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Tallahassee Pays Tribute To Former Gov. Reubin Askew

Widely loved former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew was memorialized in Tallahassee this week before he’s laid to rest Friday in his home town of Pensacola. Those whose lives Askew touched paid their respects as he lay in state at the Historic Capitol Tuesday and at a church service today.

A military honor guard escorted Askew’s flag-draped coffin up the Historic Capitol steps Tuesday as leaders from the three branches of government looked on. Askew served in the Army and Air Force before being elected to the Florida House in 1958. In accordance with military tradition, Army Col. Glenn Sutphin said, Askew’s family laid a white rose atop his coffin once it got to the building’s second floor. 

“And at the end of the day, when we take him back up again, before the honor guard’s released, the rose will be returned to the family to show that we have guarded the leader and all is well,” Sutphin said.

Before the public was allowed inside, Patsy McNeely waited at the bottom of the steps.

“I worked as his scheduler for the last three years that we were in office,” she said. “I just consider it a real honor. That’s why we’re here.”

Her 12-year-old grandson, Wesley, stood by her side.

“I just know that he was a good governor,” he said, adding his grandma had told him Askew was “a Christian man.”

McNeely says Askew was a formal governor—and he could get stern when she made mistakes.

“I was doing his scheduling, I sent him to the wrong place. And he was not happy. He was doing a public service spot and that just does not go over very well,” she said with a laugh.

She says she fondly remembers accompanying him to the 1974 convention of the Southern Governors’ Conference, which he chaired.

“The biggest difference in his administration was he carried off the office with dignity. He did not let people sway him from his belief,” McNeely says.

She says people pressured him to drink alcohol—he never did. And they pushed back hard against his corporate tax—but he didn’t back down.

Askew was among the progressive Southern Democrats who pushed desegregation. Since his death last week, politicians from both sides of the aisle have sung his praise. But not everyone at the Capitol Tuesday knew the governor.

“I don’t even know who he is,” said Latonia Davis. She was sitting on the steps in her pajamas, waiting for a museum guide to let her in so she could do a history class assignment.

“I didn’t really know all this was going on, but she told me if I wait she’ll give me the brochure I need for class. It’s due today,” she said.

Inside the Historic Capitol Museum lobby, staff director Michelle Gammon Purvis said she’d just seen 85-year-old Askew at the museum when he recently celebrated his retirement from teaching at Florida State University.

“Each time I’ve heard him speak, I get chills, honestly, yes. He is just somebody you can tell just served for the right reasons and is somebody that is a model for all future elected officials,” Purvis says.

At Wednesday’s packed church service, Askew’s son, Kevin, recalled him as a kind and gentle father to him and his sister, Angela.

“He did not want to give one of us any more than the other, so he made sure that we were equal in what we got, which is basically the same as the public. He tried to be fair to everybody, not just a select few,” he said.

Former Congressman Jim Bacchus said Askew was like a father to him when he worked as the governor’s speechwriter. Bacchus said Askew’s ideals and political courage might seem impossible amidst today’s partisanship. But he says the governor’s legacy should be an inspiration to all Floridians.

“You won’t always win but you’ll win in the end if you’re true to yourself and true to the things you believe in. He never did underestimate us. And I would hope that we wouldn’t underestimate ourselves now in honoring him,” Bacchus concluded.

Askew will be honored Thursday at another memorial service in Pensacola before being laid to rest on Friday.