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Great Floridians Program

The Great Floridian designation is presented in recognition of the outstanding achievements of men and women who have made significant contributions to the progress and welfare of this state.

Under Section 267.0731, Florida Statutes, the Division shall nominate present or former citizens of Florida, living or deceased, who during their lives have made major contributions to the progress and welfare of the nation, or the state and its citizens. Nominations are submitted to the Secretary of State who selects at least two people annually to be honored with the designation “Great Floridian."

For more information email [email protected].

The Florida Department of State and the Florida League of Cities also recognized a number of Floridians during a commemorative project at the turn of the century.  This was known as the Great Floridians 2000 program. 

Great Floridians

Name Description
Justice Alto Lee Adams, Sr.

Adams was a Florida Supreme Court Justice (1940–51 and 1967–68) and served as Chief Justice from 1949–1951. He was also a lawyer, circuit court judge, and cattle rancher in St. Lucie County.

Horacio Aguirre

Aguirre was a publisher and international journalist and founding editor of Diario Las Americas, a Miami-based Spanish-language newspaper. He was a strong advocate for a free press internationally.

Reubin O'D. Askew

Askew was Florida's 37th Governor (1971–1979) and argued for financial transparency in government. He championed the Florida Constitution’s Sunshine Amendment which was ratified by 80% of voters.

Pedro Menéndez de Avilés

Menéndez was a Spanish admiral who, in 1565, founded St. Augustine, the oldest continuously inhabited city established by Europeans in the present-day United States. He was the first governor of Spanish Florida.

Mary McLeod Bethune

Bethune was founder of what is now known as Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. From the early 1900s to the 1950s, Bethune was an influential activist for the civil rights of women and Black Americans.

Lt. General Albert Hazen Blanding

Blanding was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal during World War I for leading his unit in the attack on Germany's Hindenburg Line. The state's infantry training center in Starke was named in his honor, and during World War II, Camp Blanding was one of the largest in the nation.

Coach Bobby Bowden

Coach Bobby Bowden, the second winningest coach in major college football history, guided the Florida State University football team to more than 300 victories and two national championships.

Caroline Mays Brevard

Born in 1860, Brevard was a researcher and prolific author. A graduate of Columbia University, she returned home to Tallahassee to teach high school and later at the Florida State College for Women.

The Honorable Charles H. Bronson

Charles H. Bronson is a fifth-generation Florida cattle rancher who served as Florida’s 10th Agriculture Commissioner, from 2001 to 2010. Under his leadership the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services implemented innovative programs to promote and protect Florida agriculture.

Derrick Brooks

Pensacola native Derrick Brooks played for the Florida State Seminoles football team before going on to play 14 years for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Considered one of the best linebackers in NFL history, Brooks is now dedicated to his charity work and advocacy of the importance of education.

Cecil Farris Bryant

Bryant was Florida's 34th Governor (1961–1965), having first served as a state legislator. After service as Governor, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Bryant to the National Security Council.

Governor Jeb Bush

Bush was Florida's 43rd Governor (1999–2007) and led efforts to computerize state government. He oversaw disaster management during the 2004-2005 hurricane seasons when six hurricanes hit Florida.

James Robert Cade, Ph.D

In 1965, Dr. Cade led a team of researchers at the University of Florida who developed a drink containing salts and sugars that formed the basis for Gatorade. One of Cade's many inventions was the first shock-dissipating football helmet. The Cade Museum for Creativity + Invention is named for him.

Richard Keith Call R. K. Call was the third (March 16, 1836) and fifth (March 19, 1841) Territorial Governor of Florida. As a soldier, lawyer, planter, and developer, Call played a prominent role in politics until his death in 1862. 
Lawton M. Chiles

Chiles was Florida's 41st Governor (1991–1998) having first served as U.S. Senator (1971–1989). Governor Chiles’ lawsuit against the tobacco industry resulted in a $11.3 billion settlement for the state.

Mary Call Darby Collins

Collins was Florida’s First Lady (1955–1961) and a lifelong preservationist. From her ancestral home, The Grove, she also served as a gubernatorial appointee to the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board.

Thomas LeRoy Collins

Collins was Florida's 33rd Governor (1955–1961). During the modern civil rights movement, Collins was viewed as a moderate and served as chairman of the 1960 Democratic National Convention.

Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte

D’Alemberte was a lawyer, state representative, former president of the American Bar Association, professor, and president of Florida State University from 1994 to 2003.

