, then you went to Lagrange, and from
Lagrange you went to Titusville.

O: No, I went to Titusville first, then to Lagrange. I spent my days in that area
at Lagrange. My father built a garage apartment and laid the foundation for
a home, which was never built, and built a filling station. We ran that filling
station until I left there.
P: Now, you grew up in that area, and it was right on the fringe of where the
boom was exploding in the 1920s. Were there any repercussions of that in
your area economically?
O: Well, like in every other part of Florida, subdivisions were laid out, sidewalks
were built, some electric poles were set up, and a golf course was built with
a country club facility there. When the boom burst, all of those things just
stopped. The country club was closed, the subdivisions had never been sold
out, and people lost those [properties]. They were never developed, so
Titusville went back to what it had been before: a very small community of
around 2,000 people.
P: Do you remember as a kid the Indians in the Everglades?
O: I do. None lived around the area where we lived, but they would come by
in their canoes and stop and try to sell you venison or other wares which they
had. They were on their way to Carter's store to trade what they had with
them. I can remember Carter's store being stacked outside with alligator
hides which the Indians brought to sell, you see. They sold them there to I
think it was Mr. Carter, who ran the store. It was a real trading post. I
remember the Indians coming by, yes.
P: As you were growing up--and your growing-up years really were in Titusville,
and then you moved to West Palm Beach, I understand, and you were not
close to your father--who were the role models for you? Who were your
0: Well, I cannot say I had any in the early days. Later on my two older
brothers were [role models], particularly my brother Phil. When I left
Titusville I went to West Palm Beach to live with him, as did my brother
Gerald and my sister Lenora. Phil had become an attorney. He attended the
University of Florida and graduated from here in law [class of 1931] and went
back to West Palm Beach and was elected as the municipal judge. He was
that in 1933 when we moved down to join him.
P: He was not married then?
O: He was not married then. He did not get married till 1938.
P: Now, he did his first years [of college] at Mercer and then came to
Gainesville to do his law degree.

0: Yes. Correct. I think he must have finished his undergraduate [work] here.
In those days you could go to undergraduate [school] for three years and then
go into law in your fourth year and graduate in both [fields] in six years.
[You could] get two degrees. That is what I did.
P: Was yours an affluent family, or was this a working family?
0: No, [we were not rich]. I understand my father at one time had been. I have
seen the old home there; it is still standing.
P: In Titusville?
0: No, in Macon. It was a very respectable home there in a fine neighborhood.
So we must have had some money.
P: But by the time you got to Florida, it is a poor family?
0: Yes.
P: So everything that your brothers did in school they did on their own, then.
0: I would say that is pretty much true. Yes.
P: Now, why the move to West Palm?
0: My father had remarried, and he had another family then. I think all of us
realized that opportunities were better in West Palm Beach to finish our
education and do something after finishing high school than they were if we
stayed in Titusville. Titusville was a community that depended on mullet
fishing and oranges. That is all. There was nothing else there. There was
no manufacturing and very little business, other than that which was related
to those two fields.
P: So you moved to West Palm Beach.
0: I hitchhiked from Titusville to West Palm Beach when I finished my junior
year of high school. My brother Gerald had gone earlier, as had my sister.
I stayed, I think, a year after they went. Then I went down [to join them].
P: Was this a happy relationship with your father's new family?
0: No. It is hard for a first family to accept a second one and to accept a
second mother. I do not think any of us ever did. It is unfortunate, but we
did not.

P: In your case, you were really too young to know your own mother.
O: But I knew that I had had a [different mother], that she was there.
P: Is the second family still [living]?
O: Only one member is alive, and my sister Lenora is the only other living
member of the first family.
P: You were very close to your own siblings, right?
O: Yes, when we were together.
P: I mean, that was a close family relationship that you had.
O: Yes. My brother Dan was killed the first year--it must have been 1931--after
he had finished his engineering degree at Georgia Tech. He was killed by a
train, as a matter of fact.
P: In Georgia?
O: No, sir. In Ohio. He was working in either Cleveland or Cincinnati and was
struck by an electric train. He was working for the railroad then. I never got
to know Dan very well. He came to Titusville occasionally but not often, so
I did not know him as well as Phil.
P: As you look back on it, did you have a happy growing-up period?
O: Yes. Yes, sir. I worked in orange groves picking the last oranges and sold
them to the drug store in town. I hunted. I had a trap line trapping coons.
I had an old double-barrel shotgun that I used to go hunting with. I killed
ducks on the river; I would wade out and kill those raft ducks. I went coon
and possum hunting with a friend. We had a lot of activities.
P: Early on you were also athletically inclined. Is that correct?
O: I played basketball and football at Titusville. I broke my nose the first time
I played sandlot baseball after school. There were no catcher's masks, and
I caught a ball on my nose.
P: Were there any problems from a religious point of view--you were Catholic--
in an area where there probably were not very many Catholics living?
O: Very few. I do not think there is any question but at that time there was
discrimination against the Catholics. There was, and I felt it and knew it to
exist. We were kidded about it by some of what I would now call my "red-

neck" schoolmates. I had one fight over that, I remember. We had a
Catholic church but no resident priest. A priest came, I think, once a month.
We had a lady, a Mrs. Wright, who was a Catholic. She and her husband had
a big family. She taught us catechism on I think it was Saturday mornings.
I cannot remember the day, but we went to her house and studied our
catechism. And we went to Mass when the priest came through.
P: So there was family pressure for you to be a devout Catholic.
O: There was never any doubt about it. Yes.
P: You did not question that. You just did it.
O: Yes sir.
P: And of course this was the period when the [Ku Klux] Klan was very active
all over the South, including Florida, and obviously hatred and bigotry toward
Catholics went along with part of the list. There was an active Klan in south
Florida, in the Palm Beach-Dade County area in the 1920s. So when you got
to Palm Beach, what grade were you in?
O: I was a senior in high school. I finished my junior year at Titusville and left
very shortly thereafter.
P: And you went to West Palm Beach and went to West Palm Beach High?
O: I hitchhiked.
P: I mean, you came in and went to school. What school did you graduate
O: Palm Beach High.
P: Palm Beach High. And you did not live in Palm Beach, though. You lived
with the poor people on the other side. You did not live with Mr. Flagler or
anywhere in that area! [laughter]
O: No.
P: Was that considered verboten for you young people? Did you go over to
Palm Beach and do things?
O: Oh, yes. We worked over there frequently. I worked at the Paramount
Theater as an usher. Theaters had ushers back in those days, taking people
down to their seats.

P: That was a very fancy theater, too.
O: Yes, it was.
P: [It was] one of the big art deco palaces.
O: That is true.
P: And you worked in a clothing store.
O: Yes, I did. Not when I was in high school. That summer I got a job with the
city working on plants and grounds and was paid in script. If you remember
those days, Sam, ...
P: I remember them. Tell us what script was.
O: Script was passed out in lieu of dollars or money. Most of the merchants in
town would accept this script as money, and then they could use it to pay
taxes and other items that they owed the government.
P: And you were paid in script. Why?
O: Because the city did not have enough cash.
P: We must remind everybody that the state of Florida was in a depression
before the rest of the nation went into the [Great] Depression.
O: Right. The Depression came with the bursting of the stock market. That
really destroyed Florida's economy for a long time.
p: But even earlier than that, with the collapse of the boom, the economy in
Florida had really been hurt badly. And then, adding insult to injury, the
stock market situation came, and Florida became even more desperately
poor than it was before.
O: That is right. There was a succession of things that happened, as you say: the
bursting of the boom, the stock market [crash].
P: Were you conscious of all of this as a kid in high school, that times were bad
and that you were poor and that kind of thing?
O: Yes, sir.
P: You had enough to eat?
O: We had enough to eat. Our clothes were not good.
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P: And you had a place to stay. Your brother was providing you with that.
0: Well, my father did until I moved to West Palm Beach.
P: Well, I meant once you got to West Palm Beach.
0: I lived with him [my brother Phil].
P: And you never got back with your father after the move to West Palm.
0: My father died when I was a senior here at the University of Florida. I would
go back only when going back to West Palm Beach [from Gainesville]. I
remember going back through Titusville once or twice to see him.
P: But there was no getting together of the family at Christmastime and that
kind of thing.
0: No, there was not.
P: Were there members of the family that you stayed in touch with--aunts,
uncles, grandparents, anything like that--that tied the group together?
0: No.
P: So you depended upon your own resources and those of your sister and your
0: That is correct--just those that lived in West Palm Beach.
P: What kind of a social life would a young high-school kid like you have in
Titusville and then even more so in West Palm when you were a senior?
0: Well, social life was high-school kids banding together. We did not have TV.
We had little gatherings. We danced to Gramophones or Victrolas in those
days. We played tennis together. We had little clubs--nothing formal--and
get-togethers. We went swimming together. There was not a swimming pool
in all of Titusville, but we could go to the beach. Merritt Island was quite a
chore to get to, but some would have cars or access to cars, and we would go
to the beach. That is what I did. We met at drug stores and had a Coke.
P: Were you aware as a young man growing up that you were living in a
segregated society?
0: Yes. When I lived at Lagrange there was a black family that lived just across
the railroad tracks on property owned by a man named Charlie Kingman. It
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was the Brown family; that was their name. The oldest child was called
Brown, the next was called Tan, and then there were two others, and they
were Nickel and Dime. Nickel and Dime were friends of mine, and we
frequently played together in my early years. I knew they did not go to my
P: Or church.
O: Or church. Right. In later years, when I ran for the [Florida] Supreme Court
the first time, the one I called Nickel was living in Titusville then. I believe
he had a restaurant, and he was very helpful to me in that race.
P: He remembered, then, those early days.
O: Yes.
P: What kind of a student were you in high school?
O: [I was a] pretty good student, although I worked at the drug store several
nights a week, and I worked at the A & P grocery store on Wednesday nights
and on Saturdays. I do not remember grades, but I never had any trouble
passing. I was not an A student; I am sure of that.
P: What did you like in school?
O: I liked airplanes. I liked Latin and the sciences, primarily.
P: Were you a reader growing up? Did you like to read?
0: [There was] not much to read in my home.
P: What about the decision to go to college? Was that just a foregone
conclusion that you were going to go to college?
0: No, it was not. I think that was the influence of my brother Phil. He had
been able to make it, and he convinced all of us that [it could be done].
P: You had to go.
O: Yes.
P: Was there some reluctance on your part?
O: No. I wanted to. He had brought me up to the University [of Florida] on
one or two occasions when he was here. I stayed with him, I remember, at
the ATO [Alpha Tau Omega fraternity] house and met some of his friends.
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I cannot remember what year it was, but he was here in school in the early
P: So you saw Gainesville and the University before you ever became a student.
O: Yes, I did.
P: You became a student when?
O: [In] 1934.
P: Was there any problem getting into school in those early years?
O: My recollection is that all I had to have was my high school transcript and
either thirty-three or thirty-four dollars to enroll.
P: The demands were not great in those early years.
O: No.
P: How did you get to Gainesville?
O: Train. I took the train to Waldo. That is the way most of us came, if you
were coming from the south. There was no public transportation, as you
know, at Waldo, but there was always a farmer lurking in the background
waiting for us to find him. We could get together and talk to him, and he
would bring his truck over and bring us to town. It cost us about a dollar
apiece, I think.
P: So you arrived with a suitcase or two in the fall, September, of 1934.
O: That is right. Yes.
P: Did you come up with any notion of who you were going to live with or
where you were going to live or what you were going to do?
O: No. I had made arrangements to live at Crane Hall, which was a Catholic
dormitory run by Father Jeremiah Patrick O'Mahoney. (He pronounced it
P: He played a very important role in your life, did he not?
O: He did.
P: How did you know about Crane Hall and his presence?
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O: Phil. Phil told me. Phil knew Father O'Mahoney and had lived at Crane
Hall at one time.
P: Crane Hall was located where?
0: Where St. Augustine [Catholic] Church is now.
P: On the corner of 17th [Street] and University Avenue [1738 W. University
Avenue], across the street from Thomas Hall.
O: Right. In those days I think it had room for about thirty students. It was
three stories high. It had a little chapel adjoining that would hold about thirty
or forty people, and that was the place where the students heard Mass,
although downtown was St. Patrick's church in the old location on north Main
[present-day NE 1st Street], I believe it was. There was no food served there
[Crane Hall], but there were living quarters. The normal rent was eight
dollars a month. I got mine free because Father O'Mahoney let me stay
there for nothing.
P: Did you have any responsibilities?
O: I helped him. I drove him some.
P: He had a car?
O: He had a car. He was the head of the Propagation of the Faith that the
church had, and he went around the state making speeches at church services
and Masses asking for contributions for the Propagation of the Faith. I do
not think that movement exists anymore, but he was very good. They used
to call him "O'MyMoney," not O'Mahoney, when they saw him coming.
P: What was his background?
0: Irish priest. I cannot remember when he came to this country.
P: Do you remember when he came to Gainesville?
O: No.
P: But he was here when you arrived.
O: He was here. He was here when my brother Phil was here.
P: Was Crane Hall just for Catholic young men?
O: Yes.
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P: So you shared a common faith, then.
O: Right.
P: Describe your living quarters. Was it a big dormitory-type room?
O: No, there were individual rooms, two to a room.
P: And bathroom facilities?
O: Down the hall.
P: But [there was] no eating there.
O: No eating.
P: Where did you eat?
O: Well, when I first came I worked at Mrs. Drawdy's boarding house. You
probably remember that up and down University Avenue there was a series
of boarding houses. You ate there, or you ate at the cafeteria on the campus.
My recollection is that I got a job [at Mrs. Drawdy's], and the rule was that
if you could get six people to buy meal tickets you could wait tables for your
meals at that establishment. If you could get twelve people to buy tickets
they were your people--they were credited to you-- [and] you could eat
without having to wait tables. That was the incentive to drum up business for
Mrs. Drawdy, as it was for Mrs. Anderson and all the others that existed.
P: Where was Mrs. Drawdy's place?
O: It is not there anymore. Of course, there is not much left of what was there.
But it was just to the east of what was the old KA [Kappa Alpha] house on
University Avenue. That would be somewhere along where the black history
building [Institute of Black Culture, 1510 W. University Avenue] is now. It
was a one-story building set back from University Avenue.
P: There is an Episcopal chapel [Chapel of the Incarnation, 1522 W. University
Avenue] on the corner there.
O: Yes. It was in that area.
P: Mrs. Anderson, I think, was at the next corner, where the Krystal is located
[1432 W. University Avenue]. Or is that Ma Ramsey's?
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0: No. Anderson's was where Jim Larche used to have a clothing store [at 1636
W. University Avenue].
P: That building is still standing.
0: Yes, that is correct. Anderson's was on that corner.
P: Well, there is a building still there.
0: That is right, and I think that was her [boarding house]. [Ma] Ramsey's was
across the street from that [where Chaucer's Restaurant is presently located].
P: Yes, the big house right on the corner where the shopping center [Gator
Plaza] is now.
0: Yes. And the Black Cat was down on what is now the corner of 13th [Street]
and University [Avenue].
P: Did the Varsity Grill emerge from the Black Cat?
0: Yes, it did.
P: I have never been able to identify the Black Cat as a specific place, but you
have just done that for me now.
0: The Black Cat at one time was just sort of enclosed by wire. It was not a big
store. But then the Black Cat went out of business sometime before I got
here. It was the Varsity Grill.
P: And when I got here the Varsity Grill was on that corner with a dining room
in the back, and it was a substantial building then.
0: Right.
P: [I remember] Mrs. Hammond standing at the cash register with her sour face.
0: I worked, later, at the College Inn.
P: She owned that, too, she and her husband.
0: Yes. At that time you worked three hours for three meals--breakfast, lunch,
and dinner. If you broke a dish, you had to pay for it. If you could not pay
in cash you worked an extra hour or so to pay for it. You are correct about
it. The Hammonds had as their partner Gene Ahbrano, who owned [the
College Inn and the Varsity Grill with the Hammonds]. He was still around
when I was president.
- 16 -

P: Yes. I remember him. I guess the Hammonds have expired.
0: I think so. They were older than Gene.
P: And just for the sake of youngsters who come after and read this, we will
have to say that the College Inn is now the Purple Porpoise.
0: Right. Correct.
P: That old institution's name has faded from the pages of history. So you
arrived up here with how much money in your pocket?
0: Well, I know I had...
P: Thirty-three dollars.
0: I had saved some, and I know I had enough to enroll. I must have had some
money [that I was] carrying along. My sister and also Phil at that time would
come up for the football games. He did that the first year I was here, and
he saw that I had enough to live on.
P: So although it was the Depression, it was not too depressing economically
from your point of view.
0: We did not have any extras.
P: No, you worked. You worked like everybody else on campus worked. You
had your room at Crane Hall provided by the church, and for that you worked
for Father O'Mahoney, and then you also waited tables.
0: Yes.
P: And that provided you with your food.
0: Right.
P: Were you fraternity right from the beginning?
0: Yes. I pledged ATO. Phil had been an ATO.
P: So they rushed you?
0: Yes.
- 17 -

