In your words: Who was Jake Godbold?

Jacksonville’s former mayor remembered as kind and outspoken public servant

Composite illustration of file photo and Infogram visualization

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In the days that have ticked by since former Mayor Jake Godbold died, story after story has trickled in about the larger-than-life man widely considered to be Jacksonville’s biggest cheerleader.

Godbold, who passed away Jan. 23 at the age of 86, left behind a legacy of bold ideas that helped to shape the city — a vibrant riverfront mall, the din of a downtown development boom and a professional football team to rally behind — and the vision needed to see them through.

In the wake of his death, News4Jax asked our audience to share their memories of Godbold and the impact he had. Dozens of people answered that call and offered personal anecdotes about the man known fondly as Jake. And though some responses were critical of the former mayor, no one questioned his love for his city.

Many people marveled at the former mayor’s kindness, whether it was making small talk at the doctor’s office or visiting a senior center on his birthday with cake and ice cream in tow.

To Rev. John Denmark, a retired United Methodist pastor, Godbold was more than a public servant — he was like family, a personal mentor. Denmark said he was in his teens and homeless in 1967 when Godbold and his wife Jean welcomed him into their home.

“Over the years during my ministry as a United Methodist pastor, I would visit Jake and Jean and always received a loving welcome,” Denmark said. “How very true are the many memories and testimonies offered about his love for family, friends and “the bold new city of the South.” So grateful to God for the gift of my dear friend Jake! He will always be a part of my family!”

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For some, Godbold was a reminder of the influence an individual can have on others’ lives.

“Mayor Jake was one of a kind,” Darby Mueller said. “He gave my mom a hand up by giving her a job and her hard work allowed her to shine. I thank Mayor Godbold for giving my mom a second chance at life. Jean and Mayor Godbold were a blessing to this city. His good nature touched everyone I know.”

Several people were inspired by Godbold’s principles, describing him as a man with uncompromising beliefs who nevertheless understood the value of compromise.

The lives he touched included a young man with aspirations of joining the military. The last time Bradford Stanley spoke with the former mayor was in 1993 while celebrating Godbold’s 60th birthday at what was then known as Craig Airfield.

“He asked me about my future and what I wanted to do with my life,” Stanley recalled. “I told him my plans of joining the Florida Army National Guard, and he said, ‘A job dedicated to service is one of the greatest ways to have a positive impact on the things around you.’”

It’s safe to say that Godbold had no problem speaking his mind.

This is, of course, a man who once hushed Donald Trump while feting guests at the Gator Bowl ahead of a 1984 football game that pitted Jacksonville’s now-defunct USFL team against Trump’s franchise. More recently, he skewered Mayor Lenny Curry and JEA’s leadership as the utility flirted with a sale.

Godbold’s plain-spoken nature is a quality those in his orbit knew well. And if they didn’t like it, they at least respected it.

“Michael, I’m tired of your (expletive),” is how veteran journalist Michael Castengera remembers then-Mayor Godbold answering a direct question during a news conference announcing Jacksonville’s selection as a host city for Olympics gymnastics trials.

“It was pretty confrontational,” Castengera said. “But you know what? What’s most important in this? I learned something about Jake. … There was nothing more important to him than his city, his community and he would do anything to protect it.”

A friend who wanted anonymity reflected on the last words Godbold said to her. She was visiting his home last fall and found him seated in his recliner, frank as ever.

“‘(Anonymous), since you’re here might as well put your ass to work, too,’” she recalls him saying. “His sister, Charlene, and I went to clean his kitchen and take out the trash.”

While the years might have taken a toll on some of the pillars of his legacy — all that remains of the Jacksonville Landing is rubble, and the Jaguars now play two home games in London — his values live on in the hearts of those who came to know him.

”Godbold never cared who got the credit,“ Vernon Smith, Jr. said. “He just wanted to achieve the goal.”

Embedded below is a word cloud containing a blend of 12 of the terms most frequently found within people’s memories of Jake Godbold and 6 other common words (click here if it’s not visible on your screen):