Walter Elias "Walt" Disney With his brother Roy, Walter Elias "Walt" Disney co-founded Walt Disney Productions, one of the world’s best-known motion-picture production companies. The success in 1955 of their Disneyland theme park in California inspired Walt to lay plans for development of the even larger Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando opened on October 1, 1971, forever changing the state.
Hamilton Disston

Disston bought four million acres of land in South Florida in 1881 for $1 million. Disston's purchase primed the state's economy and led to the railroad building efforts of Henry Flagler and Henry Plant two decades later.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas

Douglas was an activist for women’s suffrage, civil rights, and the environment. In 1947, she authored her most famous work, The Everglades: River of Grass. Douglas founded Friends of the Everglades.

Tony Dungy

Dungy is a former professional football player and retired coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Indianapolis Colts. During his seven years leading the Colts, he became the first African American head coach to win a Super Bowl.

William Pope DuVal

DuVal was Florida's first civilian Territorial Governor (1822–1834). He chose Tallahassee as the capital of the territory and during his twelve-year governorship was able to avoid war with the native peoples.

Thomas Alva Edison

Edison was an inventor, scientist, and businessman who came to Fort Myers in 1885. For the next fifty years, Edison and his wife Mina spent winters and springs in Fort Myers, while he did research at the Edison Botanic Research Corporation laboratory.

Justice Richard W. Ervin, Jr.

Elected as Florida’s Attorney General in 1948, Ervin remained in that office until his appointment to the Florida Supreme Court in 1964. He was Chief Justice from 1969 to 1971, and continued on the court until 1975.

Chester Howell Ferguson Ferguson was a prominent Tampa attorney and businessman, with a long and distinguished community service record. He served for 14 years as a member of the Florida Board of Regents, including two terms as chair, while the university system went from three to nine universities.
Henry Morrison Flagler Flagler was an industrialist and developer of the east coast of Florida by building luxury hotels and connecting them to his Florida East Coast Railroad, which eventually went as far south as Key West in 1912. From the 1880s to the 1910s, Flagler promoted Florida as a winter destination for America’s elite.
William Patrick Foster

Foster was the band director of internationally acclaimed Florida A&M University Marching “100" for 52 years from 1946 to 1998. His innovative techniques and style revolutionized marching band programs across the nation and brought great recognition to the University and the State of Florida.

William Henry Getty (Bill) France

Bill France Sr. founded the National Association for Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) in 1948, and promoted motor sports in the U.S., especially at the Daytona International Speedway. NASCAR is a sanctioning body of American stock car racing.

Alonzo "Jake" Gaither

Gaither was the head football coach at Florida A&M University from 1945 to 1969. As one of the winningest coaches in the country, Gaither had a significant impact on players and the University.

Bernardo de Gálvez

Gálvez was a Spanish military leader and commanded Spanish forces in New Spain. Gálvez aided the rebelling American colonies and led the Spanish armies against Britain in the Revolutionary War. He defeated the British at the 1781 Battle of Pensacola and reconquered West Florida for Spain.

Lt. General James M. Gavin

In 1942, Gavin was given command of a parachute infantry regiment in the newly formed 82nd Airborne Division. Those paratroopers were an integral part of the Normandy invasion on D-Day. Former Lt. General Gavin served as the U.S. Ambassador to France from 1961 to 1962.

Dr. John Gorrie

Dr. Gorrie was a physician, scientist, and inventor who lived in Apalachicola in the early 1800s, where he studied tropical diseases. He proposed draining swamps and cooling patients’ rooms to improve public health. He invented a machine to make ice and is sometimes called the Father of Air Conditioning.

Senator Bob Graham

As a state legislator, two-term governor, and a three-term U.S. Senator, Graham served more than four decades in public service at the local, state, and national levels.

Dr. Pedro José Greer, Jr.

Physician Dr. Pedro José Greer Jr. is founder of the Camillus Health Concern, which delivers health services to thousands of homeless people, and the St. John Bosco Clinic, which serves disadvantaged people in Miami’s Little Havana. In 2009, Greer was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Ben Hill Griffin, Jr.

Griffin was a prominent businessman in citrus fruit, sugarcane, sod production, cattle ranching, forestry, and banking. He served twelve years as a state legislator and was a generous patron of college sports and higher education in Florida.

