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Sessums, T. Terrell.
T. Terrell Sessums
h [electronic resource] / interviewed by Harris Mullen.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (47 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (digital, PDF file)
Carlton-Anthony Tampa oral history project
Interview conducted on August 22, 1996.
Mode of access: World Wide Web
p Original version:
n VHS videocassette.
Mr. Terrell Sessums' distinguished legal and political careers are discussed, as well as his involvement in the early establishment of the University of South Florida as legislative aide to then Senator Sam Gibbons.
Sessums, T. Terrell.
University of South Florida
Mullen, Harris H.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
University of South Florida.
Resource Center for Florida History and Politics.
Oral History Program.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS
C O P Y R I G H T N O T I C E T h i s O r a l H i s t o r y i s c o p y r i g h t e d b y t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a L i b r a r i e s O r a l H i s t o r y P r o g r a m o n b e h a l f o f t h e B o a r d o f T r u s t e e s o f t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a C o p y r i g h t 2 0 0 7 U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a A l l r i g h t s r e s e r v e d T h i s o r a l h i s t o r y m a y b e u s e d f o r r e s e a r c h i n s t r u c t i o n a n d p r i v a t e s t u d y u n d e r t h e p r o v i s i o n s o f t h e F a i r U s e F a i r U s e i s a p r o v i s i o n o f t h e U n i t e d S t a t e s C o p y r i g h t L a w ( U n i t e d S t a t e s C o d e T i t l e 1 7 s e c t i o n 1 0 7 ) w h i c h a l l o w s l i m i t e d u s e o f c o p y r i g h t e d m a t e r i a l s u n d e r c e r t a i n c o n d i t i o n s F a i r U s e l i m i t s t h e a m o u n t o f m a t e r i a l t h a t m a y b e u s e d F o r a l l o t h e r p e r m i s s i o n s a n d r e q u e s t s c o n t a c t t h e U N I V E R S I T Y O F S O U T H F L O R I D A L I B R A R I E S O R A L H I S T O R Y P R O G R A M a t t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a 4 2 0 2 E F o w l e r A v e n u e L I B 1 2 2 T a m p a F L 3 3 6 2 0
Intervied with : T. Terrell Sessums Interviewed by: Harris Mullen Location: Tampa, Florida Date: August 22, 1996 Transcribed by: N/A Audit Edited by: N/A Final Edit by: N/A HM:= Harris Mullen TS:= T. Terrell Sessums HM: I'm Harris Mullen and our guest today is Terrell Sessums. Terrell has had a very distinguished career in legal and political matters. I'm going to start right off by asking him if he didn't have something to do with the establishment of USF here in this area. TS: Harris the original work had already been done by Sam Gibbons and Jim Moody when they were in the House. HM: But you worked with them then. TS: But I worked during the 1959 and the 1961 sessions as a legislative aide to then Senator Sam Gibbons. And the struggle during that period was to make sure that USF was provided with necessary funding for capital construction and start-up appropriations. And I had an opportunity as an aide to try to be helpful to Sam and to the other members of the Hillsborough delegation during that period. HM: Well there were some innerworkings to that I understand that didn't just happen all of a sudden. Didn't they have to kind of push you around a little bit to make it happen? TS: Well the University had already been authorized and work had I think started but during one of those sessions I remember USF appropriations almost got lost on a curve. The old "pork chop gang" that used to dominate the Florida Legislature was not really carried away with the idea of this new university. They didn't miss too many opportunities to try to slow it down and they almost did by putting its appropriations in a category of the budget that was not going to be funded. But then Governor Farris Bryant vetoed the provision that made that distinction and he and the other members of the Florida Cabinet saw that the necessary funds were
allocated so that construction proceeded. HM: You mentioned the "pork chop gang tell us a little bit about that organization. I'm sure you remember them well. TS: Well, it was really a political network of legislators primarily in the northern part of Florida. At that time because of the development of population in central and south Florida fewer and fewer people in Florida were able to elect a controlling majority of the legislature. I think the former editorial editor of the Tampa Tribune, Mr. James Clendenin penned the name pork chop gang." It was an appropriate name because although many capable legislators were in that group they took good care of their own districts and gave sort of second priority to other districts in the more populated areas of the state. Probably only about 12 to 15 percent of the population of Florida in those small north Florida counties elected a majority of both the Florida Senate and the Florida House and that was a real problem for people in the growing areas of Florida primarily in central and southern Florida. HM: Like a little northern Florida county would have as much representation as maybe Dade in certain respects huh? TS: That's correct yes. HM: Well how did...how did we...what happened to the "pork chop gang"? TS: Well it was a long struggle but the Florida Constitution required that the Legislature be reapportioned every ten years. What the "pork chop gang" had been failing to do had been to fairly reapportion. First Governor Collins I think maybe even starting with Governor Bryant several special sessions were called to try to force the legislature to fairly reapportion and they just didn't do it instead they offered several proposed constitutional amendments dealing with apportionment but these amendments were really sort of counterfeit amendments they would not really have resulted in any effective reapportionment. So committees for fair representation were formed around Florida to defeat those amendments and they were defeated. Finally in 1963 the legislature did add some additional seats in the legislature for the more populated counties. For instance Hillsborough which had had three legislative seats in the House and one in the Senate had three additional House seats granted to it under that reapportionment legislation. It did not result in completely fair reapportionment but it got the ball rolling. That didn't really occur until 1966 or perhaps 1967 when the Federal District Judge promulgated a reapportionment plan. I think from that time on the Florida Legislature has been
