|Thomas LeRoy Collins
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
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
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.
LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library
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