Promised Land J. Charles Gray was only a few years into his law practice. Yet his powerful influence in the mid-1960s made a nameless university Florida’s number one priority. Here, Gray recounts the origin of the university. In 1963, Florida Gov. Cecil Farris Bryant signed a bill creating a Central Florida university, but without funding, it was dormant until 1965. I became involved with the university through a series of political campaigns. In 1960, I had chaired the winning campaign for Doyle Conner for state agriculture commissioner. Later, in 1964, there were six candidates running for Florida governor. The least likely to win was former mayor of Jacksonville Haydon Burns. I watched Burns standing on a bare stage, talking about his philosophy of government, and thought, “I believe that.” So, after meeting Burns and his wife, Mildred, I agreed to chair his campaign. We put together an incredibly organized campaign that nailed down every precinct and shifted the power base from Jacksonville to Central Florida. It was a solid win against great odds, and Burns served as Florida governor from 1965-67.
I returned to Orlando with Burns to prepare for a news conference, and during our time together, we discussed Conner’s earlier campaign. Chairing Conner’s campaign had been great fun. When Conner won, I asked if he could send me some legal business, and he offered me a job in Tallahassee, which held no interest to me. I still thought of Conner as a wonderful friend, but I was disappointed at the time. Burns processed that information, and when he won, he asked me, “What do you want?” I replied, “Number one, I want a new university.” He promised it and told me to list my other requests, which were: an east-west expressway, a Board of Regents term for a dedicated campaign worker, and my suggested state road board member, among others. I didn’t ask for anything for myself. Burns fulfilled every promise except one. After reading in a newspaper that he had appointed someone else to the state road board, I called and questioned him. He answered, “Charles, getting a new university authorized, implemented and appropriated is not easy. I made a deal with the most powerful man in the Legislature, Speaker of the House E.C. Rowell, who said he could get it done only on the condition that his best friend was appointed as a state road board member.” He continued, “I had to make a deal, and I’m sorry about that. That university was your first choice, and that’s what I had to do.” I’d say it was an excellent trade-off. F
The land for UCF — full of scrub oaks, palmettos and sand — remained undeveloped for several years after its purchase.
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In addition to his practice, which he continues as chairman of the board and founding director of the GrayRobinson law firm in Orlando, Gray served in many other leadership positions, including Orlando city solicitor, and chair of the Florida State Turnpike Authority, Economic Development Commission of Mid-Florida and the UCF Foundation.
The 50th Anniversary of UCF issue