fairly apportioned consistent with the population of Florida. HM: Well you were very active into the educational part of the Legislature tell us something about the situation in Florida when you were active in education. What were the goals....what were the problems? TS: First of all I was elected in 1963 and I was interested in education primarily in higher education but I had not really focused on education as a whole. In 1967 the Legislature passed an appropriations bill which we thought made fair increases in the education appropriations. Then governor Claude Kirk vetoed that bill because he felt that it would require new taxes as a result the Legislature was forced because of a substantial Republican minority that supported Governor Kirk to pass a new appropriations bill that conformed to Governor Kirk's request and it provided less money for education. We went home and there was a great deal of agitation around the state a great deal of dissatisfaction with that appropriations bill. Governor Kirk then appointed a blue ribbon committee to advise him and the Legislature on what should be done to make Florida first in education. That committee after a few months recommended substantial increases in appropriations and a two cent increase in the State Sales Tax and an increase in a number of other taxes and the Legislature came back into session to consider those requests. We declined to approve all of the new taxes recommended. We did approve a one cent increase in the State Sales Tax... HM: Strictly for education? TS: For education and increases in the cigarette tax and some other excise taxes and did significantly increase the education appropriation. However leaders in Florida public education were still very unhappy and felt that they had been shortchanged so we had a state-wide teachers strike in 1968. I was very concerned with that many of my friends and constituents here in Hillsborough County were public school teachers. My wife had been a public school teacher other members of my family were and I tried hard to understand what the problem was and I became quite interested in public education. I found then that the problem was not only that the state was not necessarily appropriating enough money but that the money was not being equitably allocated among the different Florida school districts. So almost no matter how much money we appropriated a large school district such as Hillsborough still got short-changed on its allocation of state funds. That caused me to become quite interested in the subject and from then really until I became speaker in 1972 my main focus was on public education.
HM: You were chairman of Education Committee. TS: I chaired the House Education Committee from 1970 to 1972 yes. HM: How do you feel that Florida has come out of all this efforts and how do we stack up with the rest of the country education...? TS: Well we're a lot better off than we used to be. Education funds are more equitably allocated among Florida districts. We're not perfect but we're among one of the better states. Our level of funding is close to average our problem is that we don't have an average population. If our state was like Iowa or Utah where we had slow growth a fairly stable population fairly homogeneous population we probably could do a much better job with the funds we have. Florida however is one of those states that's experienced very rapid growth a lot of it from in-migration from nonEnglish speaking people so that our public schools have been given a tremendous burden. We still have not reached the millennium in providing for public education in my opinion. HM: Well we're asking for a sales tax increase coming up soon to fund I assume some of that is for capital expenditures in schools. TS: Locally yes. A good bit of it is for capital improvements for new schools yes. HM: Does that mean that we've haven't been able to come up with from the state's standpoint what we need in the education fund? TS: Well from neither a state or a local standpoint have we been able to provide enough money to fund capital construction. The State Department of Education indicates we're about a billion dollars a year short and Hillsborough is a county that's experiencing rapid growth in it's public school population because of the socalled babyboom echo. But without the capital improvements most of our schools will probably be back on double session within the next year or two. HM: You spent nine years on the Board of Regents how is this...has this been a useful tool to the state you think this devise.... TS: I think so the Board of Regents was intended originally to be sort of a buffer between the academic community on one hand and the state political community the Governor the Cabinet and the Legislature on the other. And I think it's done a fairly adequate job of doing that. However it frequently is like the person who is
