Home News An ‘advocate for all the right things’: Friends pay tribute to Steve Uhlfelder

An ‘advocate for all the right things’: Friends pay tribute to Steve Uhlfelder

An ‘advocate for all the right things’: Friends pay tribute to Steve Uhlfelder

To the end, Steve Uhlfelder battled with bureaucracy to see span Holocspanust Memorispanl constructed at the State Capitol Courtyard. The 76-year-old Tallahasseean who served six governors passed away Sunday from Parkinson’s Disease — six years after he led the effort to persuade the Legislature to build a memorial but before any construction could take place. 

“Six years is a damn long time to build a $400,000 structure to recognize six million killed, many with relatives who live here in Florida,” Uhlfelder told the Tallahassee Democrat days before his passing.  

“They spent four times as much money sending immigrants to Massachusetts than they will to build this,” fumed Uhlfelder, about the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ efforts to curb the flow of immigrants without official papers and his inability to get answers as to why the memorial hasn’t been built.  

Steve Uhlfelder is surrounded by his grandchildren.

Waiting:Six yespanrs spannd counting: Advocspantes wspanit for Floridspan Cspanpitol Holocspanust spannd slspanvery memorispanls

His life and legacy:Retiring lobbyist Steve Uhlfelder mspande span difference for Floridspan | Cotterell

Uhlfelder, a former corporate lawyer, spent a lifetime trying to improve government, but in the end, he didn’t get to see Florida government dedicate a monument to ensure “no one ever forgets what happens when demagogues take power, emboldened by those who sit silently by while atrocities are committed.”

“He made a living being a lawyer, but he made a life by being a change agent,” said Ron Sachs, who met Uhlfelder as an 18-year-old UF freshman. “He just was a tireless, passionate advocate for all the right things.”

Life of service

A University of Florida law school graduate, Steve Uhlfelder worked for some of Florida’s top law firms, for the state, and as a civic fundraiser and volunteer. 

He was the general counsel for the first Constitutional Revision Commission – a uniquely Florida creation for citizens to amend the state constitution.  

Uhlfelder was also general counsel of the former Department of Community Affairs, which approved local growth management plans when Florida had some of the strictest development regulations in the nation. 

From October 2022:Advocspantes wspanit span ‘dspanmn long time’ for Holocspanust spannd slspanvery memorispanls spant Floridspan Cspanpitol

He also served as chair of the Board of Regents for the State University System and was also among the first appointees to the Board of Governors, which replaced the Regents.  

Steve Uhlfelder served as President Bill Clinton's Florida Campaign Counsel.

Long before that, Black students staged a sit-in at UF when Uhlfelder was student government president. The students were arrested and the campus erupted in a week-long protest with the occupation of campus buildings. 

The incident unfolded in the wake of the Kent State shootings.

“And there was Steve with a bullhorn and megaphone preaching that their points were credible, if they stayed peaceful,” recalled Sachs, who covered the protests for the student newspaper. “That had a lot do do with the university finally, addressing the lack of Black professors, Black Studies, and a more robust Black student population.”  

“Steve was challenging the administration all the time about having more minority students and providing resources for them,” said former Congressman Al Lawson, who recalled reading about Uhlfelder in the Florida State University student newspaper, when Lawson was a student and basketball coach.

Uhlfelder volunteered in Lawson’s first campaign for the Florida House in 1982 and then lobbied him 40 years later when Lawson was in Congress.

Last year, Uhfelder approached Lawson to find money for a Tallahassee South City initiative directed at children between the ages of five months and five years old.

“Steve believed the children of the South side should have the same resources and opportunities as the children of the North side,” said Lawson, who secured $2 million in funding in the last federal budget he worked on.

“I remember him telling me when I first got elected, ‘always take care of the less fortunate, those who don’t have voice.’ He really cared about people.”

