In addition to a sidewalk star in Hollywood and a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the late Tom Petty’s accolades now include an honorary doctorate from the University of Florida.
Following a monthslong roller coaster that put Gainesville in national headlines — from UF becoming a top 5 public university to intense scrutiny over alleged breaches of academic freedom — university officials paid homage to the city’s most famous resident at a board of trustees meeting Friday.
University provost Joseph Glover read a motion to award Thomas Earl Petty, the Gainesville-born rock icon who died in 2017, a posthumous doctoral degree in music.
Petty, whose hits have topped Billboard charts, reportedly met Elvis Presley in Ocala when Petty was 10 and soon after began playing the guitar. By 17, Petty had dropped out of high school to tour with the band Mudcrutch. After moving to Los Angeles and launching his solo career in the 1970s, he went on to lead the Heartbreakers and once was part of the Traveling Wilburys, a group that included George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Ray Orbison.
Glover read through Petty’s accolades: three Grammy awards, UCLA’s Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement, an American Society of Composers award, the Authors and Publishers’ Golden Note Award, Billboard Magazine’s Century Award, and UF’s Distinguished Achievement Award in 2006.
“(He’s) widely considered among the most distinctive and influential musicians over the past 50 years,” Glover said. “His presence remains significant as seen by abundant radio airplay and the popularity of events such as the Tom Petty birthday bash held in Gainesville. On the UF campus, Petty’s famous I Won’t Back Down has become a mantra at athletic events and I personally have heard President (Kent) Fuchs sing it.”
The audience laughed and cheered.
Later, when Fuchs announced Petty’s music will be played after fall commencement events later this month, a board member corrected him: That’s “Dr. Tom Petty.”
The trustees voted unanimously to approve the honorary degree.