caught between the dog and the fireplug. Either the political community is unhappy or the academic community is not happy because the Regents have to try to strike the proper balance. But Florida is a state with rapid growth has a developing university system. When you and I went to college Florida only had three fairly small state universities. Today we have ten of them and three of them including the University of South Florida are among the very largest in the country. And we have had to develop a State University System that provides access to Florida's rapidly growing population and also has given them high quality post-secondary educational institutions. So that during my term as a legislator and as a Regent we have undertaken to develop a Community College System with 28 community colleges and a State University System now with ten universities several of which have multi-campuses like USF. HM: Well there's always criticism that you can't have 10 great universities in a state. How do you react to that? Does this water us down to have ten as opposed to five? TS: Well Harris I think probably not. As surprising as it may seem we have fewer universities for our population than most states. California which is a state about three times our size only has nine State Universities however they have an intermediate tier another State University System with many institutions and a much larger Community College System. North Carolina a smaller state with excellent institutions has sixteen state universities in it. Florida really has fewer state universities and fewer state university students per capita. And we spend less money than most states. HM: You came to Tampa in what year? TS: 1958. My family had actually moved to Tampa in 1949. HM: From Jacksonville. TS: in 1949 right. My dad's company transferred him from Jacksonville to their Tampa office in '49 I was a freshman at the University of Florida so I started spending my summer holidays and my winter vacations in Tampa. Later when I graduated from Law School in 1958 I accepted an offer to go to work for a Tampa law firm. My wife and I have lived in Tampa ever since 1958. HM: Now you were an assistant to Sam Gibbons for awhile right?
TS: Yes in the 1959 and 1961 legislative sessions. HM: Tell us something about the in and out of that. I bet that was a pretty exciting time in your life. TS: Well it was a very educational experience for me. I had not been exposed to the Florida Legislature before. HM: Learned a little about politics didn't you? TS: I had studied political science and history as a student but I really was not acquainted with how state government actually worked. That's when I discovered how the pork chop gang really dominated our state government. If you weren't a member of that group you were treated politely but you were really outside the loop. Your vote hardly counted for anything because they had it all narrowly scripted. As a result in 1961 primary road funds in Florida were still distributed on the basis of the number of miles of primary roads in your district in 1930 which was not problem for the small no growth counties in north Florida but for rapidly growing counties like Pinellas Hillsborough Dade Duval Broward we were always behind the 8-ball with money for roads for education for almost all other public services. HM: Wasn't the paramutual tax done equally per county one 67th... TS: Yeh it was divided equally among 67 counties. HM: Is that still in effect? TS: No we were able to cap that in I believe 1968. We were not able to completely correct the inequity. What we had to do was provide that all the growth in that fund went in to the general appropriations bill. But dividing it equally among the 67 counties might not seem too bad until you realize that Florida had five or six counties with fewer than 5 000 people in them. HM: Yeh it was a real windfall. TS: So that in those counties the paramutual money produced more than $200 a citizen. In large counties it produced 25-30 cents per student so the small counties really didn't have any need for local taxes they were able to fund most of their services off their share of paramutual revenue. The larger growing counties just
were badly short-changed. We provided that all of the growth in that revenue fund would be distributed through the General Appropriations Bill on a per capita basis. HM: When the University of South Florida came to this area wasn't there a big push in Pinellas County to get the campus on that side of the Bay? TS: There was there was a competition among several areas to be able to host the new university. HM: Excuse me how did the legislation deal with it did they say it could be anywhere in a certain area? TS: I expect that came a little bit before me Harris. Sam Gibbons I'm sure could give a very authoritative answer to that but my understanding was that different counties in this areas were able to make proposals and the old Board of Control which was a predecessor to the Board of Regents. The Board then recommended the selection of the site in Hillsborough and I believe that that then was accepted by the State Board of Education. HM: Well there was a lot of offers for free land remember? TS: Yes there were. HM: And I think part of this was one big block that was given out here. TS: The Board of County Commissioners and the private community worked together in Hillsborough to assemble this site which was almost 1 800 acres. Part of it was some World War II surplus property that had been acquired by Hillsborough County. Other parts of the site were in private ownership and were contributed. And I gather that we were successful because of the size of the site and the fact that it was about 30 feet or more above sea level and did not have any apparent potential for flooding problems or hurricane damage. HM: How do you see the difference in political activity among our delegation today and in your period of time. Is there...are things handled about the same way they used to be or... TS: In some ways yes other ways no. HM: Did you have a staff did you have a paid staff?
