Friends gathered in the North Florida town of Monticello Monday afternoon to honor the life of John Culbreath, a former state House member who went on to a long career as a lobbyist for the thoroughbred racing industry in Tallahassee.
Culbreath, a native of Brooksville and son of former Hillsborough County Sheriff H.L. Culbreath, died June 25, two days before his 87th birthday.
A Democrat, Culbreath served in the House from 1967 to 1979 and chaired the House committee that oversaw the pari-mutuel racing industry. After he left the Legislature, he found prominence as the lobbyist for Gulfstream Park, a thoroughbred track in Hallandale Beach, and is credited with bringing the prestigious Breeder's Cup race there in the mid-80s. Culbreath, who also lobbied for the Florida Chiropractic Association, retired from lobbying a few years ago and lived quietly in Monticello, a picturesque town 30 miles east of Tallahassee.
At the First United Methodist Church in Monticello, the eulogy was delivered by Wilbur Brewton, Culbreath's friend for more than three decades and also a racing lobbyist. Brewton described Culbreath as kind-hearted and with his wife, Barbara, meticulous in hosting lavish parties for lawmakers back when such entertainment was legal and commonplace in the state Capitol.
"Back then there was more of a kinder, gentler political climate," Brewton recalled. "For most of us, entertainment functions were the norm up until about 10 years ago."
The service offered a glimpse into the Legislature of decades past, when the atmosphere was less partisan. Former lawmakers at Culbreath's service included former U.S. Rep. and state Rep. Allen Boyd of Monticello, former Sens. Dennis Jones of Treasure Island, Curt Kiser of Dunedin and Van Poole of Fort Lauderdale, and former Reps.Anne Mackenzie of Fort Lauderdale, Carl Ogden of Jacksonville, John Ryals of Brandon and James Ward of Fort Walton Beach. Culbreath's daughter, Sherry, is married to Fred Dickinson, a lobbyist and former executive director of the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
-- Steve Bousquet