Former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew was remembered Wednesday as a man who led as he lived – loving people and treating all as equals.
Friends and family remembered him as a governor of courage and conviction at a time of great social upheaval, a father and husband who cared deeply for his wife Donna Lou and their children, and as a kind, caring man who lived up to the idea that he should love others as he would want to be loved.
Or more simply put, he was a joy.
“He had a smile that would light up the sky,” said The Rev. Clarence Payne, a retired pastor from Askew’s church. “He was a joy. He had a way with people, an incredible way with people.”
Askew died last Thursday at 85. A Democrat, he served as governor from 1971 to 1979, a time when government trust was damaged by the Watergate scandal, the Vietnam War and segregation were ending and women were fighting for their rights.
He left an enduring legacy by making government more accessible and ethical. He integrated the Florida Highway Patrol, appointed the first black in 100 years to the Florida Cabinet and named the first black Supreme Court justice. He also appointed the first woman to the Cabinet and supported the Equal Rights Amendment.
While his record as governor was recognized throughout the service, he was honored even more for his character.
Former Congressman James Bacchus recalled meeting Askew in 1970 when he was a reporter and Askew was an obscure candidate for governor.
“There was this fellow named Askew who didn’t have a chance giving a speech I could barely believe because it was so true to the heart. And I’ve idolized that man ever since,” said Bacchus, who worked as an aide for Askew. “He transformed my life, as he transformed so many lives and as he transformed Florida.”
Bacchus said Askew went into politics not for himself, but for others.
“His faith was the fountainhead of all of what he did. He took seriously the biblical injunction to love one another,” Bacchus said. “Reubin Askew believed that God gave him great abilities so that he could use them to help other people. It was as simple as that. Gov. Askew did not need to be in politics.”
Former lawmaker and former Florida State University president Sandy D’Alemberte said Askew was a man of uncommon political courage, especially considering social attitudes at the time.
“He was called ‘Reubin the Good.’ Isn’t that remarkable? The person who coined that phrase, I suspect, intended that as a cynical remark and a derisive remark, but the truth of that matter, he simply was good,” said D’Alemberte. “When you think about Reubin Askew, you think about a person with good character, good judgment and charm.”
Kevin Askew told stories about a loving father with a great sense of humor who strove to treat him and his sister Angela with equal love.
“He tried to instill in us the values of treat other people as you want to be treated,” Askew said. “I try to pattern myself after him all the time and if I continue my life as half the man that he was, I’ll be doing pretty good.”
Former governors Bob Graham, Bob Martinez and Charlie Crist attended the service.
“It was exactly what Reubin would have wanted. It touched on his humanity and that his service was an extension of the way he felt about people – each deserving respect and fairness,” Graham said. “His public life was a reflection, not a deviation, from his private values.”
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.