TS: Harris there are a couple of differences one is in staffing the other is in the way legislative districts are established. When I first ran six House seats were allocated to Hillsborough County and we ran in one of six groups and all of us ran countywide. So I had to solicit votes in Plant City Wimauma Lithia Tampa Sulfer Springs Port Tampa all across the county and our whole delegation was elected by the same electorate and we were fairly collegial we tended to work together a little more closely than delegations today because we had the same voters. We had very little staff help. We were permitted to employ a temporary secretary during the 60 days the legislature was actually in session to help us answer our constituent mail. During my legislative service the legislature began to acquire more staff we were permitted to acquire a permanent secretary and later a legislative assistant or aide. HM: Per representative? Yes. TS: And also a temporary secretary to help with the legislative session. We were also given an allocation where we could maintain a small legislative office in our district. But the big change came I believe in 1980 when the legislature moved away from the old multi-member districts to single-member districts. Now each member of the Florida House of Representatives has a separate constituency. And I think it tended to make individual legislators a little more parochial a little more turf oriented. Before when we were all elected countywide we ultimately put the interest of the county as a whole ahead of any particular part of the county. Today it is a little bit harder to do that if you come from an area that feels that it is entitled to something that the rest of the county might not be. Also a legislator that has a larger broader constituency probably can exercise a little more independence because there are different constituencies so that he or she can afford occasionally to differ from some element of his constituency but if you're in a single-member district with an interest group that's apt to be much more dominant it very hard to have a difference of opinion. HM: When did the state go to the annual sessions do you know? TS: I believe we started doing that in about 1967 or '68. HM: Was that a big change for everybody? Do you think it was a good change? TS: It was. Probably an unavoidable change. When we were first elected we met for 60 days every other year but when Governor Kirk was elected in 1966 you may recall in his inaugural address he called the Legislature into special session the next
week. So we spent half of our time during his administration in legislative session and it pretty much forced us to go to more staffing and to go to annual legislative sessions. So when the new State Constitution was adopted in 1968 it made provisions for annual legislative sessions. HM: Tell us who you feel some of the great leaders of the state have been. TS: Well Florida has had a number of them. I think in their own way most of our governors have been good leaders. I remember Governor LeRoy Collins as an outstanding governor. I think Governor Farris Bryant was a better governor that some give him credit for. I think he helped move our state through a period of transition and he was a great friend of higher education. He sponsored what was called the College Building Amendment or the earmarking of a specific state excise tax to permit the construction of college buildings that in turn has permitted the expansion of capital facilities of our university system. He looked after USF and kept it from being short-changed in the appropriations process. Governor Hayden Burns followed for a two-year term and there was a certain amount of political negotiation and dealing in it but we were able to secure the passage of the legislation that provided for the College of Medicine and Nursing during his term. Later Governor Ruben Askew I thought was a truly outstanding governor. He was followed by Governor Bob Graham. Now I was out of the legislature when Bob Graham was elected. He had been a colleague of mine in the legislature and Bob was the one who asked me to serve on the Board of Regents which I did but both Governor Askew and Governor Graham were strong education governors I thought all around they were very conscientious very able and effective governors for Florida. HM: Where were you when the med school came our here what stage of career was it? TS: I was a member of the House and I had advocated the establishment of a medical school here and the Chamber of Commerce proposed that also and established a task force or committee. Our delegation supported the idea. So we introduced the legislation. The chronology is a little hazy I think that it was established during the twoyear period Governor Hayden Burns was governor. I remember our legislation was bottled up in the House until several of us agreed to support Governor Burns' proposed Road Bond Amendment in exchange for the enactment of our medical school legislation which helps me remember it. We didn't particularly favor the Road Bond Amendment but we agreed that we would support it so it could be put on the ballot for public referendum.