The Honorable Bill Gunter Gunter served as a member of the Florida State Senate from 1966 to 1972. He was elected to serve in the United States House of Representatives 1973–1975, and from 1976 to 1988 he served as Florida’s insurance commissioner, treasurer, and fire marshal.
Paula Hawkins

In 1972, Hawkins won a seat on the Florida Public Service Commission. In 1980, Hawkins became Florida's first female U.S. Senator. She was a consumer rights advocate and championed the 1982 Missing Children’s Act.

Al Hoffman

Hoffman was a developer and builder who became a cultural and arts sponsor for many years. He served as chairman of the Florida Education Foundation, founding chairman of Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Performing Arts Center, and trustee of the Florida Arts Council.

Governor Spessard Holland

Holland was a lawyer who served as a state senator for eight years, and then was elected governor (1941–1945). Holland was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 1946, and subsequently was elected to four six-year terms.

Senator Mallory E. Horne

Horne was a state legislator who became the first person since Reconstruction to serve as both Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives and President of the Florida Senate.

Wayne Huizenga

Successful businessman and entrepreneur, Wayne Huizenga is the founder of three Fortune 500 corporations: Waste Management, Inc., Blockbuster Video, and AutoNation. As the initial owner of the Florida Marlins and Florida Panthers, Huizenga brought baseball and hockey to the South Florida area.

Archbishop Joseph Patrick Hurley

Archbishop Hurley was a Vatican diplomat for thirteen years until he became the Bishop of St. Augustine in 1940. He has been credited with preserving The East Florida Papers, and has been recognized as a significant leader of post-World War II St. Augustine.

Zora Neale Hurston

Hurston was a writer, folklorist, and cultural anthropologist working during the first half of the twentieth century. Hurston documented and wrote about Black culture in the American South and in Haiti and Jamaica. Her most notable novels were Their Eyes Were Watching God and Jonah’s Gourd Vine.

Tony Jannus

As one of the pilots of early American aviation, Jannus piloted the world's first person to parachute from a moving airplane in 1912. Jannus famously piloted the first scheduled commercial flight which went from St. Petersburg to Tampa in twenty-three minutes.

George Washington Jenkins

In 1930, Jenkins founded Publix, the largest employee-owned supermarket chain in the United States. Beyond satisfied customers and successful employees, Jenkins wanted to make a difference in the community and the food industry. Jenkins made Publix Florida’s largest commercial employer.

May Mann Jennings

Jennings was a conservationist, activist, and an influential leader of civic and philanthropic organizations. She was Florida First Lady 1901–1905, President of the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs, and co-founder of Florida State League of Women Voters.

Senator Toni Jennings Toni Jennings was Florida’s first woman Lieutenant Governor and two-term President of the Florida Senate. Jennings is also a successful businesswoman, and former fifth grade teacher.
The Honorable Frederick Brennan Karl

Between 1956 and 1978, Karl served in the Florida House of Representatives, Florida State Senate, and Florida Supreme Court. During World War II, he was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, and was later awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart medals.

Juan Ponce de León Written records about life in Florida began with the arrival of the Spanish explorer and adventurer Juan Juan Ponce de León. Having been granted royal permission to explore for lands to the northwest of Puerto Rico, Ponce de León waded ashore on the east coast of Florida sometime between April 2 and April 8, 1513. He called the area La Florida, in honor of Pascua Florida (“feast of the flowers”), Spain’s Easter time celebration.
Senator Connie Mack

U.S. Senator Connie Mack served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1983 to 1988, then spent two terms in the U.S. Senate before retiring in 2001. While in office he supported such issues as health care legislation, public housing reform, and revising the tax code.

Charlotte Maguire, MD Dr. Maguire earned her medical degree in 1944, and was one of the first women doctors to set up her own pediatric practice in Orlando. She later advocated for the creation of the Florida State University College of Medicine and provided a generous donation to start the school.
Governor Bob Martinez

Former Tampa mayor Bob Martinez served as Florida governor from 1987 to 1991. He took a strong interest in environmental issues, beginning Preservation 2000, a major program to acquire and protect sensitive land, and also strengthened the Save the Everglades program.

Captain David McCampbell

The U.S. Navy's all-time leading ace, Captain David McCampbell served in World War II. He became one of the few pilots to earn the Medal of Honor for aerial combat after he shot down nine enemy planes, a record for one mission.

