The terminal at Pensacola International Airport now bears the name of one of Pensacola’s favorite sons and Florida’s most well-regarded governors, Reubin O’Donovan Askew.
Mayor Ashton Hayward and other Pensacola officials gathered Monday at Pensacola International Airport to formally christen the building as the Reubin O’Donovan Askew Terminal. Members of Askew’s family were on hand as Hayward read a proclamation and unveiled a special plaque and art piece detailing Askew’s life and career.“This is a special day for Pensacola, and most importantly for the Askew family,” Hayward said. “We owe a debt of gratitude to the Askews and what Reubin Askew brought to Pensacola, to Florida, and to the United States.”
Askew’s widow Donna Lou also spoke at the ceremony, along with Pensacola city councilwoman Sherri Myers and civil rights advocate Rev. H.K. Matthews.
Myers credited Rev. Matthews with giving her the idea to honor Askew in a phone call last year. She later brought the proposal before the city council, which approved the idea unanimously.
“I shall never forget the cold, rainy day when Reubin and I ran into each other at Vick’s Cleaners,” Matthews said. “He was serving in the House of Representatives. And I said to him, ‘Reubin, you ought to run for governor.'”
“H.K., you know, I just might do that,” Askew replied.After a black motorist was shot and killed by an Escambia County deputy in late 1974, Matthews led protests outside the Sheriff’s Office headquarters. Convicted the following year of several trumped-up charges in connection with the protest, Matthews served 63 days in jail before Governor Askew commuted his sentence.
“I’m so glad that he made the decision to run, and Florida is richer because of it,” Matthews added. “Reubin was not just a man, but a good man, and we thank god for his contributions.”
Askew served as Florida’s governor from 1971 to 1979, becoming the state’s first governor to serve two consecutive terms.
The youngest of six children, Askew was born in Oklahoma in 1928 and moved with his family to Pensacola in 1937. He graduated from Pensacola High School in 1946, served two years in the Army and, through the G.I. Bill, attended Florida State in Tallahassee, where he was student body president. In 1951, he became an Air Force officer during the Korean War. In 1956, Askew graduated from the University of Florida law school and would go on to cofound the law firm of Askew & Levin, now known as Levin Papantonio.
After two years serving as assistant solicitor for Escambia County, Askew won a seat in Florida’s House of Representatives in 1958. He served four years in the House, and eight more as a state senator, and then launched a successful campaign for governor.Through his governorship, Askew became increasingly better known on the national stage, eventually becoming favored as the pick for the presidency in 1976. In what was later considered by many observers to be a missed opportunity, Askew decided he wasn’t ready for the job of president. Party leaders instead tapped a fellow New South governor, Georgia’s Jimmy Carter, who would later be elected the nation’s 39th president. In 1979, President Carter brought Askew on to serve in his cabinet, naming him United States trade representative, a position he held for two years. Askew later mounted an unsuccessful campaign for the presidency in 1984.
A Harvard study later named Askew one of the 20th century’s 10 best state leaders, along with Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt.
In his first term, Askew pushed through a reformed corporate income tax for large national corporations and eased taxes on Floridians. Askew also accomplished far-reaching environmental conservation, protecting environmentally fragile lands, restricting coastal construction and blocking oceanfront casinos.
Askew’s enduring legacy was founded in promoting racial equality and pushing ethics reforms in what was one of the most corruption-ridden states in the Deep South in the 1970s.
Among his most impactful accomplishments was his efforts to integrate state government and schools, starting with the Highway Patrol and school busing. He named African-Americans to state commissions and boards, and supported proposals to bus children to desegregate public schools.After a landslide reelection in 1974, Askew appointed the first black justice of the Florida Supreme Court and the first black person since Reconstruction to head a state agency. He pushed for open government laws, enacting the state’s celebrated Sunshine Amendment, the first time the state constitution was amended by voters.
After retiring from political life, Askew taught government and politics at every large university in the state, including at Florida State University, which named its school of public administration and policy after him. The University of Florida also named its institute of politics and society after Askew.