Today we are saddened to mark the passing of Reubin O’Donovan Askew, FSU alumnus, professor, and former Governor of Florida. Askew, born in Muskogee, Oklahoma on September 11, 1928, died early this morning surrounded by family members at Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare, he was 85. He served as Governor from 1971 to 1979 and as U.S. trade Representative from 1979-1980.
Previous to his long and eventful political career, Askew was an active student at Florida State. After serving in the United States Army from 1946-1948, he attended FSU on the G.I. Bill and became Class President during his sophomore year in 1949, a member of the University Senate in 1950, and as a senior, served as President of the University Government Association in 1951. Since 1995 he had been on the faculty here at FSU, and was also the Senior Fellow of the Florida Institute of Government. Since 2000, he was the Eminent Scholar Chair at the Askew School of Public Administration and Policy teaching Florida Government & Politics, and held 15 honorary doctorates from institutions around the nation.
Askew was known as a champion for racial and gender equality and was the impetus for many “firsts” in Florida. He integrated the Florida Highway Patrol, appointed the first black Supreme Court justice of a Southern state, appointed the first black member of the Cabinet in over a hundred years, created the five regional water management districts, made the Public Service Commission appointed rather than elected, called for rehabilitation rather than the jailing of alcoholics. One of his most notable acts was to pardon Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee, two black men wrongly convicted by an all-white jury and sent to Death Row in the killing of two gas station attendants in Port St. Joe, Florida.