Ex-Florida State University President Wetherell dies at 72
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — T.K. Wetherell, a Florida State University football player in the 1960s who 40 years later became the school’s first graduate to serve as president, died Sunday. He was 72.
The university announced the death of the long-time educator and politician who rose to become Florida House speaker. No cause of death was released, but he had been in hospice.
“As a veteran lawmaker, tireless supporter of higher education and then as president, T.K. used his energy and intellect to not only lead FSU through a severe budget crisis but to make sure it flourished in so many ways,” FSU President John Thrasher said in a statement.
Wetherell served as FSU’s president from 2003 to 2010, a period noted for an $800 million construction boom that included chemistry, biological science, psychology and medicine buildings and new research facilities.
Wetherell served in the Florida House of Representatives from 1980 to 1992, including his final two years as House speaker.
Thomas Kent Wetherell was born in Daytona Beach on Dec. 22, 1945, and attended Florida State on a football scholarship from 1963 to 1967. He entered the team’s record books with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Wetherell earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Florida State and later a doctorate in education administration from the university.
He was diagnosed with prostate cancer a month after taking over the university, and battled the disease for several years. When he retired, he acknowledged in his resignation letter that a budget crisis in higher education and various health challenges took their toll.
“If you’re an educator, this is one of the plum jobs you can get,” Wetherell said at the time. He also said of his retirement, “I want some time to relax and travel, just be a real person.”
As a lawmaker he got a bill passed to construct classrooms, offices and other facilities surrounding the football stadium. The building now carries his name.
During Wetherell’s tenure, Florida State produced three Rhodes Scholars and increased its freshmen retention rate to 90 percent and ranked first among the nation’s top research universities in graduation rates for African-Americans.
He also led the fight to keep the Seminoles nickname when the NCAA tried to get the school to drop the name as being racially insensitive. The Seminole Tribe of Florida supports the university’s use of the name.
“Some people felt like he paid too much attention to athletics, but it never bothered me to know that our boss was interested in what we were doing,” then-Seminoles’ football coach Bobby Bowden said when Wetherell announced his retirement. “Florida State would not have the status it has today without the work of T.K. both as president and in state government.”
He is survived by his wife Virginia and his son T. Kent Wetherell II, who is a state appellate judge.
Associated Press writers Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale and Gary Fineout in Tallahassee contributed to this report.