Skip to main content

Photo courtesy of the Bob Graham Center

Last week we lost a true American, Floridian, and conservationist – Senator Bob Graham. I reflected on my work with Senator Graham during his statewide civic engagement workshop tour following the publication of his book America, the Owner’s Manual, You can Fight City Hall and Win. As impactful as that time was for me, I knew someone else better poised to tell the storied history between the Federation and Senator Graham. Please enjoy the heartfelt words and reflections from Manley Fuller, previous Federation President and CEO: 

It was the greatest privilege to have known Bob Graham when he was Governor, US Senator, and later as a private but very publicly minded citizen. I first met Bob with Johnny Jones, the Executive Director of the Florida Wildlife Federation in 1984, when I was a Regional Wetlands and Wildlife Specialist for the National Wildlife Federation. We were working on behalf of Florida’s original wetlands legislation which after a vigorous legislative scrum session passed the legislature and was signed into law by Governor Graham. The bill then became known as the Warren Henderson Wetlands Act named for the bill’s chief sponsor Republican Senator Warren Henderson.

Side note during our first meeting Governor Graham  said, after Johnny recounted ruefully and rather colorfully some of the development lobbyists devious  tactics to weaken or kill the bill,  “Johnny, I am a developer , we need smart development in the  right places just like we need to protect our vital conservation lands across the state and that includes Florida’s wetlands!” Johnny did not take offense. After we walked out of the Governor’s office, Johnny chuckled and said, “That is exactly what I hoped he would say!” 

Bob Graham, Former Florida Governor and U.S. <yoastmark class=

(From left to right) Bob Graham, Former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator; Estus Whitfield, Senior Environmental Advisor to Governors Graham, Martinez, Chiles, MacKay and Bush; Manley Fuller, President of the Florida Wildlife Federation. Photo by Patrick Hamilton.

Johnny, the Federation, and many conservation allies had worked with state Senator Graham in the 70s and early 80s on many issues such as the restoration of the Kissimmee River which had been changed from a beautiful meandering river to the Kissimmee Ditch. Governor Graham also took a strong interest in the protection of the Apalachicola River and Bay from many threats such as multiple proposed dams which would have obliterated the floodplain forests as well as the campaign against an international airport in the Big Cypress Swamp which later after a vigorous effort that included the Federation became the Big Cypress National Preserve. 

Graham’s land protection program, Conservation and Recreation Lands Program (CARL), successfully protected many of Florida’s environmental gems that now provide places for Floridians and visitors to enjoy the outdoors such as parks, wildlife management areas, state forests, and community trust properties. CARL successes have been followed by its successor programs, Preservation 2000, Florida Forever, and the current movement to connect Florida’s public and private conservation lands through the Florida Wildlife Corridor. During Graham’s time as Governor the water management districts acquired significant properties along Florida’s waterways. I think it can be fairly said that Graham’s leadership laid the foundation and built the backbone of Florida’s subsequent land conservation programs that benefit us all. 

Bob Graham posed in a 1986 Newsweek Magazine feature on Graham’s “Save Our Everglades” program

Photo courtesy University of Florida Libraries

He founded the Save The Manatee Club with Jimmy Buffett, and established the Save Our Rivers and Save Our Coasts Programs to protect those vital areas across Florida. He supported the successful efforts to stop the Cross Florida Barge Canal and to restore the free-flowing Ocklawaha River all the way to the St Johns River yet an unmet but much needed goal. 

Graham promoted and signed into law the Florida Growth Management Act in 1985 as vital in guiding critical how, when, and where growth would occur. Florida became a national model in growth management.  

Bob Graham hands out souvenir pens after signing the historic Growth Management Bill on May 31, 1985.

Photo courtesy of Mark Foley/Associated Press

Perhaps no state needs to manage its very rapid growth more than Florida in the face of rising sea levels and damaging storms. For many years, the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) worked with county plans to guide how the state grew. Unfortunately, the state Legislature and the Scott Administration decided to abolish the DCA and highly alter the state’s growth management policies.  

Change occurs politically over time but the basic need for Florida to manage growth in sensitive places necessitated Graham in his post US Senate life and the late great Nathaniel Pryor Reed to establish the Florida Conservation Coalition (FCC). FCC served as a voice for ongoing advocacy on behalf of continued strong land and water conservation statewide and the critical need for an ongoing effective state growth management agency for the state. The Federation, as did many other conservation groups, strongly supported and actively participated in this effort with these two environmental giants. 

One of FCC’s priorities was for greater recognition and protection from the threats Florida’s globally significant springs and karst ecosystems of central and north Florida face, and the need of proactive public policy to better protect both the quantity and quality of the springs surface and their inextricably connected groundwaters. The health and future of Florida’s springs ecosystems, including the fish and wildlife that depend on them, and protecting both high water quality and ecologically critical flows within the springsheds. The protection of the Springs and adjacent properties themselves, often critical land purchases as well as managing water use and managing growth within entire springsheds. Graham vigorously supported those initiatives. 

Bob Graham was a great and persistent advocate for well thought out policies during his entire life as a public servant and a private citizen. In this remembrance of Graham, I have touched on only a fraction of his vast achievements and of his well-led life. There is much more to the story of his contributions to Florida and Floridians, and to America and to its citizens. I urge everyone to read about him further.

Bob Graham pictured with his notepad on his last day as governor, Jan. 3, 1987.

Photo courtesy Florida Memory

In his personal qualities, Bob Graham also had a great self-deprecating sense of humor. He loved people from all walks of life, he was interested in almost everything, and kept meticulous records of his public life. I think he is a role model who future leaders of Florida and the Nation should emulate, and that we all should consider in leading our lives. Not only was he fair and respectful of others, smart, he was also unflaggingly energetic until his health declined. Bob was always inquisitive, never knew a stranger, funny and sometimes spontaneously unpredictable. He was a great listener and a problem solver. Most of all he was an optimist, always looking for good in people.  

Bob Graham smiles holding a phone to his ear, surrounded by students.

Photo courtesy of the Bob Graham Center

Bob Graham was a great American, Floridian, and always an educator. I am honored to have known him and we all benefit from his example.     

-Manley Fuller, Past President and CEO Florida Wildlife Federation, 1987 to 2019 

One Comment

  • Hugh Boyter says:

    Manley, you got it right! I feel fortunate to have come along during the conservation era that has made a permanent impact on Florida habitats and ecosystems. I love the picture of you, Bob and Estus…three movers-and-shakers from that important time in Florida’s Natural History.

    I hope you are doing well. I miss our chance meetings over dinner at places like the Leon Co. Food Co-op.

Leave a Reply