P: In those years there was not very much to pledging. You just kind of made
a decision, did you not?
O: You were rushed by several houses because of the kids you knew back home
in West Palm Beach. But I had made up my mind. I had been up earlier to
visit with Phil when he was here--he brought me here--so I knew the house
and the brothers.
P: Where was the ATO house then?
O: It was on the corner where the present house is, at the southeast corner of
Old Masonic and 13th [207 SW 13th Street]. You see, what happened is that
house was built when I was a student here, the new house. The old house
was moved south a half block, and it was sold, I believe, to a fraternity called
Phi Gamma Delta, which existed for a while.
P: It was.
O: They are no longer on campus, I understand. The old house has been torn
P: And it is where the ATO parking lot is now, just south of the big house on
the corner.
O: Yes.
P: I remember it. It was a green-painted wooden house.
O: That is right. We always remarked on it because we said that it was the only
place we knew where you could slam the front door and the toilets upstairs
would flush. [laughter]
P: Fraternity houses were not great mansions back in those early years, were
O: You slept on sleeping porches.
P: I want to talk to you, Steve, now, about your student days on campus, because
I think that played an important part of your life.
0: Very much so.
P: I know you were very much involved in athletics on the campus. I would like
you to talk a little bit about that, how all of that began, and the areas that
you worked in--boxing, particularly, but I guess there were other things, too.
- 18-

O: Well, I do not know whether you remember Carlos Proctor or not, but Carlos
Proctor had been a friend of my brother Phil's. He had been on the boxing
team here.
P: Phil had been on the boxing team?
O: As had Carlos Proctor, together.
P: Carlos came as a student first and then went into [coaching here at the
0: He played football and he boxed.
P: As a student.
0: [He was] a big fellow. He boxed heavyweight. He graduated and [became]
a coach. One of his first coaching jobs was at Palm Beach High in West
Palm Beach. That was the year I was a senior in high school. I had moved
to West Palm Beach. He was one of my football coaches there. When I
graduated, he left also and came back to the University as a football coach
and a boxing coach. So when I came here, I decided I was too little to play
football, but I would go out for boxing.
P: You liked boxing.
O: Yes. I had started boxing because Phil had encouraged me to do it when I
was in Titusville. There was a pro boxer in Titusville who took an interest
in kids. There was an old, abandoned, empty store front there, and he set up
a little gym. All the kids that wanted to learn boxing could go in, and he
would help you condition and teach you something about boxing. I remember
he took eight of us to Fort Lauderdale my junior year to fight a group of
Georgia kids that he had arranged to bring to Fort Lauderdale. A promoter
had done that. [That was] my first look at Fort Lauderdale, as a matter of
fact, and of south Florida, other than when I was a little kid.
Anyway, back to coming here. When I came here, Proctor encouraged me
to go out for boxing, which I did, and to go out for intramural boxing, which
I did. So beginning then I went out for boxing.
P: How important was boxing a sport on campus?
O: Next to football it was the most important.
P: Why?
- 19 -

O: Most action, I suppose. Basketball, you see, had not been a very popular
sport in the South, not as much as football. I suppose a lot of was lack of
facilities for basketball. But boxing was always a very attractive sport, crowd-
wise. In West Palm Beach, when I was living there, in the summers the
American Legion arena was the place where there were fights every week of
local kids, amateurs. In the winters they had the pros fight there, but in the
summers it was [amateurs]. That was true all over Florida, and I suspect all
over the South.
P: Yet after World War II boxing began to decline in popularity.
O: It got a bad name. What it did on campus was [provide ex-GIs an
opportunity to continue their boxing]. When you were in the service you
could have a hundred fights as a serviceman in the army or navy or whatever
branch of the service if you were in the sports programs, and [you could]
come back and enter college and be classified as an amateur along with the
fellow who had never put on the gloves before. For that reason, most
colleges dropped boxing with the idea that when that group of service fighters
had passed on they would start it again. At that time boxing had gotten a bad
name because of what the pros had done. So it just never was started again.
P: Where did you train on campus in the 1930s?
O: At the old New Gym, the wooden gym that is no longer there. In the upstairs
of the old [gym] is where we had the fights. We trained upstairs in the brick
building that is now the Women's Gym.
P: There was a gymnasium on the second floor of that.
0: This was on the third floor. There was a little area that had a ring and
punching bags. That was about all that was up there.
P: And you just climbed the stairs to get up there.
O: Up to that little loft.
P: The old New Gym that you made reference to, where was it located?
O: You know where the pool is, the old pool?
P: [Yes], and the infirmary.
O: It was just south of the brick building that was the original gymnasium on this
campus. [It was] just to the south of that on the same street and north of the
-20 -

P: That was a large building that was put up in the 1920s, mainly to play
basketball, I believe, and for dances.
O: That is right.
P: And it persisted until relatively recently.
0: Yes. Then it became the band building, did it not?
P: That is right: the music building and library storage building and all kinds of
purposes. Once we put up something on the campus, we do not like to part
with it very easily.
O: It stays.
P: So you trained there under the supervision of Carlos Proctor.
O: Right.
P: He was your coach.
O: Right.
P: How did you go about arranging matches and doing all of those kinds of
O: Well, it was run through the intramural department.
P: I see. And intramurals were with other fraternity and non-fraternity groups.
O: Fraternity and independent groups, dormitories, yes. You ended up with
championship bouts. Generally, the finals were at Gator Growl in the
stadium, in the northwest corner of Florida Field.
P: In a way, that was the star attraction of Gator Growl, was it not?
O: It was. It was built around these fights.
P: There was some band music, but it was mainly the boxing matches.
O: That is true.
P: And they were what? Three ..
O: Three two-minute rounds, each one. [There were] eight fights.
- 21 -

P: How often did you fight during the regular term under the varsity program?
O: We would hold eight to ten bouts, about half on the road and half here.
P: When you say "on the road," what does that mean?
O: Well, we fought at the University of Virginia; we fought Michigan State. That
trip we went from here to Lake City, caught a train and went to Virginia and
Michigan, came back to New Orleans and fought Tulane, and we may have
also fought LSU [Louisiana State University] on that same trip. We always
ended up in New Orleans for the Southeastern Conference championships.
I do not think all of the SEC teams then had boxing. Georgia did. Alabama
did. LSU did.
P: Was Carlos the only boxing coach at the University of Florida?
O: He was. When I finished my boxing the Athletic Association hired me as the
freshman boxing coach.
P: So we had two teams, a freshman and a [varsity team]?
O: We did. Yes. The freshmen never had a schedule of boxing, but they worked
P: Were you ever hurt?
O: Yes, sir.
P: You had already broken your nose once playing football.
O: I broke it first playing baseball without a catcher's mask. From then I broke
it several times in boxing. It was never set right and never mended correctly,
so it was easy to break. The last time I broke it [was playing] football; that
happened several times. We did not have face masks in football the way they
have today. The Athletic Association sent me to New York to a doctor to
have my nose straightened and the air passages opened up.
P: Did that work?
O: It did, but I came back and was teaching gym over in the red-brick
gymnasium building and fell off the high bar on my face and cracked it again.
P: Your nose seems to have been the most vulnerable part of your body.
O: It was. Right.
-22 -

P: What other kinds of sports did you participate in?
O: I played handball, but not competitively. I used to play Preacher Gordon
[pastor, First Presbyterian Church], who you would remember.
P: Oh, yes.
O: Preacher was a great handball player. Most of us played handball in those
days on the old courts that are still there on University Avenue.
P: Were you a tennis player?
O: I taught tennis for a year. I played tennis, yes, [but] never competitively.
P: Were you good?
O: Fair. But when I went to Fort Lauderdale to practice law--we are getting
away from the University--I taught tennis for a year at Pine Crest School.
P: Were you a golfer?
O: In my law school days here I lived with a group of people, and two of them
played golf. We used to go out here and hit a round. But I never took up
golf here.
P: So boxing was your main love.
O: Yes.
P: Has that continued over the years?
O: I used to continue to punch the bag. I had a light bag at my home on a stand
in Tallahassee when I was on the [Florida] Supreme Court. I had one at the
president's home over here. But I finally got away from that.
P: Have you ever been a jogger or a runner?
O: I did, and until my last health episode here I had a regimen of walking a
couple of miles, jogging some along the way. But my health just does not
permit that anymore.
P: You did a lot, obviously, like everyone else, of spectator sports, going to
football games and doing all those things.
O: Very much so.
-23 -

P: So athletics, once again, has played a very important part in your life.
O: Yes. The lessons you can learn in boxing or in athletics generally are very
helpful to you in almost any phase of your life. The discipline that you must
impose on yourself [is extremely valuable]. It is particularly true in boxing
because you are out there by yourself, and if you are not in shape you are
going to be hurt.
P: Your body, then, was conditioned to take the punches and to deliver them.
O: And not to give out of gas before the time had expired. It is most important
that you are in good condition and could last three rounds or more.
P: Did [the University of] Florida field some good boxing teams during the
O: It did, yes.
P: Did it win any Southeastern Conference titles?
O: Yes.
P: National titles?
O: One that I can recall. Johnny Joca was a national champion. And Jack Long
could have been--he was after my time--a national champion. I know Johnny
Joca was.
P: So the 1930s, then, were glory days for the University of Florida boxing.
O: Yes.
P: And by the end of the war, as we said earlier, it had declined tremendously
in importance. I do not even think that we had a boxing team any longer.
O: You have not had since the war, as I explained earlier. The theory was that
they would phase it out and then come back to it. There is still a great
interest in it on campus. Each year several fraternities organize something
called Slugfest. It is for charity [and takes place] in the O'Connell Center
every year.
P: And I understand it draws great crowds.
O: Yes. You asked earlier about the popularity of boxing. If I remember
correctly, in order to get a crowd for basketball, basketball used to play as a
- 24 -

prelim to boxing because the seats were all taken for boxing. The kids would
come to see the boxing, but they would come early enough to see the
P: All right. Let us talk about another aspect of life on the campus, and that
is religion. Once again, you were living at Crane Hall. By the way, where
did it get that name?
O: I think it had to do with a benefactor.
P: A lady from New York who gave the money in the 1920s. But you did not
know her. She was long gone from Gainesville or maybe from the earth by
the time you arrived.
O: Correct.
P: How strict was Crane Hall living?
O: You could come and go as you wished.
P: No curfew?
O: No. Absolutely not. If you did not go to Mass, you heard from Father
O'Mahoney. If you made too much noise, you heard from Father
O'Mahoney. Yes, sir. But [other than that] you were free.
P: Was there supervision of studying and study halls, that sort of thing?
O: No. It was a general type of supervision that he exercised. You always knew
that you would hear from Father if you did anything out of the ordinary. He
wanted to know about your girl friends, what you were doing, and he was very
pointed in his questioning of you. But never in any way [did he] establish
rules of conduct so long as you behaved.
P: But he himself had the reputation of not being a party boy but being liberal
in his attitude toward student life.
O: I think he was. He did not restrain you.
P: You were young, and these were things you did.
O: Yes. He was very helpful to every student, [and] very sensitive.
P: Now, was Mass a daily thing?
0: He said Mass every day. Of course, every priest is obligated to do that.
-25 -

P: And you were obligated to attend?
0: Not every day, no. But you must be there on Sunday.
P: Was there any obligation on campus when you arrived as a student for chapel,
or had that already been dispensed with?
0: That had already passed.
P: That passed when [John J.] Tigert became president [of the University], and
of course he was president when you arrived. [Tigert was president from
1928-1947. Ed.] He is the first president you knew.
0: Yes.
P: Were you active in the Newman Club?
0: I was president of the Newman Club.
P: What was the Newman Club?
0: It was a Catholic [organization]. John Newman, of course, established that.
It was a Catholic club composed of Catholics--study groups that would assist
you in learning more about the Catholic faith.
P: It was not a social organization, then.
0: It was in part.
P: By that, you did what?
0: We had meetings there at [Crane Hall].
P: Could you have parties at Crane Hall?
0: We never did.
P: Your partying was done, then, at the ATO house, or elsewhere.
0: Yes, sir.
P: And the University had no curfews at that time, either.
0: No.
- 26 -

P: And no dress codes.
0: No.
P: How did you dress? Not tennis shorts, of course.
0: No, we did not wear shorts on campus. You wore your best clothes on
Sunday always. When you went to church you put on a coat and tie. I
remember when we went to football games both the boys and the girls
dressed up. It was a dress-up affair.
P: Girls wore hats and gloves.
0: Some wore gloves, yes. They dressed up in their best for the game.
P: [And they were there] with those big pompons.
0: Right. It was just as hot then as it is now.
P: But we all survived.
0: We survived it very well.
P: We did not know a thing in the world about air conditioning in those days.
0: No, sir.
P: What about your political activities on campus? You started pretty early,
because you were president of the sophomore class.
0: Yes. See, in those days--I do not know whether they do it today--fraternities
and other associations on campus urged you to take part in campus activities.
If you belonged to a party, which all the fraternities did--they were split up
generally between two parties---they would look for people to run for office.
Your fraternity would encourage you to do that. That is how I got started in
politics, through the urging of fraternity members.
P: Now, being president of a class did not call for a lot of time or activities, did
0: No. Your principal function then was putting on a sophomore prom
weekend--a dance weekend.
P: Now, as a freshman you had a rat cap.
0: I wore a rat cap.
-27 -

P: And what were your responsibilities or restrictions as a freshman, as a rat?
O: I still have a copy of my F Book which told ...
P: What you could do and what you could not do.
O: That is right, as a freshman. One of the things was you could not walk on the
Plaza of the Americas, you remember, as a freshman until at least after
Christmas. You had to wear that rat cap until after Christmas.
P: Unless, of course, we won the Georgia-Florida [football] game.
O: That is correct. That is exactly right, which did not happen very often. In the
fraternities, you could not enter. You had to announce yourself as a rat: "Rat
O'Connell is at the door. May I enter?" And you would stand there until
some upperclassman said, "Enter, Rat." It was not bad because, if you
remember those rat caps, you had your name on the front of the bib. It made
it possible for you to learn a lot of names that you would not have otherwise.
P: It also enabled you to get a lot of free rides around the state.
O: That is right. You would not think of getting out there on the corner to
hitchhike without your rat cap. It was an open invitation to be picked up.
P: And you were picked up. Nobody had any hesitancy.
O: That is right.
P: They were not afraid to stop for a University of Florida student.
0: Right. People hung on to those rat caps just for that reason because even
when they were seniors they wore that rat cap on the corner out there
[looking] for a ride.
P: They wanted to get to Tallahassee or Jacksonville for the Georgia game.
They needed them very badly.
O: Yes.
P: In addition to being president of the sophomore class, what else did you do
politically on campus?
O: Well, let me see.
P: You eventually were president of the student body, were you not?
-28 -

0: Yes.
P: How did that come about? That was a big-time job.
0: Yes. I remember that. Of course, the nominating process was a big thing.
You were nominated by your party. That is where the first fight took place
because you always had a number that wanted to run for president. If I
remember correctly, the battle the year I was nominated by my party, John
McCarty was the person who also wanted the nomination. But I was
nominated. Then in the election [the other candidates were] Earl Powers and
"Honest" John Shaub, who ran as an independent. He did his stumping from
the back of a horse-drawn wagon that he had gotten somewhere. He ran
what he called the "poor man's campaign."
P: What has happened to him? Do you know?
0: The last I heard of Honest John he was working for Maas Brothers in
Sarasota, I think. We were good friends.
P: I wondered if he had any of those wonderful, old pictures that he had.
0: I suspect he does. [laughter]
P: Well, did you leap, then, right into president of the student body, or had you
held any other offices other than the sophomore class office?
0: I was president of the Florida Blue Key after ...
P: As a result of your being president of the student body.
0: Yes. I had been president of my fraternity, ATO fraternity. As you
mentioned, I had been president of the Newman Club. I had been captain
of the boxing team.
P: You held a lot of "chief' jobs and not many "private" jobs.
0: Yes, that is true. I was lucky. I had a lot of friends.
P: And you must have had something else. You probably paid everybody off.
0: Yes, that too. You know, if you look back on those days, though, Sam, you
almost never became a campus leader unless you had been a member of a
sports team. If you look back on the presidents of the student body, there
were very few that had not had a significant role in campus athletics.
-29 -

