Remembering Jake Godbold: A servant leader who spoke ‘truth to power’

As Jacksonville prepares to say goodbye this week, those who loved and respected former Mayor Jake Godbold say the ambitious young boy from the Northside of the city---who grew up to lead the city--- will not be forgotten.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As Jacksonville prepares to say goodbye to Jake Godbold, those who loved and respected the former mayor say the ambitious young boy from the Northside who grew up to lead the city will not be forgotten.

Of all the tributes he ever received the fire boat named in his honor may have been Godbold's favorite.

"It's a big thrill to see this boat with my name on it, you know, going up and down the river," Godbold said years ago. "I love the river. I love the fire department. I love Jacksonville, so this is a great partnership."

RELATED: Public celebration of Jake Godbold’s life set for Thursday

Godbold worked to create that partnership among many, working with others as mayor, to help an outdated, underpaid fire department become modern, professional and state-of-the-art.

From his time as City Council president to mayor of Jacksonville, Godbold made an imprint on the city. That imprint can be seen from The Jacksonville Landing, to the Prime Osborn Convention Center, the Riverwalk and the Jacksonville Jazz Festival. He also paved the way for the Jaguars.

READ: Godbold lit fire that led NFL, Jaguars to Jacksonville

"He was always trying to be inclusive of the community, and he got young people involved," said Councilwoman Ju'Coby Pittman.

Pittman started her career in politics with Godbold. So did former council member Denise Lee, who was the minority coordinator for Godbold's first mayoral campaign. She said together, they made Martin Luther King Junior Day a city holiday.

"Funding came through him for many things. He made sure that those who had been left out were included," Lee said.

Former Mayor Alvin Brown said Godbold sincerely cared about everyone’s well-being.

"He understood his purpose as a servant leader. Always speaking his mind, speaking truth to power," Brown said. "He was a visionary, and he believed that everyone in Jacksonville had a role in seeing the growth of this community. He believed in diversity. He lived it. He didn't just talk it."

Godbold worked tirelessly after leaving public office for various causes for the public good, including prevention of domestic violence in memory of his murdered sister in law—Barbara Ann Campbell.

Godbold helped because he cared. He cared for people of all walks of life, and could relate to so many.

"To know that some kid that live on the Northside raised in a project can grow up to be president of the Council and mayor of the city of Jacksonville is -- I think these young boys coming up today and these young girls coming up today, all they go to do is look at me and say, 'hell, if he can do it, we can too."

Godbold was very supportive of The Players Championship and the PGA Tour, but there was a special place in his heart he said for “football, wrasslin’ and air shows.” Even though the Jaguars weren’t awarded to Jacksonville until more than a decade after he left office, Godbold is remembered as the visionary, who made it happen.

About the Author:

At WJXT for a quarter of a century, Mary Baer anchors the 5, 6 and 10 p.m. news weekdays.