TAMPA — T. Terrell Sessums earned a rare honor Thursday during the annual Governor's Day Luncheon at the Florida State Fair.
Elected officials are not often selected as Tampa Metro Civitan Citizen of the Year, said Joe Garcia, the 1999 honoree, in his presentation to the former Florida House speaker who authored legislation creating the Tampa Sports Authority and the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission.
What makes Sessums different was his decades of service improving education in Florida.
He served as chairman of the state Board of Regents, the former governing board of Florida's university system. He presided over the University of Tampa board of trustees and was instrumental in establishing the University of South Florida medical school. Sessums is still involved at the Honors College at the University of South Florida, where Sessums Mall was dedicated in 1999. Sessums Elementary School in Riverview was named in his honor in 2003.
"Both he and his wife (the late Neva Sessums) got educations through scholarships," Garcia said, "and they were very appreciative."
Sessums, 85, earned his undergraduate and law degrees at the University of Florida. He was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1963 and served as speaker from 1972 to 1974.
"He's the father of the creation of the Florida Education Finance Act," said Hillsborough County Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank, who served in the Legislature with Sessums. "He ensured every student received the same weighted funding rather than counties spending in unequal ways."
Frank called her old friend a consensus builder, "deliberate, thoughtful, very serious. "If we had more people like him, we'd get more accomplished."
Sessums accepted the Outstanding Citizen of the Year award graciously, with a nod to what Gov. Rick Scott called "the civic capital" among the 700-plus power broker audience.
"I've been to these luncheons since they were established and always left with the feeling there could be one every month," Sessums said.