Friday, June 22, 2018

10 people who deserve to be 'Great Floridians' more than Bubba Watson

Last month, Gov. Rick Scott named golfer Gerry Lester "Bubba" Watson Jr. and 22 other people (including some unemployed guy named Tebow) to the state's official list of "Great Floridians." The list began in 1981 with former Gov. LeRoy Collins as the first honoree and has since come to include 88 more names, including Walt Disney, Juan Ponce de Leon, Mary McLeod Bethune and Marjory Stoneman Douglas, not to mention a passel of politicians and a couple of big campaign donors. But ... Bubba Watson? No offense to Bubba, the 2012 Masters champ and the pride of Bagdad, but here are 10 people who deserve to be called "Great Floridians" more than he does:

1 John D. MacDonald What he wrote appeared to be pulp thrillers, but they painted a vivid portrait of his state, promoting its glories and pinpointing its threats from greed, neglect and ignorance. Condominium is his masterpiece, as scary today as when it was published in 1977.

2 Jack Rudloe Founder, with his late wife Anne, of the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory in Panacea, which over the past 50 years has shown tens of thousands of schoolchildren just how cool biology can be. He's also the author of nine lyrical books about Florida's natural bounty including The Erotic Ocean, The Living Dock and The Sea Brings Forth.

3 Angela Bassett Any actor who can play Tina Turner, Rosa Parks, Betty Shabazz and Michael Jackson's mom in the movies is pretty great already. Bassett, who grew up in St. Petersburg, also starred in the quintessential Florida movie, Sunshine State.

4 Clyde Butcher (pictured top of page) What Ansel Adams was to the West, Clyde Butcher is to Florida — our premier landscape photographer, a man who reminds us, frame by frame, how amazing our remaining wilderness is.

5 Napoleon Bonaparte "Bone" Mizell (on horseback at right) The King of the Cracker cowboys, he's the closest thing Florida has to Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill. He was an expert horseman and a crack shot, was once sketched by Frederic Remington and was long remembered in hilarious tall tales told by his fellow cattlemen. Cause of death: too much moonshine.

6 Ray Charles He may have had Georgia on his mind, but the man Frank Sinatra dubbed "the only true genius in show business" grew up in Florida, learned music at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine and got his start playing gigs around the state — and cutting a record called St. Pete, Florida Blues. (Hear a snippet at

7 John Ogden An ornithologist who spent decades exploring South Florida's dwindling wild places and who is more responsible than anyone for getting the restoration of the Everglades started.

8 Ted Williams The official list is heavy on football players and coaches (Dungy, Spurrier, Bowden), but for some reason there are no baseball players — not even baseball's greatest hitter ever. Teddy Ballgame earns his place here as the man who, starting in the '50s, became the greatest living advertisement for the joys of fishing in Florida. When he retired, he built his museum here.

9 John Atanasoff He grew up in Polk County, where his father worked for a phosphate mine, learned to use a slide rule at age 9 and graduated from Mulberry High in just two years. This 1925 University of Florida alum is now recognized as the inventor of the first working digital computer.

10 Carl Hiaasen Oh c'mon, do we really have to explain this one?

Craig Pittman covers environmental issues and can be reached at [email protected]

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