John E. Mathews, Jr. Collection: Biographical Highlights
John E. (Jack) Mathews served in the Florida Legislature from 1956-1970. He was a popular, influential, and widely respected political figure, whose achievements as a legislator are well-known in the state of Florida. During his tenure in the House and Senate, he was instrumental in: Florida reapportionment, restructuring of state bureaucracy, enactment of competitive bidding procedures for state purchasing, writing of a new state constitution and expansion of the state university system.
He participated in two Florida gubernatorial races: 1963-64 (finished fifth to Haydon Burns); and 1969-70 (finished second to Reubin Askew in the Democratic primary). While all his honors and awards are too numerous to mention here, chief among them are the 1961 Most Outstanding Member of Florida House award, 1963 Most Outstanding Member of Florida Senate award, and Presidency of the Florida Senate in 1969-70.
Mr. Mathews was a life-long resident of Jacksonville, Florida, where he was born on June 20, 1920, to Alice Schumpert Mathews. His father, John E. Mathews, Sr., was a constitutional lawyer and, in later years, a Florida state legislator and Chief Justice of the 1955 Florida Supreme Court. The Mathews Bridge in Jacksonville is named in his honor, after his success in leading the way for construction funding.
John E. Mathews, Jr. attended public Jacksonville schools and gave the Commencement address as Valedictorian of his 1938 graduating class at Robert E. Lee High School. After receiving an A.B. from Emory University in 1942, World War II interrupted his plans for attending law school.
Upon enlisting in the United States Navy, he served during the war in the South Pacific from 1942-1946 and was a veteran of naval battles off Wake Island, Guam, Saipan, and the Philippines. On April 11, 1945, after a Japanese kamikaze attack off Okinawa, Lieutenant Mathews was instrumental in bringing his disabled destroyer, the USS Kidd, back to port. For his heroic efforts, he later received the Bronze Star and eight other Battle Stars for his war service.
Upon being released from the Navy, Mr. Mathews fulfilled his long-awaited goal of completing law school and in 1948 graduated from Harvard University Law School with honors. He joined his father's Jacksonville law firm and practiced law until being elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1956.
In 1954 Mr. Mathews married Gwendolyn Howard Game. They had four children: Joe, Kim, Barbara, and John.
Mr. Mathews retired from politics in 1970 and returned to practice corporate law in Jacksonville, Florida. From 1970-1980, however, his "retirement" was often interrupted with frequent calls for legislative consultations; he subsequently played an important role in the 1977-78 revision of the Florida Constitution. Tragically, in late December 1978, he became seriously ill with meningitis and suffered two strokes.
As a special recognition of the ailing Mathews, Governor Bob Graham and the Florida Cabinet designated June 20, 1981 as "Jack Mathews Day" throughout the state of Florida. The tributes flowed:
- Governor Bob Graham:
"He was an inspiration and role model for many of us. He was a person who understood the role of government in our society."
- Florida Attorney General Jim Smith:
"I learned quickly that Senator Mathews was the leader who set the pace and standards for goals we aspired to achieve. I am still hoping to get some free legal advice from him."
- Florida Times-Union Editorial (June 19, 1981), "Tomorrow, Florida pays tribute to Jack Mathews":
...He has been the kind of American the framers of the Constitution envisioned as their heirs. A reverence for Constitutional government, and the organic law that serves as its foundation, was the linchpin of his governmental career.
He became the lawmaker's lawmaker. The governorship eluded him despite the fact that political cognoscenti in Florida have had a longstanding consensus that he would have been one of Florida's finest chief executives.
He has been an inspiration to countless people whose lives and careers have been touched and shaped by his own.
Jack Mathews was instrumental in reshaping Florida's Constitution and its laws. He helped gain respect for Florida's Legislature. He gave to his state and community the priceless gift of his mind, his time and his tireless work.
Remember him. Say a prayer for him. If you are a Floridian, and especially a citizen of Jacksonville, he has done a lot for you.
Mr. Mathews died on January 7, 1988 in Gainesville, Florida.