Dr. Sarah McKay

A leader in advocating for civics education in Florida, Dr. McKay made a significant gift to Florida Southern College to endow a professorship focusing on civics and American history. She also backed an initiative to present civics education programs to Polk County students.

General Craig McKinley

Jacksonville native and four-star general, Craig McKinley was the first chief of the National Guard Bureau to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In that role, General McKinley was a military adviser to the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the National Security Council.

Dr. Mae McMillan

Educator Dr. Mae McMillan was known for a lifetime of dedication to spreading learning in her community. She started tutoring children in Fort Lauderdale in the early 1930s, before founding Pine Crest School, which became a highly acclaimed school still in existence today.

Harry T. Moore

Leading civil rights activist, Harry T. Moore organized Brevard County’s first NAACP branch in 1934, and later became a full-time organizer for the Florida NAACP. Moore and his wife Harriette were killed when a bomb exploded underneath their house on Christmas night, 1951.

Stephen C. O'Connell

In 1955, Governor Leroy Collins appointed Stephen C. O’Connell to the Florida Supreme Court where he was later elected chief justice. In 1967, he was chosen president of the University of Florida (UF), the first UF graduate to lead the university, and retired in 1973.

Eugene Patterson

As editor of the Atlanta Constitution in the 1960s, Eugene Patterson won a Pulitzer Prize for his editorials on civil rights. He later moved to The Washington Post, and then became chairman and chief executive officer of the St. Petersburg Times, where he remained until 1988.

Claude Denson Pepper

A U.S. senator from 1936 to 1951, Claude Pepper served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1963 to 1989. In Congress, he was known for his support for the elderly, and was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s top civilian honor, in 1989.

Charles W. Pierce

One of the legendary "Barefoot Mailmen," Charles W. Pierce carried mail from Palm Beach to Miami by boat and by walking along the beach in the late 1800s. He was also long-time Boynton Beach postmaster and wrote a book about his early life pioneering in South Florida.

Henry Plant

Industrialist Henry Plant founded a system of railroads and steamship lines. He constructed a railroad to Tampa in the late 1800s, built hotels to draw tourists to Florida, and developed facilities at the Port of Tampa to accommodate steamships, turning the area into a major transportation hub.

Richard (Dick) Pope

In the 1930s, Richard (Dick) Pope opened Cypress Gardens theme park in Winter Haven. He became a major publicist and promoter of Florida, helping to turn the state into a modern international tourist destination, and was known as “Mr. Florida.”

Lilly Pulitzer

Lillian Pulitzer Rousseau founded Lilly Pulitzer, Inc., a company producing clothing and other wares featuring bright, colorful, floral prints. The popular brand, established in the late 1950s and manufactured in Miami and Key West, was revived in the late 1990s and continues to enjoy success today.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings moved to Cross Creek, near Gainesville, in the late 1920s, and wrote short stories and books centered on rural themes. She won a Pulitzer Prize for The Yearling, her best-known work, and penned the now-classic Cross Creek, a story of her life in the area.

Governor Harrison Reed Republican governor of Florida during Reconstruction (1868–73), Governor Reed tried to enfranchise formerly enslaved Black men and introduce social reforms in the face of much hostility. He successfully stabilized the state’s financial and taxation system, which had been shattered by the Civil War.
Nathaniel Pryor Reed

Assistant Secretary of the Interior in the Nixon and Ford administrations (1971–77), environmentalist Nathaniel Reed also served as Special Assistant to Florida Governor Claude Kirk, (1967–1971). For many years, he was a member of the Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District.

Eddie Rickenbacker

World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker was a race car driver before entering the war. He went on to successfully lead Eastern Airlines for many years, promoted travel to Florida for tourism and business, and made Eastern into the leading airline in Florida.

Marshall E. "Doc" Rinker, Sr. Founder of Rinker Materials, the largest producer of ready-mix concrete and block in Florida, Rinker became a generous contributor to cultural and educational institutions in the state.
B.K. Roberts

Appointed to the Florida Supreme Court in 1949, Justice Roberts served three times as chief justice. He helped start Florida’s District Court of Appeal system and public defender system, helped create a new law school at Florida State University in 1965, and retired from the court in 1975.

