Reubin O'Donovan Askew
Reubin O'Donovan Askew founded what today is known as the Levin Papantonio Law Firm with his good friend, David Levin, in 1955. During those early years, Levin & Askew was a full-service firm, operated by the two young attorneys, along with one paralegal.
A native of Oklahoma, Askew was the youngest of six children. Following his parents' divorce, Askew and his siblings relocated to Pensacola with their mother in 1937. As a youth, he was a member of the Order of DeMolay. Upon his graduation from Pensacola High School in 1946, Askew enlisted in the U.S. Army, training as a paratrooper and achieving the rank of sergeant. After his enlistment was completed, he entered Florida State University, where he began his political career as Student Body President.
By the time Askew graduated in 1951 with a B.S. in Public Administration, the nation was involved in the conflict on the Korean Peninsula. He once again returned to military service, this time entering the U.S. Air Force as an intelligence officer. His assignments took him to Europe, where he was tasked with taking aerial reconnaissance photos and providing analyses.
This time, however, he was uncomfortable with the assignment given him. According to a 2009 article in the Tallahassee Democrat, Askew believed his job was in violation of existing treaties. His views on this issue was reflective of his philosophy of public service: namely, that government should be transparent and provide full disclosure. He said, “You’ve got to remember in government whose business you’re doing: the people’s. If you’re doing the people’s business, you’ve got to give them the tools to judge the product.”
Following the war, Askew attended the University of Florida College of Law (now the Levin College of Law). Shortly after his admission to the state bar, he and David Levin founded the law firm of Levin & Askew. Beginning in 1958, Askew spent the next twelve years as a partner in the law firm and also in the Florida State Legislature, establishing himself as a champion for progressive policy and open government. Over the course of his years as a state representative and later a senator, he fought for equal representation and civil rights for African-Americans.
In 1970, Askew became the Democratic nominee for governor, an office he handily won by 57 percent. One of only five governors in the history of the Sunshine State to serve two terms, Askew ushered in an era of progressive policy and transparency in government that had not been seen in decades.
Among other accomplishments. Askew oversaw the passage of the “Sunshine Amendment,” which required full financial disclosure from candidates and public officials, placed a ban on gifts to lawmakers, and slowed down the proverbial “revolving door” by barring former public officials from working as lobbyists for two years after leaving office. His reputation for honesty and integrity won him respect even from his rivals, one of whom said, “He has established a kind of morality in office that causes people to have faith [in government].”
Limited to two terms by Florida's constitution, Askew went on to serve as U.S. Trade Representative under then-President Jimmy Carter. During the 1980s, Askew made unsuccessful bids for President and U.S. Senator. The political winds were shifting, and although he held a few traditionally conservative views, by that time the electorate had turned largely to Republican candidates.
Askew remained active in retirement as an educator, teaching courses in government and international trade at universities throughout Florida. He died in 2014, survived by his spouse of 58 years, Donna Lou, and two adult children. When David Levin's younger brother Fred presented the University of West Florida with an $8 million endowment in order to establish the Reubin O’D Askew School of Government and also the Reubin O'D. Askew Institute for Multidisciplinary Studies, he said:
“Governor Askew, besides being a friend and a law partner, was one of those rare persons who lived the principles he spoke. He would not abide a curse word on a tennis court, nor would he abide a false statement in a court of law. As Governor, his only guideline was to ask whether it was good for the people of Florida. If it was not the right thing to do, he would not do it, regardless the political fallout. There is a reason why he was the first Governor in modern Florida history to be re-elected for a second term. Hopefully, the students and faculty who come to know Governor Askew will be inspired to do good for its own sake, and to serve the people with the humility and dedication that he practiced.”