P: Athletics, I guess, is the thing that started many of the students up the ladder
of success in terms of politics and so on on campus.
O: That is true. Yes.
P: Now, in addition to Florida Blue Key, and you held the office of president in
the Florida Blue Key, had you held any offices other than that?
O: I had been a general chairman of homecoming at one time. I must have had
some lesser offices, too, but I do not recall what they were.
P: And you led an active social life, I presume.
O: Yes, sir.
P: Girl friends by the thousands?
O: Not quite that many.
P: Hundreds? [laughter] I am beginning to wonder after all of this listing of
things that you have done, from the point of view of the religious
organizations, athletics, politics, social, etc., if you did go to school. You were
a student, were you not?
O: I was. Yes, sir.
P: And you went four years?
O: Six years.
P: That is right. You started in 1934 and ended up in 1940. That was not
because you had had any bad grades in between, was it?
O: That was to get the law degree.
P: All right. Now, what was your major as an undergraduate?
O: I started off to be a dentist.
P: That is an interesting twist. I had never heard that. Why?
O: Well, I had some friends in West Palm Beach that urged me to take that
P: And you were good in the sciences.
- 30 -

0: Yes. So I took two years of pre-dental. Then it became very obvious that I
was not going to be able to go to dental school.
P: Finances?
0: Right. There was only one that I knew about, and that was the one in
Atlanta. I have forgotten the name. It could have been Emory. But that was
the only one available, and it was pretty damned expensive. So then I
switched to business administration. I got my undergraduate degree [in that],
a B.S.B.A., Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.
P: [So you took] a general Bus. Ed. course, then.
0: Yes.
P: You did not specialize in real estate or finance or accounting or any of those
0: No.
P: And you had the normal, run-of-the-mill professors there.
0: Yes.
P: John Eldridge for economics, Walter Matherly for this, and somebody else for
0: Correct. And who was the fellow that used to throw furniture out the
P: "Moby Dick" [Montgomery D.] Anderson?
0: Yes, Moby Dick Anderson. I had statistics with him.
P: So those are some of the memories you have of the College of Business?
0: Yes.
P: In those years where did it meet?
0: It was mostly in what we called Language Hall.
P: Which is now Anderson Hall.
0: Correct.
- 31 -

P: And Walter Matherly was the dean.
0: Right.
P: Did you escape the General College?
0: I did, by one year. I think it started in 1936.
P: [In] 1935, I think.
0: That is right. I missed it by one year.
P: So you never had to take any of the comprehensive courses, then.
0: No, and I am sorry I did not.
P: You went right into your programs.
0: Right.
P: As a student, as you recall, how many hours did you have to take?
0: I do not remember.
P: Now, living on campus was pretty cheap in those years, was it not?
0: It was.
P: I remember you said that there were not any tuition charges then, were
0: Just registration.
P: And that included what?
0: All of the activities.
P: Infirmary fee?
0: Everything. There were no add-ons. You got everything for that registration
P: Including football tickets?
-32 -

0: Tickets to all athletic events. I do not think there were tickets to basketball
and the other things.
P: You just went.
0: You just went. [For] football you did have to have a ticket.
P: They had block seating for the fraternities, I think, even in those early years.
0: I do not know because I got a job immediately working with the athletic
department selling tickets.
P: How much did it cost to go to school here, over and above the registration
fee? What did food cost? You said eight dollars a month was the [room]
0: Your food, I would say, Sam, was not more than six dollars a week. That is
what a ticket used to cost.
P: That is what Ms. Drawdy [charged]. You paid for it if you were just going
in to eat?
0: Right.
P: That included meals, three meals a day?
0: It did not include breakfast.
P: Lunch and dinner.
0: Seven days a week.
P: Even Sunday.
0: Yes.
P: [Was it] good food?
0: All you could eat.
P: Plenty of meat, plenty of vegetables [and] salads?
0: Yes. [There was] nothing fancy.
P: How about desserts?
- 33 -

0: Yes, there were desserts.
P: So that was eight dollars a month for rent, and you were exempt from that
all the four years you were here? You lived in Crane Hall all four years?
You never lived in the fraternity [house]?
0: No. I lived in the fraternity [house] my ...
P: Probably the year that you were president.
0: No, it was the year before. I ran the dining room for the fraternity, for which
I got free room and meals.
P: So you did not have to work for Mrs. Hammond, then?
0: No, I did not. After that, when I finished my boxing days, I worked for the
athletic department. During all of those years I worked for the intramural
[department] under the NYA [National Youth Administration] program,
which enabled me to get forty hours a month at forty cents an hour.
P: That is the program that J. Ed Price [instructor in English] administered from
the basement of Language Hall?
0: I believe so. NYA had a program for needy students. I also worked as the
janitor in the campus post office.
P: Yes, I wanted to ask you about that. Where was that post office?
0: It was just across the street from the old auditorium on the corner, just
opposite from ... is it Flint Hall?
P: Across from Floyd Hall.
0: No. Floyd is this way.
P: Floyd is the old agriculture] building that they are working now. It was
across from Floyd Hall.
0: East of Floyd Hall. [It was] a very small building on the corner. That was
the campus post office. I remember a lady was the postmaster. She used to
give me hell. She would jump on me if I were a minute late.
P: But you were the sweeper-outer?
0: Yes, sir.
-34 -

P: That is all you had to do?
O: That was it.
P: And you got paid how much?
O: Thirteen dollars a month.
P: That was very good pay.
O: It was good. It never took me more than two or three hours a day to do that.
P: You must have been one of the richer students on campus: no rent, you were
working for your food, so everything else was gravy.
O: Right.
P: And you had no car.
O: No car. No bicycles. You walked.
P: Were there any cars?
O: There were very few. Most of the professors did not have cars. I remember
Dr. [James M.] Leake [head professor of history and political science] had a
Model-T. He used to park it there right by Peabody [Hall]. I remember two
of my fraternity brothers had cars. [One was] a fellow named [Francis] Earl
Wallace, whose father ran an automobile dealership. He had a car. [The
other was Alfred Benjamin] A. B. Michael, whose father owned orange groves
down at Vero Beach. J. C. Dickinson might have had a car, too. I am not
sure. That is the fellow who was the director here [at the Florida Museum].
There were not many. I remember one of my boxing friends who was on the
team when I was, a fellow named Gordon Gardner, had a little car. You
could arrange for the use of his car for an evening if you put in several
gallons of gas, which was quite a deal.
P: Now, so much of the activity in Gainesville was located downtown. The
movies were located downtown.
P: Yes, sir.
P: The Florida Theater and the Lyric Theater [were downtown].
O: Correct. I do not remember the Lyric being open when I was here. The
Florida Theater was. If you remember, they used to have a free midnight
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show after football games to avoid the students coming in [and] tearing it up
if we won a game.
P: Ed Roberts was the manager.
0: Yes, and Claude [Lee owned the theater]. Ed was the manager. Before him
there was another man.
P: What about the pajama parades?
0: [laughter] Yes, that was a part of your orientation as a freshman.
P: You actually put on pajamas and went downtown?
0: Yes, sir.
P: Goaded by the upperclassmen?
0: Yes, sir. Right.
P: I remember a large turnout every night at 11:00, an outpouring from fraternity
houses and dormitories across University Avenue [to] the eating places.
0: That is true.
P: For hamburgers and milk shakes.
0: And if it were cold you wore some kind of a robe. But you went in your
P: Everybody obviously wore pajamas in those early years.
0: That is correct. [laughter]
P: You would never think of coming to school without pajamas.
0: Right. We used to go to the College Inn when I lived at Crane Hall.
P: It seems to me that one of the important parts of your life, Steve, were the
friendships that you made as a student here. A lot of these people really
stayed as friends of yours for the rest of your life.
0: That is true.
P: And [they] remain friends of yours today. And you forged those friendships
right here on this campus.
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0: That was one of the real benefits of going to this university.
P: Talk about some of those people. I am thinking about John McCarty and
Earl Powers, perhaps, and people like that. I do not know who else was part
of your group, but I know there were a number of them. Maybe George
Smathers was one. Maybe Phil Graham was another.
0: What you say is true. It was generally recognized back in those days that that
was a benefit of going to this university. It was the only school other than
Stetson and later the University of Miami where men went to school in the
state. It was the place for men to come to school in Florida, and you looked
forward to the friendships that you made. You knew most of the people on
campus--almost all of them. It was a very friendly place to be then. Even
with the religious aspects, some of my best friends were members of the
Jewish faith, and that was true of most people on campus.
P: Even though they were not accepted into fraternities and other organizations.
0: I think that that was pretty much the way the Jewish people wanted it. They
wanted their own fraternities. At least that is the way it was presented to me.
It was not a denial. It was a matter of the Jew wanting to be a member of
a Jewish fraternity.
The friends you made both in athletics and your fraternities or in politics
were the ones that you carried with you most. That has been true in my case.
Those were difficult days, but those days developed leadership in people, and
it developed leaders for our state as well as our country. You mentioned
George Smathers. He was president of the student body the year before I
was. He was a basketball player. We were good friends. The McCartys,
both John and Dan, I knew well, and Brian, the other brother. All were
SPE's [Sigma Phi Epsilon]. Dan had finished, but he used to come back to
campus, and I got to know him. Wallace Jopling of Lake City was a circuit
judge. Campbell Thornal ended up on the [Florida] Supreme Court the same
time I did. You could go around the state and pick: Julian Lane [of] Tampa.
Jess Ferrill; he is gone now. So many of them are gone now. But they were
people who contributed immeasurably to this state. They helped each other.
If there were something they wanted to do, such as McCarty running for
governor or Smathers running for the senate, their friends--and I was one of
them--would gather around and help them with it.
P: Who was your closest friend on campus?
0: Well, I had a number. It would be very difficult for me to say which one was
closest. Jess Ferrill was one. I was in business on campus with Governor
Farris Bryant [1961-1965]. We ran a system of stands in fraternity and
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boarding houses with apples, candies, crackers, and those things for snacks.
Students could either put in cash in the little box or they could put in an
IOU. We did that for a year.
P: I remember the apple boxes around on campus, but I had forgotten the other.
O: But that was the Honor System that operated those. We operated on the
same basis, but this was private enterprise. Farris had the money, and I was
the runner who supplied the [stock].
P: You actually had a basket, a box, in a house?
O: It was a table with these things on it.
P: And nobody manned it?
O: No. It was the same as the Honor System thing. But as it ended up, Farris
would get the money and I would get the lOUs. [laughter] I had to collect!
P: No wonder he ended up as governor and you ended up as president of the
University of Florida. That teaches you a lesson, does it not? [laughter]
O: It does, yes. [laughter]
P: Where did Farris get his money? He did not come from a rich family.
O: No. Farris worked. But he had a lot more than most on the campus. As you
know, he went on to Harvard from here.
P: Everybody worked on campus in the 1930s. I remember [Alonzo] Frank
Green picking up laundry and delivering it.
O: Well, that is one thing I did.
P: We were talking about some of the people on campus that you knew as
students and have continued to be an influence in your life.
O: Well, I could mention Jack Beckwith. He is gone now. I mentioned Wallace
Jopling. [He and Gray C.] "Grady" Ramsaur are still alive. Alan Brackett [is]
also dead. Marshall McDonald [is also still around].
P: I did an interview, by the way, with Marshall. It was a wonderful experience,
too. [University of Florida Oral History Project, FBL5]
-38 -

O: Josh Dickinson [Joshua C. Dickinson, Jr.] was running this place; he was the
director of this museum when I was president [of the University]. We were
fraternity brothers.
P: Do you still stay in touch with people like them?
O: Yes. Melvin Smith was a fraternity brother who is now the tax collector in
Hillsborough County. We had a lot of people who later became circuit
P: Have you been closer to John McCarty than almost anybody else, or is that
just an illusion?
0: John and Earl Powers [were my closest friends], I would say.
P: Of course, the fact that Earl Powers was here in Gainesville after you moved
back into the community [probably helped your keeping in touch with him].
O: Yes.
P: You have not mentioned any of the Jewish friends that you said you had.
0: One of my best friends was Paul Marx. Do you remember Paul Marx?
P: Oh, yes.
O: He ended up in Miami.
P: Philip Selber was active on campus when you were here.
O: Very much so. Yes. I lost touch with Phil.
P: He is fine.
O: Where is he?
P: He is in Jacksonville, just as active and involved as ever. He is in good
health, has a beautiful wife and children and grandchildren, and [is] enjoying
life. He became a lawyer and a doctor. I think Irving [Cypen, Miami lawyer
and judge] will be here tonight [for the Grand Old Guard reunion], by the
way. I think I saw his name on the list. I know he was a 1943 graduate [of
the UF College of Law].
O: Yes. Good. I swore him in when he became a circuit judge down in Miami.
- 39 -

P: I think they will both be here with us this evening. He was not in the
audience this morning, but I had seen a list of the people who were scheduled
to be here for the weekend and who will be here for the banquet.
O: Well, most would come today; they would not have been here this morning.
P: Yes. So you look back on your years here at the University of Florida with
a great deal of fondness, do you not?
O: I do. They were good years, to me and to most kids who went to school then.
It really was their start in life. You came, Sam, because you wanted to learn,
and you wanted to be something, unlike today when so many come because
it is the thing to do or because their parents want them to come.
P: Right.
O: There were not many, as you know, proportionally that went. I look back on
my class at Titusville--there were thirty-three, I think, in my junior class, which
would have been the same the senior year--and I think there were just three,
or maybe it was just two, that went on to college. The same, or maybe a
greater proportion, of those that went to Palm Beach High went on to college.
After high school most just went to work someplace.
P: Well, that is all they could afford to do, too, and there was not family
tradition to push it.
O: Right.
P: The whole situation, educationally, has changed dramatically in Florida in the
last forty or fifty years. This was a rural state and a very parochial state at
the time that you and I were here in school in the 1930s.
O: Yes.
P: One of the things that was happening in the world toward the end of your
period as a student was that the war was shaping up in Europe, and there had
been that growing threat [beginning in] 1937, 1938, and so on. Were you
sensitive to that, do you think, as you look back on it?
O: I do not think so. It was a long way away. We knew. You had to be
conscious of what was happening, but you did not think it affected you yet.
P: And we were not very close to it in terms of the newspapers. We had radio,
and that was it.
O: That was all.
-40 -

P: We saw the news reels at the movies.
O: That is it.
P: But by the time you got out in 1940 it had become a more real thing,
O: It had. Yes, sir. If you remember then the armed services in this country was
beginning to build--the air forces, for example--and that is what I remember.
I had gone to Fort Lauderdale to practice law. A man I met gave me an
opportunity to open an office there with him, use his secretary, and his
library. This was about in September of 1940.
Sometime into the winter or spring of 1941 I had a call from a major in the
air force, in the Southeast Air Forces Training Command, that wanted to
interview me for a position as director of physical training for this training
command. Dr. [John J.] Tigert called me about the same time and told me
that they [the air force] had been to see him--he was still president [of UF]--
looking for someone that they could get to serve as director of physical
training for the Third Air Force. It was not the Third Air Force yet. He and
Coach Lieb, he told me, had recommended me.
So I talked to the gentleman (I cannot remember the major's name) in Fort
Lauderdale, and then they asked me to come to Tampa, which I did. They
offered me this position as a civilian because General [Henry H.] "Hap"
Arnold, who was forming the air forces then, thought that it would be better
to give that position to a civilian rather than an officer.
I told him I did not want to do it, [that] I had just started practicing law and
did not want to give up what I had done. They gave me an alternative: they
said, "If you do not take the job, we will have you called to duty on your
second lieutenant's commission." So I took the job in April of 1941.
P: Now, the second lieutenant's commission came as a result of your ROTC
program here?
O: The ROTC program here.
P: Why did you elect to take the ROTC program?
O: You had to take two years of ROTC the first two years [of college].
P: The first two years were obligatory.
-41 -