General Norman Schwarzkopf West Point graduate and Vietnam War veteran, General Norman Schwarzkopf became a four-star general and commander of the U.S. Central Command, leading forces in the Persian Gulf War. He also helped found Camp Boggy Creek in Eustis, a camp for seriously ill children and their families.
Betty Schlesinger Sembler A founding member of Straight, Inc., a nonprofit drug treatment program, Betty Sembler also founded Save Our Society from Drugs (S.O.S.), and the Drug Free America Foundation, Inc. She served on an anti-drug state task force, anti-drug national conference, and helped shape national anti-drug policies.
Congressman E. Clay Shaw, Jr.

Fort Lauderdale Congressman E. Clay Shaw Jr. served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981 to 2007. He introduced the Missing Children’s Act of 1982, backed legislation to fight the war on drugs, worked for welfare reform, and pushed through legislation designed to help Everglades restoration.

Don Shula As head coach of the Miami Dolphins from 1970 to 1995, Don Shula led his team to back-to-back Super Bowl victories in 1972 and 1973, and to the National Football League's only perfect season in 1972. He holds the NFL record for most career wins with 347.
George A. Smathers

After serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, George Smathers was elected to the U. S. Senate in 1950, where he remained until 1969. His interests focused on Latin American and Cuban issues, but he also helped pass the bills that created Medicare and the Small Business Administration.

Chesterfield Smith

A 1948 graduate of the University of Florida School of Law, Chesterfield Smith served as president of the Florida Bar Association and led the American Bar Association in 1973–74. He was a well-known advocate for justice and legal services for the poor. 

Emmitt Smith Former University of Florida football player Emmitt Smith played in the National Football League (NFL) during the 1990s and 2000s, and is considered one of the greatest running backs in NFL history. He won three Super Bowl championships, and in the 1993 season was named NFL Most Valuable Player.
The Honorable Jim Smith

Jim Smith had a distinguished career in state government. In 1968, he was elected Florida attorney general, serving two terms. He twice served as Florida's secretary of state, was also chief of staff for the Office of Governor, and chairman of the Florida State University Board of Trustees.

Patrick D. Smith

Mississippi native and author Patrick D. Smith moved to Florida in 1966, and wrote four novels set in the state. He was inducted into the 1999 Florida Artists Hall of Fame, and was nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize, including for his best known work, A Land Remembered

Steve Spurrier A native Floridian and graduate of the University of Florida, Steve Spurrier won the Heisman Trophy in 1966. As coach, he led the University of Florida Gators football team to six Southeastern Conference championships and a consensus national championship in 1996.
Tim Tebow As a high school senior in Ponte Vedra, Tim Tebow was ranked among the top quarterback prospects in the nation. He played for the University of Florida, helping the team win national championships in 2006 and 2008, and he won the Heisman Trophy in 2007.
Governor Park Trammell Park Trammell was elected to the 1903 Florida House of Representatives, served as president of the 1905 Florida Senate, was elected attorney general in 1908, and governor in 1912. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1916, where he served until his death in 1936.
Julia DeForest Sturtevant Tuttle Settling near the Miami River in the 1890s, Julia Tuttle became known as the “Mother of Miami,” for her key role in the city’s development. She encouraged people to settle in the area and convinced railroad magnate Henry Flagler to extend his rail line to Miami.
James Alward Van Fleet

Van Fleet grew up in Bartow and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1915. He served in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War, rising from the rank of second lieutenant to four-star general.

Governor Fuller Warren Florida Governor Fuller Warren served from 1949 to 1953, and advocated for a citrus code to stop the shipment of green fruit to northern markets, a reforestation program, and preventing cattle from roaming freely on highways. During his term, preliminary plans were drawn for the Florida Turnpike.
Gerry Lester "Bubba" Watson, Jr. Gerry Lester "Bubba" Watson, Jr. born and raised in Bagdad (near Pensacola), is a professional golfer on the PGA Tour. One of the few left-handed professional golfers on the PGA tour, Watson won the 2012 Masters Tournament on the second sudden death playoff hole. The win elevated Watson to a career-high fourth place in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Ruth Springer Wedgworth

Settling in Palm Beach County in 1930, Ruth Springer Wedgworth built a small family farm into one of the state's most prominent agribusinesses. Known as an innovator, she was a key organizer of the Florida Celery Exchange, and received numerous recognitions and honors for her work in agriculture.

E.T. York

In 1963, E.T. York became vice president of agricultural affairs at the University of Florida (UF). He began UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, served as UF interim president from 1973 to 1974, then as State University System chancellor, and after retirement worked to fight world hunger.