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Memorial created 11-16-2000 by
Elizabeth Ford
Lawton Chiles
March 2 1930 - December 12 1998

A whole state mourns for you, our Grandpa. You made so many contributions to Florida when you were governor. Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles dies, praised as 'decent man' graphic In 40 years, he never lost an election In this story: * Senate was too frustrating * Humane policies TALLAHASSEE, Florida (AllPolitics, December 13) -- Mourners have left candles, flowers, notes and cards at the wrought iron gate in front of the Governor's Mansion after the death of Gov. Lawton Chiles. Chiles, 68, died Saturday afternoon of an apparent heart attack. He was found next to his cycling machine in the gymnasium of the governor's mansion, said Linda Shelley, his chief of staff. Known for his folksy style, he was nicknamed "Walkin' Lawton" after crisscrossing the state on foot in his first U.S. Senate campaign. "Lawton never forgot the thousands of ordinary citizens he met as he walked the highways and backroads of his state whom he served so well," President Clinton said in Jerusalem. "And they will never forget him." The House Judiciary Committee, which approved a fourth article of impeachment against Clinton on Saturday, took a break to observe a moment of silence to honor Chiles. "Governor Chiles was, I think, in most Floridians' eyes the epitome of a fine and decent man, a throwback to the age when partisanship didn't play the role it plays. ... This man rose above party," said Rep. Robert Wexler, a Florida Democrat and member of the Judiciary Committee. Another committee member from Florida, Republican Rep. Charles Canady, choked back tears as he spoke of Chiles. "He was a good man, he was a dedicated public servant. ... I had the utmost respect for him." Chiles was serving the last month of his second term as governor. Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay immediately became governor upon Chiles' death, though official swearing-in ceremonies had not been scheduled. MacKay was enroute home to Florida from Boston, but bad weather delayed his plane late Saturday. McKay will be Florida's chief executive until January 5, when Republican Gov.-elect Jeb Bush is scheduled to be sworn into office. Flags were lowered to half-staff at all state office buildings in honor of Chiles, the first Florida governor to die in office since Daniel McCarty in 1953. A native of Lakeland, Chiles is survived by his wife, Rhea, and four adult children. Senate was too frustrating In his 40 years of political life, which began in 1958 with his election to the Florida House, Chiles had the distinction of never losing an election. Before becoming governor, Chiles served three terms in the U.S. Senate, becoming known as "Walkin' Lawton" in his 1970 campaign for walking more than 1,000 miles across the state. He served as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee during the Reagan years. Shortly after quadruple-bypass heart surgery in 1985, Chiles said he became frustrated with toiling in the Senate, where he complained it was too difficult to make things happen. He also was diagnosed with depression during this period and began taking a controversial antidepressant drug, Prozac. He retired in 1989 but was convinced to make a comeback in the 1990 election, running a successful campaign against incumbent GOP Gov. Bob Martinez -- a race during which his use of Prozac became an issue. In 1994, he narrowly won re-election over Bush, the son of former President George Bush. Behind with weeks left in the campaign, Chiles reached back to his roots and dubbed himself the "he-coon," a Southern reference to the oldest, wisest raccoon in the pack. It was designed to play off Bush's status as a political novice with a plastic image, and Chiles came from behind to win. In July 1995, Chiles was hospitalized for a neurological problem diagnosed after he awoke suffering from nausea, slurred speech and a loss of coordination. Humane policies Chiles pressed for health care reform before it made the national agenda. He also emphasized health coverage for the uninsured and led a campaign to create the National Commission for Prevention of Infant Mortality in the late 1980s. He fought for regional health care alliances in 1994. The alliances allow small businesses to pool their health care dollars and broaden coverage while saving money. He was unable to achieve the tax reform he had envisioned, but among his achievements was the creation of a Department of Elderly Affairs. Chiles became wealthy as an original investor in Red Lobster restaurants.

 

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