Claude R. Kirk Jr., Florida’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction and one of the state’s most flamboyant chief executives, died Tuesday night, his son said. He was 85 years old and lived in Palm Beach.
Along with a new state Constitution, a streamlined urban-controlled Legislature and a reorganized executive branch, his four years fired the interest of rank-and-file voters in state government. And he made a lot of people laugh.
From the moment he became the state’s 36th governor Jan. 3, 1967, to begin his single term in Tallahassee, he displayed a flair for the unexpected.
In his inauguration address, he called for a special session of the Legislature to write a new state Constitution. He also said he was setting up a private police force to drive crime out of the state. Full story here.
Gov. Rick Scott has ordered all flags to be flown at half staff. Here is the statement from the Kirk family:
He is survived by his wife, Erika Mattfeld Kirk and his children: Sarah, Katherine, William, Frank, Adriana, Claudia and Erik. He leaves behind 14 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren.
Claude R. Kirk, Jr. was born January 7, 1926 in San Bernardino, CA. He lived in Chicago, IL and Montgomery, AL where he attended high school. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps and rose to the rank of lieutenant. Kirk served in both World War II and the Korean War. Following his service he attended the University of Alabama School of Law. In 1956, he co-founded the American Heritage Life Insurance Company in Jacksonville, Florida.
Claude Kirk was the first Republican to be elected Florida governor in the 20th Century, serving from 1967 to 1971. He was often referred to as “Claudius Maximus” reflecting his larger than life personality. He was a colorful and outspoken politician with a charismatic ability to tell stories and entertain an audience. He took great pride in the environmental causes he championed as governor and in his progressive policies on diversity in government.
Claude Kirk was a businessman, Episcopalian, community servant, family man and friend. Kirk ran his own consulting firm in his later years and was sought after as a public speaker. Claude Kirk will be missed by many. Information on memorial contributions and services will be forthcoming.