O: All of us did that. Right. You did the second part .... I cannot remember
how much you were paid in those two years.
P: Was it thirty dollars a month?
0: It was not that much, Sam. It could have been thirty dollars a semester.
P: It may have been.
O: I think it was per semester. Plus you got more for that camp you went [to]
after your junior year.
P: Fort Benning?
O: No. I went to Anniston, Alabama. What was the name of that [army post]?
P: Fort McClellan.
O: Fort McClellan. Right. Six weeks we spent, did we not? Hot as hell.
P: Hot! [laughter]
O: Yes, just like this summer.
P: Only there you were outside in it. Here you are in air-conditioned comfort.
O: But it was attractive to get that commission, as well as the money that it paid.
P: So when you left the University in 1940, you held the second lieutenant's
O: I had a second lieutenant's commission.
P: So now you are faced with the consequences of that.
O: Correct.
P: So you went into the service very early.
O: Right. As you know, it was not until December that ...
P: December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked.
O: Then I had the situation again. I was called to duty immediately after that
on my second lieutenant infantry commission--my commission was in infantry.
My commanding general then that I was working for in Tampa, which was the
-42 -

district headquarters, had been converted to the Third Air Force. [There
were] four air forces in the United States; we were the Third Air Force,
[serving] the southeastern quarter of the United States. General Walter
Frank said: "You do not go. I will have your commission changed from the
infantry to the air force." So I stayed.
P: And did you continue doing this athletic activity?
O: I did until the summer of 1942. Then I went overseas.
P: Now, you were graduated from the University in June of 1940.
O: Right.
P: And your degrees, once again, were what? Of course, you carried two
O: Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and an LL.B., Bachelor of
P: How did it happen that you got both of these at the same time?
O: You could do that then. Your first year of law was your last year of
undergraduate. You had three years of undergraduate study. You could go
on and use four years to get it if you wished, but mine was the abbreviated
avenue to become a lawyer.
P: Did an attorney graduating from the University of Florida have to take the
bar exam in those years?
O: Yes. It was an examination by a committee of the [Florida] Supreme Court.
It was not written. It was primarily a check of your morals. They had at that
time what was called the diploma privilege. If you graduated from an
accredited law school in Florida, that diploma gave you privilege of admission
to the [Florida] Bar if you were of good moral character and had not done
anything wrong.
P: How did they determine that?
O: They came down and visited with us.
P: And you passed? And you were in ATO? [laughter]
O: Yes. [laughter] Then I was sworn in in West Palm Beach by Judge [Chick]
-43 -

P: The famous Judge Chillingsworth who got dumped into the Atlantic Ocean?
O: Yes, sir. My brother was still a state attorney, and [he] solved that case.
P: After you got out of school why did you not go back to practice in West Palm
where you had roots? You went to Fort Lauderdale.
O: I did not want to be a little brother.
P: So this was your own choosing, then?
O: Yes, sir.
P: Why Fort Lauderdale?
O: I did not want to go to Miami. I did not want to stay in West Palm Beach.
My brother and I discussed it, and he thought Fort Lauderdale would be the
place to go. It was beginning to grow.
P: Now, this Judge Albert McMillan was the one who made the [office] facilities
available to you?
O: Right.
P: How did you know him?
O: I introduced myself to him. He had known Phil. When I went to Fort
Lauderdale looking for a job--that is where I went looking for a job with a
law firm--nobody had any openings. This was still pretty dead times.
P: And law firms did not come to the campus to interview you in those days
[like they do now].
O: No, sir, they did not. I made the rounds of all the law firms in town and also
of some of the single practitioners. Judge McMillan, who was the city judge,
[which was] a part-time office, also practiced law. He knew my brother Phil
from the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks. Both were active in that. He
had an office in Fort Lauderdale over a bar on New River. He said that
there was a new office building being built a couple of blocks away, and when
it was finished he was going to move his office there to that building. He had
already contracted to do that. He said that he would have an extra room and
that he would let me occupy that room. It had some furniture, and I could
use his secretary.
P: And library?
- 44 -

0: And his library.
P: That was a marvelous gesture.
0: It sure was. He went further than that. He said that his wife ran a private
school, Pine Crest School, in Fort Lauderdale. It was in a building that had
been a hospital at one time, and the hospital had failed. If I wanted to, if I
could teach some of the sports to the students, then I could live there with
the swimming coach and have my meals there in payment for teaching tennis
and boxing, which we agreed on. So that is what I did.
P: That is a great deal for you.
0: It made it possible to start in law.
P: Did that take a lot of your time, the boxing and tennis coaching activities?
0: No. A couple of hours every afternoon.
P: What about business?
0: It was slow, but I became involved with the Jaycees, the Elks, the Red Cross,
the Democratic Party.
P: It sounds like you were a promoter!
0: [laughter] No. But that is the way you did things in those days, Sam. To
meet people you joined organizations and participated in activities in the
community. That was the way you became acquainted in the community.
P: And in your case, fortunately, you did not have to pay rent.
0: Right. And I had a lot of friends from the University of Florida that were
there, and they helped get me into the social swing of things.
P: And you were active, then, in all of these civic and political [organizations],
and I guess you continued your religious affiliations with the church.
0: Right.
P: That is really something that has been a part of your right from the very
beginning and continues, is it not? Religion has always played a very forceful
role in your life?
0: Yes, it has. I think it is important.
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P: Has it lessened over the years, or is it just as persuasive a force with you
today as it has always been?
O: Yes, [it is still important]. Of course, I am not as active as I was. Six, seven,
or eight years ago I sat for two years on the board of trustees of a seminary
in Boynton Beach, which was a really interesting experience. I felt like I
made a contribution there, too. It was very rewarding to see how priestly
formation is done.
P: In the time that we are going to spend today on this interview, I would like
you to talk a little bit about the war years. I would like us to cover that
period, from 1942 to the time that you got out in 1946. You were offered the
civilian position, and then you did not take it.
O: I did take it.
P: Oh, you did take it. OK.
O: I served in that from April of 1941 until December 7 of 1941.
P: OK. What did you do as a civilian?
O: I organized an athletic and physical training program for all of the bases in
the southeastern part of the United States.
P: You had an office in Tampa?
O: It was part of the headquarters.
P: In the meantime, you had closed your Fort Lauderdale operation and had
moved to Tampa. And you wore civilian clothes?
O: True. Right. But I had the standing of a member of the commanding
general's office staff, and I went with the commanding general, as we always
did, to these various bases.
P: So you did a lot of traveling that first period.
O: Yes, sir, all over the Southeast, as far north as Mitchell Field in New York.
I continued to do that until I went overseas. By that time we had developed
a real physical training program, not just a Wednesday afternoon athletic
contest on the base. That is what physical training had meant to the army for
many years: recreational programs.
P: How did you help change that, and what did you do?
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O: I got the commanding general to put out orders requiring that this be done--
so much calisthenics in the morning, jogging or running, all of these various
components. These were air force people, including pilots. With the pilots
it was more important to have them in top shape than the mechanics. But
since all were going overseas (it was anticipated), they had to be survivors.
We taught swimming, we taught them how to jump off a ship, things of that
kind that they might encounter in the service.
P: So you had mixed a lot [of actual physical training]; it was not just playing
ball, playing tennis, and that kind of thing.
O: That was a small part of it.
P: It was a real practical kind of a program.
O: Yes. [It was developed] with the help and advice of flight surgeons, who
knew best what was necessary for the pilots.
P: Had we become conscious of nutrition at that early part [of the war]--diet and
so on?
O: No.
P: That is something that is relatively recent in terms of conditioning people and
so on.
O: Right.
P: Now, did you have a staff?
O: Yes, in Tampa. Not a large one. We trained a number of physical training
officers, one for each base that we had under our command. We recruited
those people primarily from Officer Candidate Schools in Miami. When they
graduated we had them assigned to us, to our air force. Every other air
force did the same thing. We picked people that had a background of sports
and health and physical fitness in college. I remember the great Cincinnati
Red, the Jewish fellow, Hank Greenberg. He was one of the staff people at
MacDill Field. He was a sergeant. He was a great fellow. We used to play
handball together in Tampa.
P: Now, all of these people are army people. You are the civilian.
O: By that time I had become a second lieutenant in the air force. I was called
to duty in the infantry and transferred to the air force.
P: And you were holding the rank of second lieutenant.
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0: Yes. I very quickly moved to first [lieutenant] and then to captain before I
went overseas.
P: So women were not yet in the air force. This was too early. You did not
have to set up programs for them.
0: No. The WACs [Women's Air Corps] came later.
P: And that is about 1942 or 1943, so this is a little early for you.
0: Yes. We had them when I got overseas.
P: Now, when you said you went overseas, when did you go and where did you
0: I went in the summer of 1943. I went from Tampa to Brisbane, Australia, to
a command called USSOS, United States Service of Supply, in the Southwest
Pacific as a Special Services officer under a Colonel Meadows, who was not
an athlete. He was an academic.
P: Do you remember his first name?
0: No, I do not.
P: I have not heard you say anything about basic training or any of those kinds
of things. Did you do any of that before you went overseas, before you went
to Australia?
0: With the troops?
P: Here in the United States. You go into uniform as a second lieutenant.
0: You did not have any training. No, I did not.
P: So you did not pick any gun and do any of those kinds of wonderful things.
0: No. You had done that in college before you got your commission.
P: All right. So you had already had four years of that kind of training, and they
just took it for granted that you knew how to do all those things.
0: Right. All I did was just put on a uniform the next day.
P: And you did not have to go on any hikes or eat C rations or any of those
lovely things.
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0: No.
P: OK. You go to Australia. Was it a good base?
O: Yes, it was. We lived in barracks on a golf course outside of Brisbane. We
had an officers' club. Our offices were downtown in Brisbane. That is not
a large city. I do not remember the size, but it was not a large town. There
at first I was stationed out as this temporary building around this golf course.
I did not like that. I was really doing nothing. The United States Army
Service of Supply had no direct relationship with units. They furnished things
to them.
So through some friends I had in the air force, I was transferred to the Fifth
Air Force, which had its headquarters in Brisbane, Australia, doing the same
thing I had done in Tampa. Then, as most people did, I got itchy to get near
the action. We had chased the Japs out of Port Moresby [Papua New
Guinea], which was the closest they got to Australia, although they bombed
Australia as far down as Townsville. But we had moved them out of Port
Moresby, which is [on] the southern tip of the Papua New Guinea.
I ran into a friend of mine, Bill Pagh, who I had gone to school with. He was
from Fort Myers, I believe, and played football. He was in the College of
Agriculture, I think. He was the executive officer of the 312th Bomb Group,
stationed in Nadzab, in New Guinea. It was a hellhole. He arranged for me
to be transferred from the headquarters to this organization as a squadron
executive officer. Between the time that that was arranged and I was on my
way to Nadzab, Bill Pagh was shot down and killed. But I went on and
became the squadron exec and ultimately was made the executive officer of
that group. That is the way I finished the war.
We moved from Nadzab up to Hollandia, in New Guinea. Then one
squadron moved from there to Mendora, one of the little islands. From there
we followed the Japs as we made them move out. When we got them out of
Manila, my group was sent then to a base at Florida Blanca [Philippines].
We stayed there until pretty close to the end of the war. I cannot remember
the exact date from when we moved from Florida Blanca up to Okinawa. We
were on Okinawa when the war ended.
P: You came through the war unscathed?
O: Yes. We were bombed frequently at night by the Japs.
P: But you were never in an actual battle.
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O: No, I never was. I did fly missions with my commanding officer a number of
times, which was stupid on my part. I did not have to do that. We were
flying A-20s. An A-20 is an attack plane with two engines, a pilot, and a
gunner. You could take out the flotation device, the raft, that was right
behind the pilot under the canopy that he got in, and I could lie right behind
the pilot looking over his shoulder and out his window. I did that. It was
very exciting. All of this was low-level bombing. We were dropping
fragmentation bombs and one of those other-type bombs. That was stupid
on my part.
P: What rank did you come out of the war with? Captain?
O: Major.
P: So you started as a second lieutenant. When did you make first?
O: Oh, I would say six months.
P: And then captain.
O: Yes.
P: Was that made in Australia or before you left?
O: [I made] captain just before I left.
P: And then major?
O: Over there.
P: When?
O: I do not remember. It could have been after I joined the bomb group.
P: When were you released from service?
O: January 1, 1946, at Camp Blanding [outside of Starke, Florida].
P: That was on the basis of points?
O: The war was over. I had been over there twenty-eight months.
P: When were you returned, then? You were released in January of 1946 at
[Camp] Blanding. When did you get back to the U.S.? Immediately?
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O: We came off ship from Okinawa to Spokane, Washington, Fort George
Wright. I believe it is near Spokane. We stayed there for a week or ten days
awaiting transportation, and we came across the country by train in what
looked like cattle cars.
P: But you did not care at that point.
O: We did not give a damn. We were glad to be getting home. It took us four
or five days to come across. It was very slow.
P: But everybody was happy.
O: Yes, we were. There was one car in which we ate, or two cars. But it was
pretty rough transportation. We had to stop along the way.
P: Were you in Australia, in the South Pacific Islands, all the time? You did not
get transferred to any other theater?
O: No, I stayed in Brisbane.
P: No R & R in Hawaii or wonderful places like that?
O: No. Our R & R was limited to going to Sydney, which is a large city and well
developed. It was a big city.
P: Have you ever gone back to check out any of your old haunts, to pick up any
of that old clothing or guns or anything else that you left behind there?
O: [laughter] No.
P: No broken hearts? [laughter]
O: No. A lot of my friends were killed in that bomb group. There were a lot
of boys that I had known from here that I saw in Australia. I remember 4th
of July games or some activities centering around sports that were organized
by the army, the air force, and the navy. There were two or three [friends]
that I saw. One was Tiger Mayberry, who was lost. There were two or three