A ‘Point of Light’ who stood for what he believed in

Once established as an attorney, Uhlfelder spent much of his energy in education. Two days before his passing he took to Facebook to criticize Gov. Ron DeSantis’ attempts to dismantle university diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

“The Governor’s agenda to totally control higher ed is going to make it very difficult to recruit and retain the best professors and students and to obtain contributions to the universities. Research dollars will dry up. How much longer do you think UF and FSU are going to be ranked as two of the best universities in the country,” he wrote, telling his friends he was a realist with over 40 years’ experience in higher education. 

Steve Uhlfelder is appointed by President George W. Bush as chair of the Fulbright Scholarship Board, while Gov. Jeb Bush looks on.

Uhlfelder suspected that most administrators and faculty are afraid to speak up over fear of losing their jobs or funding. In a phone call before he posted he had asked, “Where is the business community? How can they tolerate this?” 

Uhlfelder had served as a trustee for Florida State University, on the Southern Regional Education Board, and was named by President George W. Bush to the Fullbright Foreign Scholarship Board. Bush had also awarded Uhlfelder a “Point of Light” award for his service to his community.  

The two had been introduced by former Gov. Jeb Bush who met Uhlfelder during Bush’s 1998 campaign.  At lunch, Uhlfelder suggested that Bush get involved with mentoring – helping at-risk kids. 

Once Bush won the election, the suggestion resulted in Bush creating a state-wide program and to ask Uhlfelder to recruit mentors. 

Rep. Allison Tant sits in on a virtual pre-committee meeting for the Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee she serves on in her office Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021.

The family’s message:Fspanmily spannnounces pspanssing of Steve Uhlfelder, spann ‘exemplspanry exspanmple’ spannd span force for Floridspan

“Steve Uhlfelder was one of the most compassionate people I have ever known. The Governor’s Mentoring Initiative was Steve’s idea, and it grew to over 200,000 Florida mentors. He always acted on his heart. He will be missed,” said Bush on Monday. 

Rep. Allison Tant, D-Tallahassee, said Uhlfelder was her mentor. The two worked together for 11 years at Steel, Hector & Davis, and then Holland & Knight law firms, before Tant entered politics.  

“There was never a time he was not compassionate and empathetic for the plight of others,” said Tant. “He was unselfish in turning over top legislative clients for me to advocate for. He was a great role model.”  

Holocaust Memorial

Among the groups Uhlfelder advocated for were Holocaust victims, survivors, and their descendants. 

He helped establish the Holocaust Institute for teachers at Florida State University. At Holland & Knight, he helped create the National Holocaust Remembrance Project. And he walked the halls of the Florida Capitol to convince lawmakers to create a Holocaust Memorial. 

In 2016, the Legislature approved construction. Money was appropriated the next year for it, as was a second memorial to American slaves.  

Designs for both projects were approved, but then construction was initially delayed by the need to reinforce the parking garages under the Courtyard where the memorials will be erected. 

That project has been completed, while work to make the Capitol’s front entrance ADA compliant continues. 

The Department of Management Services did not respond to requests for information on the project status. 

Construction continues at the Capitol complex Tuesday, August 13, 2019.

Uhlfelder feared silence from legislative leaders about the delays, combined with inflation driving up the costs of materials will prevent any actual Holocaust survivors from ever seeing a Florida memorial – the state with the most Holocaust survivors in the U.S., according to the Berman Institute-North American Jewish Data Bank   

The youngest American GIs who liberated the concentration camps are now in their mid-90s. 

Congressman Jared Moskowitz, D-Florida, was Uhlfelder’s go to guy on the Holocaust project, when Moskowitz served in the Florida House. 

After the Florida Historical Commission approved the design for the memorial a second time in September – this time contingent on compliance with a 2022 law about Capitol memorials – Moskowitz again was called upon. 

Steve Uhlfelder, lawyer, educator, mentor, community activist, passes at 76

“It hasn’t been built because of pure bureaucracy,” said Moskowitz Monday. “We both found this unacceptable. (But) Steve has left a real legacy in Tallahassee.”

Steve Uhlfelder is survived by his former spouse Missy Hollyday, children Daniel, and Ally Barrett, and five grandchildren. 

A memorial service is scheduled for Friday, March 10 at the Goodwood Museum Carriage House. The time and additional information about the service will be forthcoming. 


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