TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Several former Florida governors joined hundreds of Floridians at the state's Old Capitol building on Friday to pay their final respects to former Gov. Claude Kirk.
Twenty family members greeted the visitors and shared stories about the flamboyant Kirk, who was as famous for his personality as he was for his achievements during his one term in office.
“On behalf of the state of Florida, we are appreciative of Gov. Kirk's service,'' Gov. Rick Scott told the family at the beginning of the two-hour Capitol reception.
Kirk, who was elected governor in 1966, died Wednesday in his sleep at age 85. Despite being elected when just about everyone else in the executive branch and Legislature was Democrat, the colorful insurance executive from Jacksonville was credited with changing the course of state government and politics during his four-year term. He was the first Republican governor in Florida in the 20th century.
A Marine Corps veteran, Kirk's American flag-draped coffin was escorted into the building by a military color guard and uniformed police officials. A single white rose was placed on top. His hat sat on top of his portrait next to a vase of red roses.
The casket sat on the second floor of the Old Capitol, only a few feet from where the coffin of the late Gov. Lawton Chiles sat in 1998. Kirk's body was then taken by hearse past the Governor's Mansion before returning to West Palm Beach for a Monday funeral. He will be buried at the South Florida National Cemetery in Lake Worth.
Kirk's family said his death was unexpected.
“We've laughed about that this week,'' said Will Kirk, son of the former governor. “When you talked to dad on the phone, he'd never say goodbye. There would be this pause on the phone and he'd just be gone.''
Former Gov. Bob Martinez, who became the second Republican governor in Florida when he was elected in 1986 and like Kirk failed to win re-election, fondly recalled the times he spent with Kirk.
“He was always fun to be around,'' Martinez said.
Former Govs. Wayne Mixson and Reubin Askew, who defeated Kirk in 1970, also attended along with Scott. Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, several current and former Florida Supreme Court justices, House Speaker Dean Cannon, and U.S. Reps. Steve Southerland and Ander Crenshaw, one of Kirk's son-in-laws.
Crenshaw recalled asking Kirk for his daughter Kitty's hand some 41 years ago as the couple wed before her 21st birthday.
“He said, `son, it ain't easy being married to a Kirk,'' Crenshaw recalled. “And he said, `I may look rich, but I'm not.'''