C.C. “Doc” Dockery, who was raised on a tobacco farm and rose to be a prominent businessman and adviser to Republican politicians, died Monday at age 89.
Dockery, the husband of former state Sen. Paula Dockery, is remembered as much for his charity as activism, which played a leading role in reshaping Florida politics long before political tribalism spread across Florida and the country.
His wife remembers him as willing to see a need and drop everything to help strangers, often anonymously.
“He thought there were a lot of disadvantaged kids who never got to go to a camp,” Paula Dockery said of his giving. Among other charitable work, he sponsored music students’ stays at summer camp, helped cover bus stops so parents with children were safe from the elements and aided in planting a garden at the Boys and Girls Club so kids knew where food comes from.
Paula Dockery recalled his “bench buddies,” her name for people he had befriended while sitting on a bench at a park near their North Carolina home. She said even dogs on walks in the park were his friends during his low-impact retirement activity.
A very poor upbringing
Charles Croffard Dockery was born on May 6, 1933, in Elkin, North Carolina. His parents were Mildred Hurt Dockery and Doctor Albert Dockery.
Doc Dockery started school in Jonesville, North Carolina, and transferred to Union Grove Elementary and High School after his father abandoned the family in 1941.
His mother and brother moved in with his grandparents, Henry and Victoria Hurt. After graduating from high school at 17, he left the tobacco farm to work at Sears, Roebuck and Co. in Greensboro, North Carolina.
In 1951, he joined the U.S. Air Force, eventually re-enlisting and serving eight years, ending as a speechwriter for the commanding officer of the 9th Air Force, Shaw Air Force Base, in Sumter, South Carolina.
His first move as a civilian was to Florida Southern College in Lakeland where he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1961.
Dockery was a co-founder of Summit Consulting with Thomas Petcoff. The company recently opened a new 135,000-square-foot downtown headquarters at 117 N Massachusetts Ave., towering over the northwest shore of Lake Mirror.
He also wrote an autobiography entitled “Country Boy” and a nonfiction book about workers’ compensation, as well as co-authored a book chronicling the work of members of Congress after they left office.
He married Paula Bono on Nov. 20, 1989. Both were married previously, and Doc had two children with his first wife.
‘He just wanted to travel the world’
Although Paula Dockery served 16 years in the Florida House and Senate beginning in 1996, initially her husband did not want her to get into politics.
“He had retired and he just wanted to travel the world, and he told me that it’s not a part-time job,” she said, even though it seemed that way to her at the time.
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Eventually, she was among several Republican politicians, including former governors Bob Martinez and Jeb Bush, and eventual Florida Secretary of Agriculture Adam Putnam, who were on the receiving end of his campaign fundraising prowess and advisement.
His first and only taste of public office came after then-Gov. Claude R. Kirk Jr. appointed him to serve out a vacant seat on a Polk County School Board. He served when Republicans in Polk County were few and far between. He lost a re-election bid.
But eventually, the dominos fell for Republicans nationally and statewide. Republicans gained momentum in the 1980s and into the 1990s. And Doc Dockery worked with now-deceased Eugene L. “Gene” Roberts, a former chairperson of the Polk County Republican Party, to get quality Republican candidates on the ballot.
In 1990, the first Republican from Polk County was elected to the state Legislature and he was followed Paula Dockery and Adam Putnam, whose election to office gave Florida Republicans the majority for the first time in 100 years.
Lakeland native and former U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, now a distinguished professor of political science at the new American Center for Political Leadership at Southeastern University, was among the politicians grateful to Doc Dockery. Ross served for two decades until turning his efforts to academics.
“He was probably the most significant political influence in my career,” Ross said by phone Tuesday. “I considered him a mentor.”
He said the pair worked together on the Victory 1992 headquarters in Lakeland. By 2000, Ross was elected to office.
“The most significant impact I had with him was with the high-speed rail legislation,” Ross said.
The push for high-speed rail
Doc Dockery spearheaded a successful drive for a high-speed rail system in Florida for most of the 1990s; that plan was derailed by Gov. Jeb Bush shortly after he took office in 1999.
Dockery put $1.5 million of his own money into a statewide ballot initiative for a high-speed rail. In November 2000, voters amended the constitution to mandate the state establish a system of high-speed trains exceeding 120 mph to link its five largest urban areas, The Ledger previously reported.
“I did not agree with putting it in the Constitution, but once it was in, Doc asked me if I would sponsor the legislation and I said yes,” Ross said, adding as a newly elected legislator he had an obligation to uphold the Constitution even if it went against the party line.
“We were able to pass the high-speed rail authority, which was one of the most innovative concepts now taking place with Brightline,” Ross said.
Similarly, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady praised Doc Dockery. Canady had come up through Polk County politics before being seated on the judicial bench.
“Doc was very supportive and kind to me in the stages of my career before I became a judge,” Canady said. “He was a great friend and a great supporter.”
The Republican dynamo helped launch Canady’s career first in the state House in the late-1980s and then to the U.S. House in 1992, and he eventually served eight years in Congress.
Canady served as then-Gov. Jeb Bush’s general counsel for a few years until he was appointed to lead Florida’s top court.
Arrangements are being made with Heath Funeral Chapel in Lakeland and a service is expected next week at First United Methodist, but plans have not been finalized.