He was a truly great Floridian, but this farewell tribute to Ed H. Price Jr. may be the first time many readers heard of him. That's because no one who gave as much as he did to the state ever sought less for himself.
Price, who died Saturday at his home in Bradenton at the age of 94, served eight years in the Florida Senate and never ran for anything else. But his wholesome influence in state and local government and the business community persisted long after his elected term ended in 1964. In 1977, the St. Petersburg Times named him one of Florida's 10 most powerful people. At the time, he was an unofficial but extremely significant adviser to Gov. Reubin Askew.
Askew said he could rely on Price's counsel "because he didn't have an agenda of his own. You knew it was in the best interests of Florida."
Throughout, Price was a dignified but relentless campaigner for fair legislative apportionment, public education, housing and health care for the poor, civil rights and other causes. The Board of Regents that once managed the university system was his creation. After he left the Senate, his opinions were sought and respected by two generations of public officials and by veteran journalists as well. He was a key source for my books about Gov. LeRoy Collins and Askew.
Price's great unrequited dream was to abolish capital punishment. His bill to do that, introduced at the urging of his close friend, then-Gov. Collins, died in a 1959 Senate hearing attended solely by the chairman, who held a pocketful of proxies. Price later chaired a commission on the subject, but could not persuade it to favor abolition.
Collins, who earlier had appointed Price to the Board of Control that oversaw the universities in that era, tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to run to succeed him as governor in 1960. They were the closest of friends until Collins' death in 1991.
When Askew, then a state senator, first contemplated running for governor, he tried to talk Price into seeking the office instead, even offering to be his lieutenant governor. Again, Price declined. He didn't have that kind of ambition, and he had his family to consider. But he helped Askew win the Democratic runoff and general election in 1970, serving him thereafter as chairman of the Florida Citrus Commission and as a valued personal adviser on politics and government.
Price was foremost among those who counseled Askew not to accept anyone's vice presidential nomination in 1972 — when George McGovern desperately wanted him — lest it undermine Askew's popularity in Florida and his re-election chances in 1974.
His appetite for contested issues wasn't limited to racial equality and opposing the death penalty. Price, an executive of Tropicana Products Inc., was president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce in 1971 when Askew, newly elected, undertook successfully to fulfill his campaign promise to enact a corporate income tax. Price persuaded the Chamber's executive committee to recommend that the state consider taxing personal income as well. Askew didn't welcome that advice, which he thought would muddy up the corporate tax campaign. Neither did the Chamber's rank-and-file; Price joked that had the rules allowed him to run for a second term as president, he would have been defeated. It would have been the only election he ever lost.
"He was a remarkable man who thought of the welfare of all the people over and above any personal agenda," Askew said this week.
I never met anyone who had reason to disagree.
Martin Dyckman, a retired associate editor of the Times, is author of Floridian of His Century: the Courage of Gov. Leroy Collins, and Reubin O'D. Askew and the Golden Age of Florida Politics.