Father of Florida Lottery dies at 100

Ralph Turlington ‘brought the best out in people’ and legislation, former aide says

File photo
File photo (News Service of Florida)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The man who organized the drive for the Florida Lottery has died at the age of 100.

Creating the lottery was just one of many accomplishments for Ralph Turlington over a 36-year career in public service.

Turlington was already a tenured professor at the University of Florida with an MBA from Harvard when he ran for the Florida Legislature in 1950.

“Our pay was $10 a day when we were in session,” Turlington recalled during a 2006 interview.

He spent the next 36 years shaping Florida government.

“He brought the best out in people. He brought the best out in legislation,” said former Turlington aide Frank Mirabella.

Turlington was in the minority fighting segregation in the mid 1950′s when lawmakers sought to dissolve local school boards if Black and white students were taught in the same school.

“I was one of the seven who voted no, and I got an opponent the next year, and that was one of his campaign attacks on me,” Turlington said in the 2006 interview.

He also took on and defeated the pork choppers, a group of small county lawmakers who had a majority of votes in the Legislature even though they were elected by less than 20 percent of the population.

In 1985, Turlington became the face of the citizens initiative to create the Florida Lottery. He argued that Florida’s public schools needed more money and the lottery would help that cause.

“I don’t think the people are ready to support taxation, additional taxation, but I do believe that this is an alternative the people of Florida will support,” said Turlington during a 1985 press conference.

Turlington also wrote the law creating the state pension system.

“Which is now the best funded retirement system for public employees,” noted Mirabella.

The building housing the Department of Education has carried his name for more than 30 years, even though Turlington once passed a law that said buildings could not be named after a living person.

Betty Castor, who succeeded Turlington as Education Commissioner before going on to be the President of USF, said Friday that Turlington served with honor and humility.