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the first Florida Governor to be elected to two consecutive terms
Thomas LeRoy Collins was born in Tallahassee, Florida, on March 10, 1909. He graduated from Leon High School in 1927, earned his law degree from Cumberland University in Tennessee in 1931, and married Mary Call Darby in 1932.
Collins made his first bid for political office in 1932, but was defeated for the office of Leon County Prosecutor. In 1934, he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, and served there until 1940. During his tenure he sponsored legislation for the statewide retirement system for teachers, for the first code to modernize the Florida school system, and for funding the education of children with disabilities. He also fought to outlaw slot machines, which had initially been legalized as a means of providing funding for educational reform.
In 1940, Collins was elected to the Florida Senate to finish out the term of William Hodges, who had died in office. He served there until 1944, when he resigned to join the U.S. Navy. He was re-elected to the Senate in 1946, and served until running for Governor in 1954. During his tenure Collins was known for his work in the areas of women's rights, education, highway safety, labor, health, and welfare. He was twice voted "Most Valuable Senator" by the Capital Press Corps (in 1947 and 1953), as well as "Most Valuable All-Around Member" and "Outstanding in Debate" by his Senate colleagues (in 1953).
In 1954, Collins defeated Charley Johns (acting Governor for Dan McCarty, who had died in office) to become Florida's 33rd Governor. In 1956 he became the first Florida Governor to be elected to two consecutive terms. Known as "the education Governor," Collins gave Florida its system of community colleges, three new State Universities, statewide educational television, and merit pay for teachers. He was known nationally as a "spokesman of the New South" for his open-minded attitude towards integration. In 1957 he became chairman of the Southern Governors Conference in spite of the fact that some members disagreed with his ideas on education, reapportionment, and integration. In 1958 he became the first Governor to serve as chairman of both the National and Southern Governors Conferences simultaneously.
After leaving the Governor's office in 1961, Collins became president of the National Association of Broadcasters, in which capacity he called for a ban on televised cigarette advertisements. In 1964 he became director of Community Relations Services, which was created as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson asked Collins to go to the civil rights march led by Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma, Alabama, where he helped insure a peaceful demonstration. He became Undersecretary of the Department of Commerce that same year. He returned to Florida in 1966 and joined a law firm in Tampa; he returned to Tallahassee in 1970.
Thomas LeRoy Collins died in Tallahassee on March 12, 1991.
Collins was the author of Forerunners Courageous; Stories of Frontier Florida (1970). On September 17, 1993, the Leon County Public Library was renamed the LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library in his honor.
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This page was last updated on April 14, 2017.