other track boys, because it was centered around track, too. Then when we
started moving up the coast to New Guinea almost every flight we would lose
somebody. Not almost every flight, but at least weekly we lost somebody.
When I became group executive officer one of my responsibilities was to write
letters to the families of those men that had been lost.
P: Steve, during all this long period of time that you are away from the United
States and away from Florida, did you have any contact, was there any effort
made on the part of this University, to stay in touch with men overseas?
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O: Not on the part of the University.
P: So this was just away from all the real action of the world.
P: Maybe you were here, Sam, but the University got down to [being little more
than] just a training base.
P: Right. Now, you came back to the United States in the early part of 1946.
Then what? Did you go back to Fort Lauderdale?
O: I went back to Fort Lauderdale. I could not find a place to open an office.
There was no office space available.
P: Or jobs?
O: I wanted to open an office this time. I ran into two lawyers whom I had
known before, of course, Tom Berryhill and George Laird. Tom was the
county attorney, and George Laird was a state senator. He was a
representative [at that time], and he ran for the senate later. They were in
the same position as I: they had just gotten back from the service and could
not find office space anywhere. We ran into or met a real estate broker who
had leased a church building from "Governor" Robert Gore.
P: From Fort Lauderdale.
O: He owned the Governor's Club Hotel and the newspaper. He bought this
church building right next to his Governor's Club because he wanted
ultimately to expand his hotel. He leased it to a man named George
McFadden, a real estate broker. McFadden arranged with us to have the rear
portion of this church [building] if we would tear out the pews and build
offices in the rear, which Tom Berryhill and George Laird and I did.
P: You had a little bit of capital, of course, saved up from the military.
O: I had saved some, so that is what we did--we opened an office.
P: And bought some furniture.
O: Right.
P: What did you do then? Advertise?
O: We could not advertise, but you joined every organization like I did when I
first went there. I picked up where I left off.
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P: So business began to come in?
O: Business began to come in. A friend of mine arranged for me to be
appointed the assistant city attorney for the little town of Hallandale, and I
served under him for a while. He was trying to get out. I became the city
attorney for that place.
[In] the first campaign for governor Dan McCarty [conducted], he lost--Fuller
Warren won--but I headed his [McCarty's] campaign in Broward County. I
met a lot of new people through that.
P: So this gave you a public image, too.
O: Right.
P: All right. Let us stop at this particular point. We have covered a lot of
territory here today.
We are continuing our interview with former president of the University of
Florida Stephen C. O'Connell. Once again we are working in the conference
room of the [Florida] Museum of Natural History. This is the morning of
October 17. Welcome back, Steve. I am delighted to see you on this
beautiful morning.
O: I am glad to be back.
P: And it is a beautiful morning.
O: It is.
P: I would like to continue, if we may, with where we left off last time. We got
you safely back from the war. You return to Fort Lauderdale in 1946. Do
you remember the date that you were mustered out of service?
O: January 1.
P: Where?
O: In Camp Blanding.
P: And Camp Blanding is right outside of Jacksonville near Starke, Florida. It
is the major training camp set in World War II in this area.
O: Yes, sir.
P: You came back from the Pacific.
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O: From Okinawa.
P: And you landed where on the west coast?
O: At Fort George Wright, Washington.
P: And you came across country by train or plane?
O: By train.
P: And it was a long, arduous journey, I think you told me.
0: That it was, yes.
P: Several days?
O: I cannot recall [exactly how many], but it was several, yes.
P: Well, the fact that you were going home .
0: It did not make much difference.
P: You were probably in a euphoric mood, knowing that you were going to come
home to some home-cooked food and all of those wonderful things. Why did
you return to Fort Lauderdale rather than any other place in south Florida?
O: I had been in Fort Lauderdale for about six or eight months after I graduated
from college here, and [I] decided to make that my home and to practice law
there. I had established some roots and friends. So that is the reason I went
P: All right. You already, then, had a base of operation there.
O: I did.
P: Although you had family still living in the Palm Beach area.
O: In West Palm Beach, yes.
P: What was your brother Phil's position after the war? He had been in the
service, also, had he not?
O: He had been in the service, yes. He came back before I did. He had been
in England and then in Germany with the occupation forces, and [he]
returned before I did. He had no political position at that time.
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P: He had been a judge, though, had he not?
O: No. He had been a municipal judge early in his life. Then he was the
assistant state attorney and finally the state attorney for that judicial circuit.
P: So you came back to Fort Lauderdale, and I think you told me last time when
we were talking that you had some difficulty locating office space in Fort
O: Yes. Because of the military that had been stationed in and around Fort
Lauderdale, in Broward County, it had become a popular place. After the
war many servicemen who served there returned to live in Fort Lauderdale.
The community was bubbling with activity. There had been no new office
buildings constructed during the wartime, and there was not any space
available for offices. Others found themselves in the same position as I.
I think I told you before that I teamed up with George Laird, who was a
representative in the state legislature, [and] Tom Berryhill, who had been a
county attorney. Both had been in the service. They were looking for space,
too, and we made contact with a real estate broker named George McFadden
who had leased what had been an old church building--I think it had been a
Presbyterian church--from "Governor" Robert Gore. He had been governor-
general of Puerto Rico, and he owned a local newspaper and the Governor's
Club Hotel. McFadden had his office in the front of the building.
P: You remodeled the church, obviously.
O: He had not. He remodeled that which was his office. The arrangement we
had with him was we could lease the back portion of the church if we would
take out the pews and put in a floor and the partitions, which we did.
P: Did you know Laird and Berryhill from the University? Were they students
O: They were older than I. They had both been to the University before me, but
I had known them better when I went to Fort Lauderdale in 1940.
P: So they were not people you had gone to school with, like [George] Smathers,
[Dan] McCarty, and people like that.
O: No.
P: But you all came together, of course, after the war. How much did this office
cost you? How much rent were you paying?
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0: I think I paid $75 a month. I believe that is correct.
P: I bet that was a large amount in 1946.
0: It was a hell of a lot! [laughter]
P: Particularly since you did not have any income at that particular moment.
0: Yes.
P: So the three of you pooled your resources and did the remodeling that was
0: Yes.
P: Was this a firm, or were each of you practicing individually?
0: No. Berryhill and Laird was a firm. I was not [part of their firm]. I was on
my own.
P: How long did you practice independently?
0: For, I believe, about two or two and a half years.
P: My notes show that in 1948 you were part of the firm with Bob Saunders and
Frank Buckley.
0: That is correct.
P: How did that happen?
0: They had had another associate, J. B. Patterson, and he had moved to
another firm. There was a vacancy there. They had space in the principal
office building in the town, which was the Sweet Building in Fort Lauderdale.
P: What street is that on?
0: It is on Andrews.
P: Your first, at the church, was on Las Olas Boulevard?
0: Yes. The church was on Las Olas.
P: Is that building, by the way, still standing?
0: The Sweet Building is still there. Yes. It was built in the boom days.
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P: How about the church?
0: No. It is gone.
P: There is a historical marker there showing that Stephen C. O'Connell started
his legal career there. [laughter]
0: I do not believe so. [laughter] But I went with Frank Buckley and Bob
Saunders. It was not a true partnership. We shared expenses. They had a
firm name, but each of us collected our own fees and did our own work.
P: Were these friends also from Gainesville days?
0: No, they were not. They were just friends I had made on my first visit to Fort
P: When you first start up in 1946, Steve, in this little office, who was your
0: My sister, Leonora.
P: And I understand she stayed with you as secretary throughout your legal
0: True.
P: She went to Tallahassee when you went onto the [Florida Supreme] Court.
0: She did.
P: Is she still living?
0: She is. She is retired and lives in West Palm Beach.
P: So she was a loyal ally of yours. There seems to be a very close family
relationship as far as the O'Connells are concerned. Is that true?
0: Yes. We are supportive, but we lived apart more than we did together.
There are still strong ties, yes.
P: What kind of law were you practicing?
0: Anything that I could get. [laughter]
P: Anything that came in the door?
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O: Correct.
P: Were times beginning to be good for a young, struggling lawyer like you as
early as 1946?
O: Well, there were not many lawyers in Broward County, Fort Lauderdale being
the county seat at that time. More were beginning to come in, as did Frank
Buckley, who was a Harvard-educated lawyer. But if I remember correctly,
when I went to Fort Lauderdale in 1940 there were about thirty-five lawyers
in the county. That is about right. Immediately after the war there were not
many more than that. Real estate was moving fast. There were people
coming into Florida to get divorces [because of our] ninety-day rule, and there
was plenty of business. I had made some friends when I went there to
practice in 1940, and it was easy to get back into the swing of things. I
renewed my association through the Elks with the chamber of commerce
(the junior chamber, too), with political activities, and I joined the yacht club.
So although I was not making a lot of money at first, I was able to pay my
In a few months I hired an associate--a fellow named Alan Brackett, who had
been a classmate here at the University [College of Law, class of 1943].
P: So he came into your office as an associate.
O: [As an] assistant. Yes, [he was] just a hired lawyer. I think I paid him $50
a week.
P: That was the going rate at that time, was it not?
O: Well, when I graduated it was $50 a month. [laughter]
P: I remember my brothers telling me about those hard times. [laughter] But
things were beginning to prosper for you right from the beginning.
O: Yes.
P: And the fact is that when [Governor LeRoy] Collins talked to you about
going on the [supreme] court, your income had to take a substantial
reduction. You were already well up in the money brackets, comparatively
speaking, by the middle of the 1950s.
O: I was making then about $100,000 a year, net.
P: That is good. So that means that from 1946 on there was relatively steady
progress and growth as far as your business was concerned.
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0: Well, I ended up having two lawyers on my staff, and [I] turned my practice
over to them when I left to go on the court. They have done very well.
P: In those days lawyers could not advertise for business as they can now.
0: They could not. It was strictly prohibited.
P: So you used your social contacts and your political contacts and your civic
contacts as a way of [drawing in business].
0: And satisfied clients.
P: That is right, and getting the kind of visibility that you needed.
0: Yes.
P: I wanted to ask you about your political interests. I know that very early on
you were working on Dan McCarty's behalf in the 1948 campaign [in the
Democratic primary for governor].
0: Yes, I did. I was the county campaign manager.
P: Tell me a little about that. How did that come about?
0: Well, through friendships with Dan. I had known him; he was older, of
course, but I had known him. I knew John McCarty and Brian, his two
brothers. They were in school here when I was in school. The nucleus of
Dan McCarty's campaign was friends such as I and others of the same age
group, primarily. Of course, there were older people, too, that surrounded
Dan. But that was the reason that I became associated with him.
P: There were some very formidable opponents of McCarty in 1948: Fuller
Warren, of course, who won; [Senator William] Shands from Gainesville, of
course; and I think there were others that were equally powerful and
influential in the state.
0: Yes, there were. I do not remember the others right now, but, yes, there
P: And as a county campaign manager, what were your responsibilities? Turn
out the vote?
0: Yes, and to serve as the point where you gathered friends around to support
Dan [and] also to raise money for him.
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P: I was getting ready to ask you whether the raising of money was as important
then as it became in later years.
O: It was not because television had not become as prominent as it is today;
obviously, it was not. Most of the advertising was by newspaper and radio.
Radio was very important.
P: And sound trucks.
O: Everybody had to have a sound truck. We had one that traveled with the
candidate in those days. The method of campaigning was speeches on the
grounds, in hotel lobbies, at farmers' markets, wherever you could get a
crowd. Shopping centers were just beginning to appear, and that was a way
of contacting people. We went to police stations and to fire stations,
wherever local citizens could be influenced.
P: In Gainesville it was the courthouse square.
O: Yes, sir, always the courthouse square. You always had to go there.
P: Did you carry Broward County for McCarty in 1948?
O: Yes, sir, we did.
P: Well?
O: Yes.
P: Although he lost statewide.
O: Yes, he did.
P: And then you came aboard again with him in 1952.
O: Yes.
P: And, once again, what were your responsibilities for the second campaign?
O: The same.
P: Broward County? It was not a statewide responsibility?
O: No. [I was] Broward County campaign manager.
P: And you did well for him there?
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0: Yes, sir.
P: He won the election in 1952.
0: He did that time.
P: His death came shortly afterwards, of course.
0: He caught a cold, is what we were told. Dan had had a heart attack, you
know, between the two campaignS and he suffered some damage. I can
remember one of the things that he was supposed to do: around 5:00 in the
afternoon Dan was supposed to drink two ounces of alcohol to relax him.
That is all. That is all he ever had. He was not a drinker. But he did that,
and he would try to rest for thirty or forty-five minutes at that time, which
was very difficult on the campaign trail. I remember that about him, though.
During the inauguration, riding in the parade to and from the inauguration
with Fuller [Warren], he caught cold, and he never recovered from that. He
died, I believe, in September of that year.
P: [It was in] 1953, just two months before J. Hillis Miller died. He [Miller] died
in November. It was two serious blows in Florida to lose the governor and
the president of the University of Florida almost within weeks of each other.
You remember there was that long turmoil of trying to get a new president,
and [J. Wayne] Reitz comes in then.
Let me ask you one other thing on the McCarty [campaign] because, once
again, we have so little documented on Dan McCarty. Did his doctors advise
him against a second campaign?
0: I think so.
P: And his family?
0: I cannot answer whether his family [discouraged him from running again].
I know that John and Brian both, as well as Polly, his wife, all were very
supportive and active in both campaigns. But I did understand that doctors
had told him about the risk of the second campaign.
P: That has always been a persistent story in Florida political history, that he
knew he was taking a calculated risk when he ran in 1952.
0: Yes. But, see, Dan was a very committed type of public servant. He felt that
he had something to offer, and he was encouraged to feel by his friends and
-61 -

