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Former Gov. Reubin Askew in 'very grave condition'

Former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew, who in recent months has battled pneumonia and hip replacement surgery and suffered a stroke, is in "very grave condition" in a Tallahassee hospital with family members by his bedside.

He was admitted last Saturday to Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. A family spokesman, Ron Sachs, issued a statement confirming his condition. Askew's wife of 57 years, Donna Lou, has been at his hospital bedside along with their son Kevin and daughter Angela White.

Askew, 85, was one of the most popular and effective governors in Florida history. From 1971 to 1979, the Democrat from Pensacola directed an an ambitious legislative agenda that included stronger ethics laws, merit retention for judges, the state's first corporate profits tax and regional water management districts. He also guided the state through a period of explosive population growth and school desegregation and in 1978, his last year in office, he led a statewide campaign to prevent casino gambling in South Florida.

An advocate of racial tolerance in the mold of his mentor, former Gov. LeRoy Collins, Askew appointed the first African-American woman to head a state agency, Athalie Range at the state Department of Community Affairs, and appointed the first black justice to a Southern state Supreme Court: Joseph Hatchett of Clearwater in 1975. In recent years, the two men shared their recollections with Leadership Florida audiences in what they called "The Joe and Rube Show."

Askew made several public appearances in the fall of 2013, and appeared increasingly frail. Of his latest health setback, long-time friend Talbot (Sandy) D'Alemberte, the former president of Florida State University who served with Askew in the Legislature, said: "We are pessimistic."

Askew, a native of Muskogee, Okla., came with his mother, brothers and sisters to Pensacola in the 1930s, where he grew up and attended FSU. He spent more than two decades there as a teacher of courses in government and public policy and holds an eminent scholar chair at the Reubin O'D Askew School of Public Administration and Policy.

He served as former President Jimmy Carter's U.S. trade representative in 1979 and 1980 and was an unsuccessful candidate for president in 1984.