HM: Do you see any of these...all your old political friends anymore? TS: Occasionally. During my service... HM: Reunions at Tallahassee at all? TS: It's been customary for the new Speaker of the House every two years to invite former speakers back up for the opening session. Some of these folks I think are outstanding Floridians. The first speaker when I went up was E.C. Rowell of Wildwood. E.C. has passed away and was identified with the old "pork chop gang" but unknown to many E.C. was a graduate of Hillsborough High School and very close to many of us in the Hillsborough delegation and a good friend and helpful and I thought over all a good Speaker. Next was Speaker Ralph Turlington who was I thought an excellent Speaker. Ralph was followed by a Speaker Fred Schultz from Jacksonville then Speaker Dick Pettigrew from Miami all of whom were very progressive constructive hard working Speakers that I had a privilege to serve under and to work with. I think they were all outstanding Floridians. In the Senate Senator Verle Pope was an outstanding leader. HM: The Lion of St. Johns. TS: The Lion of St. Johns and he was followed by a number of effective senators including our own Louis De la parte who became president of the Florida Senate when Senate President Mallory Horne resigned to seek the U.S. Senate. But in our own Hillsborough delegation I was privileged to serve with just an outstanding group of people. Representative Jim Redman from Plant City Representative Paul Danahy who is who is now a District Court of Appeals judge Dr. Richard Hodes who has been very active in education and others. I think the only surviving member that I served with who is still in the House is Representative Elvin Martinez who has been very active in the criminal justice area. HM: Um huh he's still there. I read recently where Dr. Lombardi kind of got crossways with the Board of Regents. Did you follow that story at all? TS: Yes. HM: But he seems to have come out alright. TS: Well there is inherently a certain level of dynamic tension in relations between the presidents and the regents and the legislature. Each college president wants the Board of Regents to support him/her and their institution and the Board of Regents
wants the presidents to work harmoniously as parts of the system and to avoid unilateral action that would compromise their group efforts to secure funding and support for the system and I think that Dr. Lombardi may have gotten a little bit out front in the opinion of a few regents. But I'm glad they were able to reason together and work out their differences and to continue to work harmoniously because I think Dr. Lombardi has been a very able a very outstanding president. HM: Apparently the people came to his support in droves. TS: Yes. HM: Well tell us a little bit about when you served as president of the Chamber of Commerce. What changes have you seen in Tampa that might be a... TS: Well tremendous changes. The population of Tampa has almost tripled since I came here as a young lawyer. I remember on one of my first weekends driving out to see where they're going to put this new University of South Florida which wasn't here then. Now it is one of the largest state universities in the country and a very good one. It has gratifying to see all of this development the improvement of our airport the improvement of our port the development of sports facilities the development of our Community College System. As a legislator one of my privileges was to secure the enactment of legislation to establish Hillsborough Community College which was one of the last ones established. I've worked with our port on its harbor deepening project to its development as one of Americas major deep water ports. I've traveled around the world and although we still have many problems in Tampa many challenges it's one of the finest places in the world and a great place to live. HM: How do you feel about the USF football team? TS: Oh I think it's a positive if it's properly managed. If a football program is done honestly and ethically it's good for the athletes it's good for the institution. HM: They make money don't they? I mean it will help support a larger athletic program. TS: It will help the University generally. I don't think our friends at the University of Florida or Florida State University are complaining too badly about their football programs. I know that the Gator Boosters spins off an extra million or two dollars a year to support the libraries and faculty development as well as fund a very
complete scholarship program for several hundred student athletes. HM: You grew up in Jacksonville right? TS: Yes I was born in Daytona Beach but actually grew up in Jacksonville. HM: Tell us a little something about your early life there. We like to hear about..... TS: Alright. Jacksonville like Tampa was a much different community.... HM: 'Bout the same size? Maybe bigger. TS: Little bit more land more of a big city. Jacksonville was not all that attractive a city. I think probably in about 1949 they had a major waterfront fire that burned down a lot of old decrepit waterfront docks. And Jacksonville's renaissance as a city started in about 1950. Today I think it's a very attractive a very major prospering city. I graduated from high school in Jacksonville in 1948 from Andrew Jackson High School. A few years later my wife graduated from Landon High School. We only had three public high schools in Jacksonville then as I think there were only three in Tampa Jefferson Hillsborough and Plant. Now both communities have several dozen high schools. They have grown tremendously. I was born in Daytona and at the end of the second grade my family moved to Jacksonville. HM: What did your father do what kind of business was he in? TS: My father when he came to Tampa was a senior clerk or office manager for Sinclair Refining Company's district office and had been with them for a number of years. My mother as ladies used to be was a homemaker. HM: Did you ever meet Ed Ball up there in Jacksonville? TS: I met him I know who he is but I don't think Ed Ball would have had the slightest idea who I was. However as a college student I did receive an academic scholarship from the DuPont Foundation and wrote a thank you letter to Mrs. Ball who was actively involved in that. That was Jessie Ball DuPont. HM: Well we used to have a lot of fun probing in Mr. Ball's activities in Florida... TS: Well he was a key man in Florida politics because the "pork chop gang"...