supporters that he was needed. In a sense, he sacrificed himself to become
governor, I think.
P: And so many changes were occurring in Florida after World War II:
population increase, a whole new emphasis on economics (we were moving
out of that agricultural tradition), and I guess a wave of liberalism was
beginning to move into the state when you begin comparing the political
philosophy of Fuller Warren, for instance, with Millard Caldwell.
O: Yes.
P: So I guess you could say that Fuller Warren was setting the stage for people
like Dan McCarty and LeRoy Collins later.
O: Yes.
P: What about the 1950 campaign with George Smathers against [Claude]
Pepper [for the U.S. Senate]? That is usually identified as the bitterest
political campaign in Florida history.
O: I think that is a pretty apt characterization.
P: Tell me what role you played in that.
O: I was George's campaign manager in Broward County.
P: And this was, once again, based upon your friendship with Smathers that went
back into the 1930s?
O: Yes.
P: That was a dirty campaign in lots of ways with the du Ponts and Ed Ball and
all of those things happening.
O: Yes, and the medical profession was very much involved in that one.
P: Were you and other members of his inner circle conscious of what was
happening [with] the "dirtiness" of the campaign? I do not know if that is the
right word.
O: We had nothing to do with that. That all came from his inner circle, the top
inner circle.
P: Then your responsibility in Broward County in 1950 was the same as it was
for McCarty in 1948 and 1952?
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0: That was traditional.
P: Was collecting funds--you did not need as many dollars--something that you
went around [doing]?
0: The Smathers campaign was very costly comparatively speaking. There was
a different group of people that was actively involved, [especially] the medical
profession and others that feared what was called socialization of medicine
at that time. That worried not only doctors but business people as well, and
they came forth with money. If I remember correctly, Herb Wolf, from St.
Augustine, was the treasurer of that campaign, and it seems to me that it was
almost every week that he called and said, "We need some more money."
P: And it was you and your associates in Broward County who went around and
hit up the doctors and the business people?
0: Correct.
P: So you were kind of in a way holding a brown bag and saying, "Put your
money in." And you were sending it up to St. Augustine?
0: That is correct.
P: Did you carry Broward County for Smathers?
0: Yes.
P: Now, have you maintained the same sort of close relationship with Smathers
over the years as you have with John McCarty?
0: No, I have not because he has been away from the state. During his early
services and when I was practicing law I did, but after I went to the
mausoleum in Tallahassee, the supreme court building, those contacts became
P: But yours was always kind of a moderate social relationship with Smathers.
0: And political.
P: Now, how about your friendship with LeRoy Collins? When did it start?
0: In the second McCarty campaign.
P: You did not know him up until then?
0: I did not.
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P: He came into the legislature in the 1930s.
O: After Dan died--and it was determined that Roy would be the successor to
the contacts and friendships and campaign organization that Dan had
established, that Roy would be the banner carrier--my association with him
became even closer. Of course, I was not his campaign manager, but I was
I guess you might say an associate campaign manager. Another person
carried the title. But I was very active in his campaign.
P: So that began an association and friendship that lasted until his death, did it
O: Very much so.
P: And also with his family, Mrs. Collins and members of the family?
O: Mary Call and all the others.
P: I want to stop for just a moment in this material about your public career and
get some of your personal data on here. Tell me when you were married and
to whom.
O: November 6, 1946, to Rita McTigue.
P: Now, who was Rita?
O: Rita McTigue was the daughter of Martin [Robert] McTigue and Ruby
McTigue. They had come from Iowa in the boom days, the late 1920s, just
before it burst. Mr. McTigue had been in the banking business out there.
They all, including Mrs. McTigue, came from big farming families, but he had
gone into the banking business as an employee of the bank rather than being
a farmer. They were married out there. Rita, my wife, was born in
Estherville, Iowa.
Mr. McTigue saw and was told of opportunities here, and he came down
alone to find work or a job or an activity. Then he was going to bring his
family down. And he did that.
P: But he brought some financial resources with him?
O: I would not know what he had. He could not have had a lot. But he went
into the real estate business.
P: In Fort Lauderdale?
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O: Yes, into the real estate and insurance business, and he became very
successful. He represented the Wells family, which was associated with
Quaker Oats in Chicago. They owned most of what is now Las Olas
Boulevard from Federal Highway to the beach, all this prime shopping area
down there. They still own those shops and the hotel in that vicinity. It was
Tom and Preston [Wells], the way-back elders in that family, that came down.
He [Mr. McTigue] might have been the one that helped them establish their
P: Did he later then become a contractor?
O: No. Just real estate and insurance.
P: When was Rita born?
O: She was born April 26, I think it was, 1920.
P: How did you two come together? How did you meet?
O: We met in Fort Lauderdale.
P: Before or after the war?
O: Before.
P: So you knew her, then, before you went into the service.
O: I did.
P: Was this just a social, somebody-introducing-you kind of thing?
O: Yes.
P: And you maintained a friendship during the war years, writing to each other?
O: I do not recall that I wrote her. I did on occasion, but not [on a regular
P: So there was no romantic relationship that had been established yet, no
commitments on either part. You come back to Fort Lauderdale and get
together then.
O: Well, Mr. McTigue was one of those friends whom I had met in Fort
Lauderdale before the war who was very helpful to me in getting business.
He used to send me business.
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P: Do you think he was looking at you as a prospective son-in-law? [laughter]
0: He could have been. I do not know. [laughter]
P: As a comer up there, handsome, and a man who was going to make it big at
the University of Florida eventually? [laughter]
0: No, they never visualized that.
P: So, once again, when were you married?
0: November 6, 1946.
P: So you moved. You arrived back in January, establish your law practice, and
immediately cast your eye afield.
0: Correct.
P: Now, you had four children.
0: Yes.
P: All adopted?
0: Yes.
P: Tell me their names and birthdates, if you can remember them. Start with
the oldest. And also if you can remember, [tell me] who they were named
for so we can get a family relationship.
0: Let's see. Rita Denise. The Rita was after my wife Rita, and the Denise was
after an uncle of hers, Denis McTigue. She was born March 3, 1949.
P: Where is Rita now?
0: She just moved from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, to Spokane [Washington].
P: And she is married?
0: She is not presently married.
P: What is her name?
0: Rita Denise Cook.
P: And children?
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O: She has two.
P: Give us their names.
O: Xanthe Renee, and she has just been married.
P: Xanthe is an unusual name.
O: We call her X. I think it means "fair-haired" in Greek. They were names
that she and her then-husband selected out of a book, I think.
P: You said that Rita has a second child.
O: Yes. Phoebe Monique Cooper. She is, I think, at this time fourteen years
P: OK. Your second child?
O: He was Stephen Cornelius O'Connell, Jr. He was born January 3, 1950. So
we had Stephen, Jr., about nine months after Rita. We called Rita Denise
P: Just so she would not get mixed up with her mother.
O: Right.
P: Does Stephen have children?
O: He is married and has one child.
P: And what is that child's name?
O: Clay O'Connell.
P: What is his wife's name?
O: This is his second wife. Her name is Gail.
P: She is your daughter-in-law. What about number three?
O: Number three was Martin Robert O'Connell. His birthday is May 20, I
believe, or 21, 1952.
P: Now, Martin is the one you just lost?
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0: He just passed away in March.
P: Of this year, 1991. Was he married?
0: Yes, and they had one child.
P: What is that child's name?
0: Landon Crawford O'Connell. He is fourteen.
P: And the last of your four children is ...
0: Ann Maureen.
P: What is her birthday?
0: April 30, 1954.
P: So all of the children were fairly close together as far as age is concerned.
Is she married?
0: Yes. Her married name is Stuart.
P: Children?
0: Four.
P: What are their names?
0: The eldest is Stephen Stuart, next is Jason Stuart, next is Patrick, and the last
is Kimberly, a girl. Three boys and a girl.
P: Let us count up how many grandchildren [you have].
0: Eight.
P: So the O'Connell name is secure for a while, since there are several boys
there. Rita died when?
0: She died August 27, 1977.
P: When you were first married, you lived, obviously, in Fort Lauderdale. But
where? Tell me a little about your beginning life.
0: When we were first married we lived in a cottage on the Intracoastal
Waterway near the beach in Fort Lauderdale. The group of cottages was
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called Coast Guard Cottages because there had been coast guard station a
couple hundred feet away from this group of buildings. Those cottages were
owned by the Wells. Their company was called Coast Guard Development
Company; the name came from that old coast guard station there. We lived
in that cottage until the next summer.
It was not unusual in those years for local people to housesit in houses owned
by the Yankees who came only for a couple of months in the winter. It was
to their advantage as well the locals' [advantage]. We did that. We lived in
a home owned by the Noyes family, who were a part of the Wells family--
one of the Wells sisters married a Noyes. We lived in that house for several
summers. Then we lived in another house, generally going back to the Coast
Guard Cottages for the winter months and then one of the houses for the
P: It sounds like you did not have a great rental expense during that period.
O: No. The first home we bought was in a new development called Coral Ridge
[that was] developed by a man by the name of James Hunt. We bought [it
under] a new kind of marketing [scheme]. It was not new but was reminiscent
of the old boom days. When he would open a subdivision, he would have
a big gathering. The one I remember was in the Governor's Club [Hotel], in
the big room that they had there. He would offer these lots for sale at prices,
and the brokers in town would bid on them. That is the way he moved real
estate. He did not move it all that way, but that was the opening of a new
subdivision. He did that in Coral Ridge. I am trying to remember when that
was. We must have bought our home in Coral Ridge, a little house, about
1953 or 1954.
P: Which means you already had four children.
O: We got the fourth one. That may have been the thing that moved us to buy
a home.
P: I want to go back to your public career now, and your legal career, because
you begin becoming very visible, obviously, on the Fort Lauderdale scene as
a result of your political activities and so on. I heard you say before that you
renewed your relationship with the Elks, the fraternal organization.
O: Yes.
P: So you had been in that for a long time?
O: Yes.
P: [Since] the 1930s?
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O: No, [since] when I went to Fort Lauderdale in 1940.
P: I see. Why would the Elks appeal to you?
O: My brother Phil had been in the Elks in West Palm Beach. Some of the Elks
in Fort Lauderdale knew him, and he encouraged me to join the Elks as an
organization that would be helpful to me in meeting people. And it was.
Judge McMillan, the gentleman whom I told you gave me the office space
when I moved to Fort Lauderdale, was active in the Elks. In fact, I think I
mentioned that he went there every afternoon to play tunk rummy. He did
not practice law in the afternoons; he played rummy, unless his court session
went longer. He encouraged me to join the Elks, too. I did.
I went through all of the chairs and ended up in a contest that we had each
year, the ritualistic contest, to be the all-American exalted ruler. That must
have been about 1953 or 1954.
P: This all-American was not a national [contest, was it]?
O: It was a national contest.
P: I see. Now, your civic relationships were with the chamber of commerce and
the Jaycees.
O: Yes, and the [American] Red Cross.
P: Did you hold any offices in the Jaycees?
O: I was on the board of directors and the board of directors of the chamber of
commerce, the "adult" chamber [not the junior chamber].
P: What about your relationship I have here with the North Broward Hospital
O: [I was their] attorney.
P: That was a volunteer activity?
O: No. [There was] small compensation.
P: Now, as a result of your work with Dan McCarty and his election in 1952, and
I do not want to use the word pay-off in a sordid sort of way, but you do then
become the chief counsel of the State Road Department [in 1953].
O: Right.
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P: Had that been arranged for? What was that all about?
0: See, in those days we did not have what is today the Department of
Transportation. The State Road Department was the organization that
handled all the transportation in the state of Florida--the state transportation
matters--and it was governed by the State Road Board. [Its members
consisted of] one from each of the five congressional districts at that time.
When I was appointed by Dan McCarty as chief counsel, we had only one
other resident attorney for that huge department. Before I finished we had
two. I supervised the attorney's office. I came to board meetings and was on
the telephone a lot. I came whenever I was needed there.
P: So you could remain in Fort Lauderdale, even though the main office was in
0: I continued to practice law on my own and do that work.
P: Now, was this the beginning of the development of the interstates?
0: Yes.
P: So this was a very major kind of a responsibility.
0: But there was another commission that ran the interstate. It was not the
interstate; it was the toll road, the turnpike, that was built during those days.
P: As chief counsel, were you involved in land acquisitions and condemnations
of land and that sort of thing?
0: Yes, we were [involved] in the policy determining that. I remember that I
advised the chairman, and he did. The chairman was Dick Simpson from
Monticello, a nurseryman. [I advised him that] he ought to urge counties and
cities where the principal roads [were going to pass through] to establish at
least set-backs requiring a roadway of a hundred feet. That is not much, but
in those days roads were not very wide. That would have saved the
government many millions of dollars if they could anticipate their needs.
[They needed] to establish set-backs for buildings so that they would not be
built in what was anticipated to be a necessary roadway. It has some effect,
but, as you know, the working relationship between cities and counties and
the state is not always a very cooperative one. The locals deal more with
their problems and their constituents, and to require a set-back on a road that
denies a person the use of his land is not a very popular thing. So it worked
in some cases and did not in others.
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P: Were you subject to a lot of pressure on where roads were going to be built,
or was that policy set in Tallahassee?
0: You always had that. Anybody that was connected with government had that
p: But you could always say, "This is not my responsibility"?
0: That is correct, and I did.
P: So that got you off the hook. Identify Richard Simpson for us beyond just
being the nurseryman, because he plays a role in Florida politics.
0: Yes. Richard had been in the legislature. He was a well-regarded citizen of
Florida at a time when the power structure in Florida was in the northern
part of the state. He and his brother, Stuart, and there was another brother
whom I did not know as well [ran the nursery]. Simpson's Nursery was a
huge operation. It could have had another name, too, but that is the way I
knew it.
P: It had a statewide market, I think.
0: Yes. I did not know Dick Simpson before the Dan McCarty campaigns.
P: I know he plays an important role, as I said, in that northern area, the
Monticello-Madison-Tallahassee area.
0: I remember well. See, at that time the State Road Department was the
biggest employer of persons in state government, bigger than today. Today
the biggest employee is HRS, the Department of Health and Rehabilitative
Services. I remember Dick's handling of those people that came to him for
jobs or were sent to him for jobs by legislators and others. Dick always had
a job [far removed from where the person lived]. If the person lived in Key
West, Dick always had a job for them in Pensacola, and if you lived in
Pensacola, he had a job in Key West. [laughter]
P: He knew how to get off the hook, too.
0: It always worked, too, because the fellow would say, "I cannot move my family
from Pensacola to Key West," and Dick would say, "Well, you have to go
where the work is or we cannot help you." [laughter]
P: You know, you come onto this job right after the Fuller Warren
administration. There was a lot of, once again, scandal--[that] may be too
harsh of a word--with [Walter] Johnston [chairman of the Road Department]
and Louis Wolfson [chairman of the Racing Commission] and Martin Segal
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[business associate of Wolfson] and all of those appointments that were
associated with the Warren administration. Were you a little apprehensive?
0: No, because one of the things that Dan McCarty was supposed to do was
clean it up.
P: Do you think it was cleaned up?
0: I think he did some. In defense of Fuller Warren, I might say, I do not think
Fuller ever made a dishonest dime when he was governor. There is too much
proof that he did not.
P: He did not die rich. [laughter]
0: But he was used by his friends. He was too amiable and easy for his friends
to use his name and his power to make money. You probably know that
story better than I do.
P: And they knew how to massage his ego, which was a large one. [laughter]
0: Absolutely. Very large. I always liked Fuller. I did not respect too much the
manner in which he operated or allowed others to operate in his
administration, but Fuller was a very decent human being. I know how he
died penniless and how he was kicked out of the law firm when he ran the
second time and was left to handling the smallest of cases, trying to eke out
a living. It was a sad thing.
P: And yet the people who had used him were very wealthy, influential people
in the state.
0: And I only knew of one that helped him.
P: Who was that?
0: [Florida Supreme Court Justice] B. K. Roberts and [his wife] Mary.
P: They remained friends and supporters right up to the end. But I think all the
others cast him aside when he could do them no good any longer.
0: It is not characteristic in politics. That is not always the way it is. But it was
in that case.
P: So you were able, then, to continue your operations with the State Road
Department. You were appointed in 1953. How long did that last?
0: When Dan died and Charley Johns took over ...
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P: I want you to tell me about that transition, if you will. Dan dies in September
of 1953, and Charley Johns was president of the [Florida] senate. We had no
lieutenant governor then.
O: He succeeded by virtue of his office under the then Constitution of Florida.
P: And Charley Johns was a senator from Starke, from Bradford County.
O: Correct. He was president of the senate at that time. When Dan died,
Charley took over very shortly after that. Governor Johns, in preparation for
his own campaign (he had to run in the next general election, [which] Collins
[won]), asked that all of the major appointments in major positions in Florida
government that had been appointed by Dan resign. In some cases, he
promised that if they would resign he would reappoint them on his
appointment so that the loyalty would be to him.
He called me and Tom Manuel, who was a member of the road board from
Fort Lauderdale, over to his office. He made that proposition to us: if we
would resign, he would reappoint us. Otherwise, we were going to be moved
out. We refused to do that, and we resigned and left rather than be fired.
P: You did not want to be reappointed by Charley Johns?
O: No. It was obvious [what he was doing]. This is no criticism of him. It is the
way the game is played. He would have reappointed us if we had resigned
and let him reappoint us. It is not unusual when the administration changes
that the new man wants his own people in office. This was a little different
in that he got his office not by running for governor but by virtue of his
having been president of the senate.
P: You felt that you could not be his man, that you could not be loyal to him?
O: We anticipated that there would be coming up a campaign by the McCarty
group nominee, whomever it might be, and Charley Johns's group, and to
have resigned and appointed by Charley would have indicated we were on his
team. That is the way I looked at it. Then we would not have been free to
campaign against him.
P: Now, let me understand this. McCarty is elected in 1952, and his term starts
in 1953.
O: January of 1953.
P: And his term then would have gone through to 1956. If he had lived he
would have gone through those four years.
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0: Right.
P: Was it the courts that decided that the next election could take place in 1954,
bringing about the first Collins-Johns campaign?
0: [It was a] two-year term. It was a remainder of Dan's term that that was for,
you see.
P: Well, I thought that Dan comes aboard in 1952 and was elected for a four-
year term. I think the courts ruled that there was some reason why there
could be an election in mid-term.
0: The thing in Roy's [case] was whether he could have served out the last of
Dan's term.
P: No, no. That is the 1956 campaign. Remember, we had an election in 1954
which pitted Charley Johns against LeRoy Collins. LeRoy Collins is elected
in 1954. I am just asking you why the courts ruled for a special election.
0: Well, the [Florida] Constitution provided, did it not? that the president of the
senate would serve until the next general election.
P: Yes, but the next general election was 1956. The next gubernatorial general
election would have been in 1956. See, Fuller was elected in 1948 to 1952.
Dan was elected from 1952 to 1956. He dies in 1953. Charley Johns takes
over, and Charley Johns serves until 1954. He is ousted as a result of the
special election authorized by the courts. So LeRoy Collins really serves six
years as governor.
0: That is true.
P: Two years finishing the McCarty term and four years on his own. I am just
raising the question of why the 1954 [special election took place at all]. I am
sure the history books will tell us why.
0: That was for the remainder of Dan's term. The question, if I remember
correctly, was whether Roy, having served, was succeeding himself.
P: I understand exactly the point you are making, but you are jumping two years
ahead for me because you are raising that question on 1956. I am raising the
