As tributes roll in, Jacksonville plans final farewell for Jake Godbold

Mayor from 1978 to 1987 who remained active in public life died Thursday at age 86

Mayor from 1978 to 1987 who remained active in public life died Thursday at age 86.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As memories of the man being called a mayor’s mayor continue to flood social media and dominate the conversation of long-time Jacksonville residents, Jake Godbold’s family and friends are discussing arrangements for a final tribute.

Godbold’s son, Ben, said his dad died of a heart attack as he leaving the house Thursday to pick up breakfast. Firefighters told him it was quick and his father did not suffer.

Plans for his funeral are not expected to be finalized before Monday, with services expected late next week. As Jacksonville’s oldest former mayor who remained in the public eye and involved in civic life well beyond his two terms as the city’s chief executive and most outspoken cheerleader, a public send-off is likely and city officials also have thoughts about when, where and how that should happen.

“I think the city wants to celebrate,” longtime aide Mike Tolbert said. “As much as anything, I think the community wants to come together and celebrate Jake’s life and legacy, and I think he would enjoy that. I am sure that somehow, someway, we will be able to make that happen.”

Suggestions for tributes to Godbold include naming the site of the former Jacksonville Landing after him, or even naming the football field at TIAA Bank Field “Godbold Field.”

His friends and supporters say Godbold’s name will live on no matter what is done.

“It’s not about the names. It’s not about the brick-and-mortar. I think he left more than that.,” said Tommy Hazouri, the mayor elected to office after Godbold’s two terms. “Like I said earlier, when cranes start coming up in Jacksonville that’s what Jake’s dream was that is what all of our dreams were he wants to see cranes in downtown Jacksonville.”

Jake Godbold, Jacksonville’s colorful and sometimes controversial mayor from 1978 to 1987, has died. He was 86.

News4Jax caught up with Ben Godbold, Tolbert, Gator Bowl Association President Rick Catlett and other friends and associates of the former mayor Friday at Fred Cotton’s BBQ on Main Street -- Jake Godbold’s favorite lunch spot for decades.

Larry Osborne, Jacksonville Association of Firefighters, was part of Friday’s gathering.

“Many, many times we met with him -- sometimes for official business, sometimes for politics -- and (this) just seems like the place for us, for a couple of us to come for lunch,” said Larry Osborne, Jacksonville Association of Firefighters. “Jake treated all of us firefighters like family.”

The Police and Fire Pension Fund is located in the Jake Godbold Building. It was the first downtown office to lower its flag to half staff in his honor. At noon, with the approval of the governor’s office, the flags at all city government buildings were lowered.

Goldbold’s final words to the public were published in the Florida Times-Union on the day he died. His op-ed letter praised City Council President School Wilson’s “strong, courageous leadership” in investigating “the unseemly things surrounding the effort to sell JEA." But the article included comments not very flattering to Mayor Lenny Curry.

The mayor’s office did not want to respond, only saying this is the time to remember Godbold and the work he did for the city.

Godbold’s resume was impressive.

  • He initiated “Colt Fever” when the Colts were flirting with leaving Baltimore in 1979, bringing 50,000 potential football fans to the Gator Bowl to meet the owner and bringing the Jacksonville to the attention of the NFL. That is considered a vital first step to the NFL awarding a franchise to the Jaguars 14 years later.
  • He wooed a developer to build the Jacksonville Landing on the downtown riverfront, initiating a “Billion Dollar Decade” of growth and revitalization of the city’s core.
  • He created the Southbank Riverwalk to give public access to more than two miles of waterfront with some of the best views of the city.
  • He envisioned turning the abandoned grand train station, Union Terminal, into the Prime Osborne Convention Center.
  • He attracted the Mayo Clinic to build its first campus outside of Rochester, Minnesota.
  • In funded and supported turning the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department into a professional, modern organization of first responders.
  • He started the Jacksonville Jazz Festival that continues to attract top performers to town for a free multi-day concert 40 years later.
  • He and a group of arts advocates raised money to restore and reopen the Florida Theatre.
  • He convinced Michael Jackson to bring his stadium tour to Jacksonville, filling the Gator Bowl for three shows.

RELATED STORIES: The man we knew as Jake dies at 86 | City, state leaders react to Godbold’s death | Accomplishments through the years | Godbold cements legacy by opposing to JEA sale | Sparking the fire that brought the NFL to Jacksonville | Godbold devoted to transforming Jacksonville’s inferiority complex | In 1994, Godbold called out Donald Trump at the Gator Bowl

About the Authors:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.

Digital election producer in 2022. He created in 1995 and managed The Local Station's website through 2021.