HM: He thought like they did yeh. He was very conservative. TS: He worked very closely with them. I think that Mr. Ball met with the leaders of the "pork chop gang" down at Waculla Springs or at a fishing camp at Knuxall's Rise once or twice a year and the major public policy decisions for the state of Florida were made who the candidates for governor were going to be who the president of the Senate was going to be who the Speaker of the House would be whose campaign would be funded. . HM: Where we're going to build the roads. TS: Where we're going to build roads what projects we're going to get funded and the "pork chop gang" then implemented those decisions. HM: You mentioned roads the old Road Board you know we used to have talk a little bit about how that's changed. I know we don't have that system anymore. TS: Well a lot of that changed during my tenure. We used to have a Road Board and a Road Board member from each of the districts... HM: Powerful job. TS: had pretty complete control over the allocation of road money within that district and had a lot to do with it. And if you had a Road Board member who was from your district who was politically very close to the governor as most were and were favored with adequate funding they could do a lot for transportation and your district. Later the funding formulas were changed so that funds were allocated on a more equitable basis and priorities set on a more objective basis and the Road Board as we used to remember it was done away with. So it's done now more on a professional basis. HM: That changed some time back I guess. TS: I forget the exact year I think it probably started changing during Governor Collins' administration. HM: Well tell us some more about your early life you haven't hardly hit the high points. You must have had some interesting facets that we ought to know about. TS: Well I guess like many people I'm a native Floridian whose grandparents and
parents moved into Florida in time for me to be a native Floridian. One set of grandparents moved here from Memphis Tennessee in the '20s to the Daytona Beach area the other pair of grandparents moved here from the Dakotas in the '20s in the Ormand Beach area. My father and mother were college students in the 20s. My father at Washington and Lee and my mother at Boston University. They met during the summers in Daytona were married and... HM: She was a Yankee? TS: Well more of a Westerner. She actually was born in Cheyenne Wyoming lived there and in Springfield Missouri until her father moved the family to Florida. They lived briefly in Tampa she went to I think Gorrie School and Woodrow Wilson until they moved over to the east coast. She had some early childhood recollections of living in the Hyde Park area of Tampa. My grandparents had been involved in politics of their states. My paternal grandfather had been the Deputy State Treasurer in Arkansas he my greatgrandfather and father were all born in Little Rock although my father grew up in Memphis where my grandfather had moved. He married the bosses daughter the State Treasurer's daughter then relocated and went into business in Memphis. He came to Florida to oversee some investments in hotel properties and land that he and a business group from Little Rock and Memphis had made in the east coast area. My other grandfather was a contractor who became very active in the old State Townsend Movement and had become active in state politics and had supported the late Senator Matthews who had been a gubernatorial candidate and became a Supreme Court Justice not his son but the father in the Jacksonville area so I had been given some exposure to civic life and politics and as a college student decided that when I grew up I wanted to be able to be active in public affairs and the University of Florida... HM: Were you active politically on the University of Florida campus? TS: Well I decided that that would be as good a training ground as any. I served as student body president and was active in the Debate Society and Florida Blue Key so that later when I became a member of the Legislature many members of the Legislature were friends of mine or acquaintances of mine from college days. Dick Pettigrew my predecessor was a good friend a former Blue Key brother at Florida was actually a high school classmate of mine. Fred Schultz had grown up in Jacksonville with me and I knew legislators around the state primarily because of my college experience. Today there are more state universities than then so that experience is not quite as apt to be replicated. But I thought that I was very well prepared as an undergraduate for participation in public life in Florida.