question of why 1954. According to what you are saying here, Charley Johns
is already lining up his forces to run.
0: In the next November [election]
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P: See, if he was finishing out McCarty's term, the term would have gone until
1956, so he would have had no problem. He would have been governor and
would not have had any problem [concerning an election] until 1956. But
there was a campaign in Florida in 1954.
O: That is what I am saying, that he had to run at the next general election,
which was in 1954, was it not?
P: Well, not a gubernatorial election.
O: But it was a general election.
P: It is a general election for congress people and so on.
O: It was the next general election, because I had to do the same thing. I was
appointed in 1955 and had to run at the next general election, which was
November 1956.
P: OK. The reason I am [asking is because I was] just wondering if you
remembered it. I do not. I am looking for information here. Does the
Constitution, then, say it is the next general election?
O: It must. I think it did at that time.
P: Well, it is an easy thing to check up on. I was just curious.
O: I think that is right, though. He would not serve out all of the remaining
P: I am really trying to figure out why Charley Johns is calling people like you
and [Thomas B.] Manual in and getting his forces in line so early in the game,
and you are answering it [in saying that it was] because the next general
election was in 1954, so he had to get things lined up.
0: That is true. You see, if it had been after 1954 he would have served out the
remaining term.
P: OK. So you give up your responsibility with the State Road Board and then
you just continue with your own general practice, which obviously is growing
rapidly during this period.
O: Yes, sir.
P: Is this as a result of the growth in the area?
O: I would say so.
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P: [There was] more economic growth and more people and more legal
problems that needed to be resolved, and you were there.
0: Yes.
P: At the same time, more lawyers are coming into Fort Lauderdale.
0: Sure.
P: The law school here was turning them out in large numbers.
0: And I helped some get started down there.
P: All right. Let's see. We have your civic responsibilities, your fraternal, your
political. What were you and Rita doing for fun during this period? This is
before you go to Tallahassee. Were these good years?
0: Yes. A client of mine built the Beach Club, and we belonged to that as his
guest. We went there most every Saturday afternoon. We had friends in
Miami, [and] we went to dances and social affairs with them, and in Fort
Lauderdale. We came to the University for football games, always for
homecoming and the Georgia game in Jacksonville. We went to the Keys
fishing. Rita's mother was an avid fisherman, and where we lived, in these
houses that we sat for and occupied during the summers, was on New River
and the canals in Fort Lauderdale. [There was] great fishing: snook, drum,
sheephead. That was a frequent thing to do at that time. Further, you could
fish on the beach when the blues were running. It was great fishing.
P: You had help in the house to take care of the kids so you all could do all of
these things?
0: Not initially, no. Now, for the last one, Maureen, we did finally have a lady,
an elderly lady, who lived in the home with the baby. That is the first time
we had help.
P: Tell us about Rita. She is, in a way, kind of lost to Florida history, unlike the
other first ladies associated with the University. Tell me about her, who she
was, what she liked to do, the kind of person she was.
0: Well, Mrs. McTigue and Mr. McTigue--Mrs. McTigue more so than Mr.--
were very highly principled people. Rita's mother was a convert to
Catholicism. She had not been a Catholic. Mr. McTigue's family had been
Catholics all the way back to Ireland. So she [Rita] was raised in a very
proper atmosphere. Her [Rita's] mother was [very exacting in her attitude]
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on manners, on dress, on the house. Everything was done well. She raised
Rita [to be] the same way.
Rita finished school I think through about the ninth or tenth grade at the
Catholic school in Fort Lauderdale. They then sent her to Ferry Hall, a
boarding school--finishing school, so called--outside Chicago. After she
graduated from there they sent her to the University of Wisconsin. She never
finished college there; she never graduated from college. I think she went
two years there. Then she returned home. That was about the time that I
met her in Fort Lauderdale in 1940.
P: So she never got her degree.
O: That is right.
P: Did she work during the war years?
O: She did, yes. She worked in Chicago in the hotel business through Mr.
McTigue's association with hotels. She worked in Chicago and in Fort
Lauderdale also in the Wells Hotel--the Riverside Hotel, it was called.
P: After you were married, then, she did not attempt to pursue a career?
O: She did not. She was busy with children.
P: That is right. If you had four children, that took a lot of time and
responsibility. Was she an athletically inclined woman? Did she join you in
your enthusiasm for sports?
O: She was not. Rita had diabetes from the time that she was about eleven
years old. She just got under the wire in the discovery of insulin. She was
on insulin from the time, I think, she was eleven or twelve years old. In those
days--it has improved now--diabetics had to be very careful of their physical
use of energy, and their diet had to be regulated altogether. She loved to
play golf and tried, and [she] did play with me. She did when we were here
at the University. She was never a great golfer, but she loved to play. She
liked to fish. And when we moved to Tallahassee, I taught her to hunt quail,
doves, ducks, which we did. And she was good as a hunter.
P: Was she a good swimmer?
O: Not particularly, no. She liked to swim, and when we moved from the
University back to Tallahassee and I built a home out there at the farm, we
built a pool so that she could exercise there. She had broken her leg falling,
and we built a pool there so that she could swim to give her the exercise that
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[she needed]. The bone never knitted back properly. But she did not have
the opportunity to swim much.
P: Was she a studious woman or an [avid] reader?
O: She was well informed, yes.
P: But she was a socially active person.
O: Yes, very much so.
P: She liked people?
O: Yes. She was not a particularly public person. She handled her duties as the
wife of a supreme court justice very well and properly, and as a university
president's [wife also]. But she was not the glad-hand type.
P: Was it shyness?
O: I do not think she was shy. She just was not overly active in the public eye
and never had been.
P: How was the family relationship? Did the kids get along? Was this a close-
knit family that you were building?
O: Yes.
P: Now, your parents were already gone by this time?
O: Yes. My mother died when I was four, and my father died when I was here
in school.
P: OK. And your father had remarried, though.
O: Yes. Correct.
P: So your children grew up with their maternal grandparents rather than with
your parents.
O: Correct. That is right.
P: Was there a close relationship of grandparents to grandchildren?
O: Yes.
P: Was Rita an only child?
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O: No. She had a brother, with an age difference of almost ten years. Rita was
the older.
P: I gathered in going over the notes on you that although she was a private
person, she encouraged you to take on these various appointments, did she
not? particularly when you were offered the position as president of the
O: I guess she and the children did, yes.
P: Not so much when you were offered the position on the court.
O: Well, in the end she did. She had been active, you see, with me in Dan
McCarty's campaign. She headed the women's groups. [The same was true
of] LeRoy's campaign. She got to know Roy and Mary Call Collins both well
and respected them. When Roy Collins put it on the basis that he did of
needing help to serve the people in this state to carry out his philosophy of
government, she bought that, and she felt we should be a part of it. [She felt
that] I should take the job.
P: Now, even before you are offered the position on the court, LeRoy Collins
appoints you to the Florida State Racing Commission [in 1955], does he not?
O: Attorney for the racing commission.
P: That is what I meant, not as a member but as the attorney. Was that chief
counsel also for that?
O: Yes.
P: What were your responsibilities there?
O: To advise the commission as to the law in the cases that they had to consider
of people who had broken the rules in any of those things that were
controlled by the racing commission.
P: The legislature set the racing dates, did they not?
O: They set the dates. We had nothing to do with that. But the rules and
regulations and the operations of the track were under the commission.
When we met there was a commission [responsibility] in addition to the
administrative [work] that had to be done. People appeared who had been
accused of violating the rules or the law regarding racing. There were
permits or licenses that jockeys, dog handlers, [and] dog owners [were
required to have, and they were] all subject to these rules. There was just an
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unending list every commission meeting where the commission had to decide
what the penalty would be and whether the people would be permitted to
continue as a jockey or as a dog handler or a horse handler.
P: Could you continue to maintain your law practice in Fort Lauderdale?
0: Yes. This, again, was an extra duty.
P: Who was the chairman of the commission?
0: A man named J. Saxton Lloyd.
P: Where was Mr. Lloyd from?
0: Daytona Beach, Florida.
P: He also was an influential man in Florida politics during that period.
0: He was. He had been a member of the State Road Board when I was chief
counsel there. He was one of those who was fired from the State Road
Board [by Charley Johns].
P: In both cases, both your activity with the Road Board and the Racing
Commission, what was your compensation?
0: My recollection is that when I was chief counsel for the Road Board it was
$500 a month, $6,000 a year, plus a secretary. Then as the Racing
Commission [attorney], I think it was $300 a month, pitifully small. But the
governor's salary then, for Dan McCarty, was only around $19,000 or $20,000.
P: And the University of Florida president's salary was not that good, either.
0: I know. When I came here to be president, my supreme court salary was
$29,000, and the University's was $27,500.
P: And it was even lower in the 1950s, when [J. Wayne] Reitz took over [1955-
1967], and even worse when Dr. [John J.] Tigert was the president [1928-
1947], and he did not even have the house to live in. He had to rent a house
on the other side of town.
0: Right.
P: You obviously enjoyed, however, this state political activity that you were
involved in.
0: I did.
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P: You have always been kind of a politically oriented person, have you not?
O: Well, if you have an interest in the state and your community and you want
to make a contribution, that is one way to do it. You do not do it by just
practicing law to serve your clients. You serve other interests as well.
P: In the 1950s, when you were a younger man and a much more energetic man,
did you give any thought yourself to running for a political office, [such as]
O: I had to run for the supreme court to stay on it. I was encouraged to
consider running for governor. Governor Collins was one of those who urged
me to do it. But that was not something I wanted to do.
P: There was no fire in your belly for that?
O: Initially I can remember standing in front of the SAE house with George
Smathers--maybe I told you about this before--and we were discussing what
we were going to do when we finished college. George indicated that he
wanted to be in politics and hold public office. I cannot recall if he
mentioned a specific one. I believe he talked about the [U.S.] Congress,
which he ultimately did [from 1951-69]. That was not what I wanted to do.
I said, "I want to be a good lawyer and raise a family." That was my principal
goal. And I would help people like him who wanted to run for office and
were willing to do it to get elected.
P: And yet early on, when you were beginning your educational career, you
wanted to be a dentist and found you could not because of financial reasons.
O: Yes.
P: Law, though, takes over after that, and it becomes your life work.
O: Correct.
P: Did you ever regret the fact that you were not a dentist?
O: No. I never have.
P: So you got into the right profession, then.
O: It seems to have worked out well. Yes.
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P: Let us move into the proposal by the governor that you be appointed to the
[Florida Supreme] Court. How did all of that come about? Tom Sebring
leaves the court [in September 1955].
O: I had gotten to know Roy Collins better. After Charley Johns fired the
members of the Road Board, he [Johns] or some of his people (I have
forgotten who it was) charged the Road Board members with having done
something wrong in purchasing grass seed from Ed Finlayson of Greenville,
around Monticello.
P: A very distinguished Florida family.
O: Yes. Right. So these five members of the Road Board were charged by
Charley Johns with having violated some law or rules regarding the purchase
of grass seed. When Roy had been elected but had not assumed office yet,
he [on his own authority] held hearings on these charges. I represented my
five friends who had been on the Road Board under Dan.
P: You were not charged.
O: No. As the evidence showed, there was no substance to those charges. That
is where I really got to know Roy. He saw me in operation for the first time
in a legal sense.
P: But you had already begun supporting him in the 1954 campaign, had you
O: Oh, yes. [I started working for his campaign] back in 1954.
P: So you and he became .
O: Better acquainted. Yes.
P: He saw you in action as a lawyer for the Road Board in this hearing. So then
tell me about Sebring's leaving. What position did he take?
O: Tom Sebring left the [Florida Supreme] court to become dean of the Stetson
College of Law.
P: Tell the story of how the governor approached you to fill that vacancy.
O: Roy called me and asked me to come by his office in Tallahassee. He said
he wanted to talk to me, but he did not tell me about what. So within the
next few days I went to Tallahassee--it could have been on other business--
and I went to see him. He told me what he wanted to do.
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P: There had been no rumor of this in the press or in any other way?
O: None. No. I told him that there was no way I could do that. Finally I had
built a law practice and had a new home and four kids. I believe the salary
of a supreme court justice then was $13,500. He said he was not going to
take no for an answer, and I said, "Well, I will go home and talk it over, and
I will call you back," which I did.
P: Were you surprised at this?
O: Yes.
P: You were not ready? You had no feeling that this is what he was calling you
in for, to offer you a position?
O: No. I went home, of course, and talked to Rita about it. No one else. We
went over all of our affairs and obligations and all and what was going on,
and she agreed that at that time in our lives it would not be a good thing to
do. So I called Roy and told him that. Well, he was still insistent that I
continue to consider it. He said, "I am going to come down to Fort
Lauderdale, and I want to talk to you and your wife together," and he did.
In the next few days he came, and we had dinner and he talked. Rita
changed her mind.
P: Collins, obviously, was a persuasive speaker.
O: Yes. He put it on the basis that we both had obligations, as he did. We said,
"Roy, we will let you know," and he went on back home. We mulled it
around for a couple of days and finally decided we ought to do it.
P: How did you think you were going to be able to swing it financially, with a
mortgage and four kids?
O: Well, we would change our lifestyle considerably, and we did. But Roy said
that he would try to do something about those salaries. I think it was about
two years before it got up to $15,000; that is my recollection. I had fees yet
to be collected from the old law firm, and that helped for a while. So we
made it all right.
P: You sold the house in Fort Lauderdale?
O: No, we did not. We leased it. It was a big home, an old home, on the
Intracoastal Waterway just a block from the beach, and we could lease it for
the winter season for $10,000 a year, which we did. For a while we would go
back there for the summer vacations and take the kids, which was good. It
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was completely furnished. The $10,000 a year that we got for rent was very
good. We did not sell that house until sometime in the 1970s.
P: What allowed you to accept this position? What did you feel you could
accomplish as a justice?
O: Well, I think everybody thinks that given the opportunity they can contribute
something in the law. We did not have any axes to grind against the court
at that time. I knew one of the members. When I was at school here, I had
been one of the campaign managers for Elwin Thomas when he ran for the
supreme court. I had met the other members when they came down for
[Florida] Blue Key [functions] and other things. But, to be a judge, I think
every lawyer would welcome that opportunity, and to be a justice on the
supreme court, you cannot do any better in the state of Florida than that.
You cannot.
P: You were appointed in 1955, the first time, by Collins.
O: In the late summer of 1955.
P: Now, you knew that you were going to have to run for election the following
year. Did that scare you?
O: No.
P: Of course, you were in a way burning your bridges by accepting the
appointment for one year.
O: I had to give up the practice.
P: And if you had lost the election, it would mean that in a way you would be
back on square one. But that did not bother you?
O: No.
P: Why?
O: I do not know. At that age you are willing to take those chances much [more
readily]. You thought about what you could do there rather than what the
consequences of losing might be. You knew that was a risk.
P: A serious risk!
O: Yes, very.
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P: Now, you are coming onto the court at a very changing time in American
history, judicial history and political history, because the Brown decision was
rendered just the previous year, and the United States Supreme Court was
very active in its support under Earl Warren. You are a conservative. You
are out of that longstanding southern tradition. How did you think you were
going to fit into all of this?
O: I never gave it a thought. You see, the Brown v. Board of Education [ruling]
had not really become a factor in Florida at that time. It had not. It was the
law, but it had not taken hold here. It did not anywhere in the country for
I do not know how many months or years. I cannot remember when the
Brown v. Board of Education was decided--sometime in 1954.
P: May of 1954.
O: When I ran for the supreme court the first time and would tell people that
I was running for a term on the supreme court, I would catch hell from those
people I met "because of that case you decided on integration." Of course,
that indicated how few people knew what the Supreme Court of Florida was
and its relationship to the Supreme Court of the United States. It had
become a factor of people's minds. They were thinking about it. But we had
not had the problems in Florida in the schools that happened elsewhere.
They had not become apparent yet.
P: Talking beyond that decision, this was a period of real change in the United
States. As you were coming onto this all-important court, were you and the
other justices aware that this was the beginnings of the civil rights revolution?
Was that a factor in your consciousness at the time?
O: You see, it had been before the Supreme Court of Florida before I got there,
in the [Virgil] Hawkins [v. Board of Control] case. I think it had been there
five times.
P: Virgil Hawkins had been trying to get into the University of Florida law
school since 1949. The court had refused to admit him. In 1952 the court
refused again to admit him under the "separate but equal" doctrine of Plessy
v. Ferguson, even though Sweatt v. Painter had said, "Separate but equal does
not apply to law schools." As part of the Brown decision, the United States
Supreme Court ordered the Florida Supreme Court to reconsider. The
Florida Supreme Court, in October 1955, [heard the case]. Were you on the
court at that point?
O: No. I did not participate in that case.
P: In October 1955 [the Florida Supreme Court] said that Hawkins could not be
barred solely because he was black but could be denied admission because
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it would "present grave and serious problems affecting the welfare of all
students. O'Connell joined the court the following month." So you come on
in November of 1955.
O: No. See, it was published in October. It had been heard previous to that.
The only case I participated in was the decision rendered March 8, 1957.
That was the one in which the court had appointed Judge John Murphree
P: He was a circuit court judge?
O: Yes.
P: It might be noted [he was also] the son of former president of the University
[Albert A. Murphree, 1909-1927].
O: In that the court had appointed him as the person to take testimony
regarding--it was not a question of whether blacks could be admitted--when
and what the results would be. Murphree conducted those hearings and
gathered evidence here that indicated that if he [Hawkins] were admitted at
that time there would be violence and disruption such as had occurred
elsewhere, that it would do great damage to admit him at that time. And my
recollection is, and I think the documents show, that then Hawkins went to
the federal courts. Judge Dozier DeVane entered an order saying that blacks
had to be admitted. Well, the supreme court had already said that. Of
course, Hawkins, with his 200 on the LSAT, did not meet the standards for
admission that the University had adopted, so he was not admitted.
P: Now, the note that I have here on the 1957 ruling was that the court noted:
(1) they did not think Hawkins was sincere, (2) the law school was part of an
undergraduate campus (I guess that got around the Sweatt v. Painter for the
graduate school), (3) the majority of white students would leave, and (4) they
then denied Hawkins admission again. "The five justices concurred, including
O'Connell. The opinion had a large section decrying the United States
Supreme Court's lack of respect for state's rights. Justices [Elwyn] Thomas
and [E. Harris] Drew dissented."
0: Yes. And Judge [Glenn] Terrell wrote his own opinion.
P: By the way, who were the other justices on the court when you joined?
O: Glenn Terrell.
P: From where?
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O: He came from Sumter County. I cannot tell you the name of the town, but
I know it was in Sumter County. It could have been around Bushnell, I
P: OK. So he was one.
O: [There was T.] Frank Hobson, from St. Petersburg; Elwyn Thomas, who had
come from Ankona, near Fort Pierce; Campbell Thornal was appointed in
May of 1955; and I followed him in October.
P: Thornal filled what vacancy?
O: I think he filled the Jacksonville [vacancy].
P: That would have been [E. Harris] Drew, would it not?
O: No. He had been president of the senate, too. [John E.] Matthews.
P: Oh, Jack Matthews's father.
O: Right. I think that is the one.