HM: Do you do much courtroom law or are you basically corporate law? TS: Not very much. The first 15 or 20 years of my practice here I was involved in an adversarial type practice mostly representing injured workmen in Worker's Compensation cases. In more recent years my practice has been more general and a little bit more business oriented. HM: There are a lot of comments now about the judicial system in this country I guess sort of brought on by O.J.'s trial and so forth. Do you have any changed views on that or are you...have you changed you views or has it made any effect on you? TS: Well it's...I don't think the judicial system has changed very much. I still have a high degree of confidence in it. It's much more in the public view than it used to be. As a young lawyer when I would try cases there were no television cameras in the court occasionally some mention might be made in newspaper if you got a celebrity. Trials were shorter and less complicated. Today if you're involved in a celebrity trial it's a very expensive complicated media event and I'm not sure we've really learned yet how to properly handle those. HM: How many judges did we have when you started practicing law. TS: Gee whiz only a handful. I can't remember exactly but we have many more judges now. I remember once a few lawyers tried to persuade me to become a judge and I felt that if I were to become a judge I would sentence myself to a monastic existence because I'd only be able to have dinner lunch visit with other judges I'd have to isolate myself largely from the Bar or potential litigants and it was a very isolated life. Today there is a small army of judges and it's probably a less isolated existence. HM: Was the old courthouse still standing when you came? TS: It was still standing when my family moved here. When I came to practice it had been replaced with the current courthouse. HM: Well it was a shame we should have never torn that down. TS: It was. I don't think we appreciated the historic significance of it. HM: It would have made a wonderful museum and a great place downtown.
TS: It was very unique. When I first came to Tampa I was impressed by several things number one the old Plant Hotel and the old Moorish courthouse I thought they were very unusual for their architecture. I was impressed with a railroad train ran through the middle of town which I thought was unique and then I thought Tampa had just a very favorable climate and great location by the bay and off the gulf. HM: You were active at the University of Tampa weren't you? TS: I later became a Trustee and served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the University of Tampa. In fact I was serving there when Bob Graham asked me to serve on the Florida Board of Regents. HM: It's kind of nice to have a balance of private and public education. TS: It is. In more recent years I've been serving as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Florida Southern College in Lakeland. One of my children...my daughter was a student there and my wife and I were on a parents committee so later when I finished my tour of duty at the Board of Regents and thirteen years as the University of Tampa Trustee I accepted an invitation to serve on that Board. HM: Tell us about you children what do they do? TS: Well I have three children the oldest my son Tom is 34 he has his own small business here in Tampa my son Richard is a computer systems engineer working with a small firm here he's married. My daughter-in-law Beth is a native Tampan she is a kindergarten teacher they have two lovely children so we have a 4-year-old granddaughter and a 6 month grandson. My daughter Sandra graduated from Florida Southern married a young man who completed his work at the University of Tampa they live near Winter Park in the Orlando area have a little 6-year-old and a 2-year-old. So we've gotten to be active grandparents trying to keep up with our children and their families. HM: How has the computer affected the law business? TS: A great deal. We are able to access research information much more rapidly. HM: That should make fees go down shouldn't it? TS: Except for the cost of the equipment and the software services.
HM: Do you use computer a lot? TS: I don't but the younger lawyers do much more. HM: Like you punch a button and get a brief. TS: I'm able to turn my monitor on and use the e-mail function but I don't really...I have not mastered the computerized research yet so I utilize the associate lawyers and one of our professional librarians to bring up the data that I want for analysis. HM: And how many lawyers in your firm? TS: I would have to guess I think we probably have about 75 to 80 lawyers in the firm now. HM: Do you look at the University of Florida as a primary source of replenishment? TS: Yes there are many fine law schools but the University of Florida is outstanding and probably more of our young lawyers come from the University of Florida than any other single law school. Although we have lawyers in our firm from most major American and Southeastern law schools. HM: Do you have...how 'bout your lady population? TS: Female as opposed to male are you asking? HM: Do you follow that rule pretty good? TS: Well we have a number of lady partners in our firms Stella Ferguson Thayer is one of our partners several others and a number of very capable outstanding young ladies as associate lawyers. I would say that today you can count almost a third of the new young lawyers being women. HM: I understand that in the CPA field that more than half of the new hirees are women. TS: That wouldn't surprise me. HM: That's certainly a change.
TS: It is. I remember my class at law school had one lady in it and she was unique. HM: She was probably smart too. TS: She was yes. HM: Well Terrell it's been wonderful talking to you. I think that we've covered a lot of interesting ground and I hope that these words will be etched for posterity and we appreciate you coming out here and helping the Library put this information together and I think it will probably be maybe a hundred years from now somebody will be listening to that and they'll say well I wonder who those guys were. Thank you it's been a real pleasure. TS: It's been a pleasure to be here Harris thank you. HM: We'll be seeing you down the line. TS: Good thank you.