P: Drew was not on the court, then, when you [went on].
O: Drew was. He was appointed by Fuller Warren. He came on, I believe,
about 1949 or 1950. [Drew was appointed August 18, 1952. Ed.]
P: That is Horace Drew?
O: No. E. Harris Drew. I do not think there is any relation to the Jacksonville
Drews. He was related to the governor, the way-back governor. I think his
family had come from around Madison or somewhere in there.
P: Well, George Drew was the first governor after Reconstruction. He was
elected in 1876. So you were the five justices of the supreme court, and this
was a unanimous decision, right?
O: No, it was not unanimous. Thomas and Drew dissented.
P: Oh, no. I am sorry.
O: What the court said--and here is the copy of the opinion--[was that] "in
exercise of what we sincerely believed to be sound, judicial discretion, we
decided that the relator's (Hawkins's) motion for a preemptory writ should
be denied, but without prejudice to the right of the relator to renew his
motion when he is prepared to present testimony showing that his mission can
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be accomplished without doing great public mischief. For the reasons stated,
the entry of final judgment is deferred until further order of the court."
I participated in that case. That is the only Hawkins case I did participate
in. My concern, and I know the concern of others, was that based on the
findings that were presented to us by Judge Murphree it would have [had] a
disastrous effect on this University. There was in that, also, the feeling that
this was being done by Hawkins not to get an education. He was minimally
qualified at best. He was doing it to make a point, which he had a perfect
right to do. But it was the damage that would be done to the institution that
we thought justified a delay in the admission of Hawkins. Unfortunately,
when you look back on it, the reasons--while they may have avoided the kind
of confrontations here that could have occurred as they did in Alabama--
[acknowledged that] the fellow had a right to make his application and be
considered on his merits. That is what Judge DeVane said. But he
[Hawkins] just was not qualified.
You know the history. When the next man, George Starke [Jr.] made his
application--and I knew George Starke when he was here as a student--there
was no question, and nothing happened. All that feeling and threats had
been subsided, and everybody was conditioned for it then, as were the
P: How did you happen to know George Starke?
O: Because the justices of the supreme court always were invited to participate
in law school activities. We came down to hold moot court hearings and to
speak to the fraternity breakfasts always at homecoming and other times
during the year. I met George then.
Q) A: He did not get his degree here. He did not finish.
O: I did not know that.
P: He withdrew on his own and is living in Maryland now working for the
federal government, I understand.
O: There was one [black student] not too long after him in law school [George
Allen] who, I believe, is now practicing in Fort Lauderdale. But those came,
and there were no problems. If that decision in 1958 was a part of the
seasoning process that it took to prepare for integration, it was worthwhile.
P: Did you know Alex Ackerman, who initially took up the case on behalf of
Hawkins and the other black applicants?
O: I did not. Where was he from? Orlando?
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P: Orlando. He is still living.
I want to ask you about some of the other cases. Obviously we do not have
time and do not need to take time to go into all of them, but there are some
I think that are important, and I would like your comments on them because
you were on the court. The one, I guess, that has been as well publicized as
any of them is the famous Gideon v. Wainwright case. Could you say
something about that?
O: Yes. I remember it well [and] what happened as a result of it.
P: Can I break in and just give you this little bit that I have here on the history
of it? The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 6th Amendment guaranteed
all indigents charged with a criminal offense an attorney at public expense.
In Douglas v. California the United States Supreme Court extended this to
criminal appeals.
O: You see, it was not unusual for people in [the Florida State Prison at] Raiford
to write letters to judges, including the supreme court [justices]. They did not
always and most often did not have a lawyer making an appeal or petitioning
for a writ of habeas corpus, which was involved here. When the court made
that application, that they were entitled to have counsel, it opened a new
avenue of review for people who had been convicted of crime. I would not
say it is good or bad. It opened a flood of business. There were periods
there on the [Florida] Supreme Court when we had, I would guess, 300 or 400
a month, some with merit. Most had none. But it was a far-reaching
decision, and it showed what was happening in the administration of justice
beginning about that time.
On the court when I went there, when we finished with an appeal in a death
penalty case, almost in every instance that was the last judicial proceeding in
that case. Thereafter, we went through the dual system where people would
go [to the federal courts] after the Supreme Court of Florida had finished its
work. They would start a new course of review by the federal courts, which
has meant that the time between the commission of the act complained of
and the final resolution would be ten to fifteen years. That is unfortunate.
For those that were saved that were not guilty it was worthwhile. But it put
an undue burden on the judicial system of this country on the state and
federal [levels]. It was never intended that judicial proceedings be
interminable. But the Gideon case [which was decided March 18, 1963] was
a landmark case, and the result has been good, I think.
P: The results of that, I guess, in terms of Florida, was the Roy v. Wainwright
case of 1963. Roy, sentenced to life for attempted rape without an attorney
in 1948, filed for release from prison by the Gideon decision. The court
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decided: (1) that the petition was handwritten and too hard to read, and (2)
it was technically impermissible since the motion should have been filed with
the same court that sentenced him. On these technicalities the Florida court
avoided the issue. He would later submit a typed copy to the right court.
O: I do not remember that one.
P: Another one that I have here is State v. Weeks (1964). All three district
courts of appeal, which are the ones right below the Florida Supreme Court,
had held that Gideon and Douglas required that indigents be given attorneys
for their appeal. The Florida Supreme Court overturned all three courts and
said that only direct appeals counted. Collateral appeals are civil, not
criminal, and the indigent gets no attorney.
O: I do not remember that one.
P: The other one that I have here deals with the one-man/one-vote situation,
which, of course, is a major situation [concerning] reapportionment that
develops all over the country and all over the South. As I understand it,
every ten years, after the federal census, there is reapportionment that goes
on [to set congressional districts]. In Florida, I guess, as a result of the 1960
census, we were eligible for three or four new congressmen. So there was this
redistricting that went on. Now, the information I have here relates to the
Baker v. Carr case (1962). Do you remember that?
O: Yes.
P: The United States Supreme Court ruled that the districts for state legislatures
must be equal in population. The Florida Supreme Court reluctantly followed
this for the legislature. Later the same year, 1962, a couple challenged the
new congressional district lines the legislature had drawn. Florida had gone
from eight representatives to twelve because of the 1960 census. The new
districts varied from 237,000 to 660,000 in population.
Then I have the Lund v. Mathas [case]. The Florida Supreme Court held that
the equal population requirement of Baker did not apply to Congress. The
United States Supreme Court effectively overruled this in 1964 in Reynolds
v. Sims. Now, does any of that [ring a bell]?
O: Not that case. I remember Baker v. Carr when it was rendered, but I do not
remember the State case.
P: Let me just ask in general, then. I have no other cases here because we
could go on forever talking about one case after the other, and anybody that
is really interested in this can go back into the court records and get the
information they are looking for. You are definitely looked upon, and your
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court record shows, that you are a conservative. In fact, [you are] listed as
perhaps the second most conservative person on the court. Is that a valid
0: It could be in some things, Sam.
P: I base this on this article that was written by Patrick Brown and William A.
Haddad, "Judicial Decision-Making on the Florida Supreme Court: An
Introductory Behavioral Study" [University of Florida Law Review 19 (1966-
67), 566-90]. I am sure you know about it.
0: I have never heard of it.
P: [laughter] Well, maybe you ought to read it. It says [on page 581 under
Section III, Summary, subsection A] "The Findings of This Study"--and this is
based upon an examination of all of the decisions that were rendered in the
1964 and 1965 terms--[that] "Justice Thomas leads in the percentages of
dissents in all non-unanimous decisions participated in." But then it goes on:
"Justice Ervin has a higher liberal average than the Court in every category.
... Justices O'Connell and Caldwell..." Now, are we talking about Millard
Caldwell here?
0: Millard Caldwell. Yes.
P: "... were always on the conservative side on all four issues, one of the two
being the conservative leader in each case. Generally, Justice Caldwell was
more conservative than Justice O'Connell.... The final ideological pattern
shows Justice Ervin as the 'left wing' of the Court and two 'right wings'
consisting of Justice O'Connell and, substantially further to the right, Justice
Caldwell. The center of the Court is made up of Justices Thornal, Roberts,
Drew, and Thomas in descending order of 'liberalness."' Well, can you react
to that?
0: I think that is pretty accurate.
P: As a young man living in south Florida, how does this jibe? Had you always
been conservative? What did "conservative" mean to you?
0: That is the real question: What is conservative? When I speak of
conservative, it does not mean keeping the same order of things forever.
That is not the conservation-type thing I am speaking about. But respect for
authority; respect for law, once it is tested and found to be good; and respect
for other people's rights is what I believe in. [I do] not [believe] in causing
harm to another in anything you do. You are free to act as you will so long
as it does not harm anyone else.
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P: How did you react to the active [Earl] Warren [U.S. Supreme] Court? How
did you think about it in the 1960s?
O: I thought that in some things they did (I have no recollection of all they did)
they improved the quality of life for people in this country in some ways. I
think they did a lot to weaken the fabric of life in this country. I remember
the decision that [Florida Supreme Court] Judge [Glenn] Terrell wrote a
scathing dissent in which they borrowed on psychologists and others as
reasons for their decision rather than precedent. That was a civil rights case
[involving Virgil Hawkins that was, I believe, ultimately rendered by the
Warren Court]. There was no doubt that the result of that case accomplished
much for the increase of civil liberties of people in this country. But the
manner in which it was done was completely wrong. That was a legislative
matter, in my opinion, and not a judicial function. If I had a criticism openly
of that court, it would be that they legislated rather than made judicial
decisions in so many areas.
P: You would have considered yourself then to have been a strict
O: Yes, and one who required that each of the three branches [of government],
except where required by the Constitution and laws of the state to interfere
with the others, be given the opportunity [to] exercise its proper function.
That was my criticism of the Warren court.
P: In your opinion, as you are looking at it now in 1991, would civil rights have
advanced to the degree that it did during the 1960s if your judicial philosophy
had prevailed?
O: It would have depended upon what the legislative bodies did.
P: But they were doing nothing, really. The states were doing nothing.
O: Unfortunately, that is true.
P: It took the pressure on the part of the federal government [to spur the state
legislatures into action].
0: As I said earlier, unquestionably what the Supreme Court of the United
States did resulted in a betterment of life for people in this country. But the
manner in which it was done was wrong. For a judicial branch to legislate
as they did [was wrong]. Their action can be, in the minds of many, justified
for the reasons you just said, that legislative bodies representing the world of
people were not acting. It was obvious to all that their movement had been
very slow.
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P: Well, the prevailing majority of people, public opinion in the South in the
1950s and 1960s, was opposed to the Warren court activism. They felt that
they were getting into things that they should not get [into], and that is what
you are saying right now. And it became so violent. You and I remember
the signs "Impeach Earl Warren" and those kinds of things that happened.
But I was just wondering now twenty-five or thirty years after it, as you reflect
back on the times that you were on the court, [how you felt about all of this].
Florida was really, in some ways, dragging its feet, along with the other
southern states.
O: But it had to. Now, you look at one of the greatest people in this state,
Governor LeRoy Collins. He was pragmatic enough to know that as much
as he felt about the rights of people and the justice of the situation, if he had
come out initially saying, "Abandon segregation completely," he would never
have served as the governor of this state and been able to accomplish what
he did. Why, with his theory of gradualism, he ended up being the greatest
friend the black people and other minorities in this state and the South ever
had. But he did it in a way that made it become acceptable rather than with
the "We are going to force this down your throat" [approach], which always
brings about violence on those upon whom it is being thrust. So if you look
back on Roy, you know he started trying to maintain an element of
segregation. Then he worked his way around to the point that he was the
greatest friend that those seeking to end segregation had. He was effective
because he did it in that way.
P: I am jumping just a little bit ahead chronologically here, but the fact is that
you were tarred by that conservative image while you were on the court. Did
that not become a burden to you after you became president of the
University, and were you apprehensive about that when you accepted the
O: It did not bother me. That one case did, yes.
P: What was your philosophy at the time that you were on the court on the First
Amendment free speech [issue]?
O: I was for it, although I remember writing an opinion (I cannot remember the
details) [on a case involving] some salacious magazine or article in south
Florida. That was when the standards for community standards [came] before
the court. [The court] ultimately said that there were no standards, and
everything went.
P: That is when people who read Playboy were reading the editorials and the
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O: Yes. [laughter] I do feel that there is a sense on the part of communities
that [they should be allowed to] say what is right and what is wrong in the
way of the press, but it should be only in a limited area that the community
standards prevail. There has to be some responsibility and limit on any right
that we have. It is not an unfettered right that any of us have.
O: Steve, when you went onto the court, once again, what did you hope that you
would be able to do?
O: I never gave it a thought. I had no agenda. See, you do not choose what you
get on the court. Those cases come to you at others' instance.
P: Were you overwhelmed by the huge number of cases that were pending and
more that came about as a result of the Gideon decision?
O: I remember one time we were getting, it seems to me, 2,200 to 2,300 cases
a year. We were getting all the workmen's compensation cases, all the habeas
corpus cases as a result of Gideon. It was impossible to do justice to all of
those and still run for office.
P: What kind of a staff would a justice have at that time?
O: One secretary.
P: Each of you had a secretary?
O: Each of us had a secretary and a research aide.
P: No staff assistants?
O: No. The research aide was the only staff we had.
P: So you had a staff of two, then, to take care of the ever-increasing number
of cases coming up.
O: Right.
P: So you had a lot of homework.
O: Yes, you did. There used to be a rule--it had to go by the board--that when
a case was assigned to you, and that was done by rote, you had to dispose that
case within sixty days. It became impossible to do that.
P: I notice that you were quoted as saying somewhere along the line that there
never seemed to be enough time to reflect properly on what needed reflection
before you had to make a decision.
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0: That was true. I think everybody felt that pressure.
P: Not enough time and too much to do.
0: Yes.
P: You had certain... well, maybe you did not have certain aspirations when
you went onto the court.
0: No, I did not.
P: Were you disappointed when you left the court that you had not done
everything that you had perhaps wanted to?
0: No, I was not. Twelve years was enough time on the court.
P: You authored some 300 decisions.
0: Is that the number?
P: That is the number that you authored that I got from my research. Can you
think of any really landmark decisions, things that you are particularly proud
of that carry your association?
0: I wrote a number [of opinions] relating to the legal profession. I cannot
recall any of the numbers. There were two or three cases that I wrote--it
could have been more--that were in ALR [American Law Reports, 3d ed.],
which is a legal publication. You have one published there that is supposed
to be a good one. You caught me off-guard.
P: I noted that many of the decisions, once again based upon the research that
I did, dealt with tax and technical governmental issues, including a number
of workmen's compensation cases that came up before the court.
0: We were inundated with workmen's compensation cases. People do not think
of them as being important, but they are important to the people involved.
In money, in dollars, they are very important cases.
P: I did not find your name associated very often with the cases that involved
political issues. [Your name appeared in connection with] more of these
others. The question I want to raise here is why not?
0: That is the way they were assigned.
P: You had no control, then?
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O: No.
P: Were you a dissenting justice, a concurring justice, or what?
O: I did my share of both.
P: So nobody can label you either as an Earl Warren or Justice [Hugo L.] Black
or a Clarence Thomas.
O: No. I do not think that our court was divided in the way that the Supreme
Court of the United States is classified as being divided. I do not think we
had that. That was not visible to us on the court. We knew that there were
some more conservative than others. We knew some were liberal. But it was
not as indelible a marking that some would suggest about the Supreme Court
of the United States.
P: How does the Florida Supreme Court operate? There are seven members,
and a case comes up through the appeals and so on. It is presented to whom
and to what? What are the workings of it?
O: A case is filed in the clerk's office when the case has matured, that is, all the
briefs and records and everything is there and it is ready for oral argument.
That case, before oral argument, is assigned by the chief justice and the clerk
of the court under the chief justice to a justice. Most frequently it is done as
they fall so that everybody gets an equal share.
P: So you were not the only one handling workmen's compensation.
O: Oh, no, sir.
P: In other words, what I am asking is nobody on the court, then, would be
recognized as having a particular specialty.
O: No. I do not think so. Some liked certain types of cases more than others,
but that does not mean that they always got that type of case. Then they
were assigned that way before the argument. The justice to whom the case
was assigned would prepare a summary of the case. That summary of the
elements of the case would be sent to each member of the court before
argument so that he [each member] would have his summary of the case
when they heard it argued. The justice to whom the case was assigned was
required to do some reading of the briefs before hearing the argument
because he had the burden of leading the discussion. After the case was
argued, there was a conference not to decide but to get the comments of the
other judges for the person assigned to write the case. He can ask other
judges about things that he has doubts about or needs questions answered.
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After that it is up to that justice to dispose of the case. He can do it by per
curiam, which means "by the court no opinion," or he can write an opinion.
That then is circulated to all other justices for their views. They can mark
that spot that they concur or they can dissent or they can concur with opinion
or dissent with opinion. If there is dissent in the case or a concurring opinion
or any question about it, it goes to a conference where all of the judges hear
those questions and make a further discussion of the case.
P: I want to go back and ask you about a case that really was not decided until
you left the court, and that is the one-man/one-vote situation. Of course,
Manning Dauer [chair, Department of Political Science, University of Florida]
was very much involved in the final solution of that.
0: I remember that.
P: Where did the court stand on this, and where did you stand?
0: I do not think I was there or heard the arguments on that case. I do not
believe so. Was that in 1968 or 1969?
P: Well, 1968 is when the [Florida] Constitution [was revised], and, as I say, the
final solution decisions were after you left the court. But I wondered if the
preliminary discussions and research and work was done while you were still
on the court.
0: No. I do not remember it. I remember the case.
P: I notice that one of the things I think you were interested in very early on was
constitutional revision, Article V of the [Florida] Constitution. That would
have what? Broadened the base of responsibility for the court?
0: It would lessen the number of courts. The Judicial Council of Florida was
a legislative body created to seek improvements in the court structures and
the operation of the courts. I was chairman of that body for about four or
five years following Judge [Elwyn] Thomas. It was that body that hatched out
and got the legislature to adopt the creation of the district courts of appeal,
which were part of the Constitution.
But in Florida in various counties there were fifteen different kinds of trial
courts. [There was] the circuit court, and you could go on down to the justice
of the peace [JP] courts which existed prior to the final revision of Article V.
P: Which happened in 1972.
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