TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Thomas Kent “T.K.” Wetherell was remembered Friday as an athlete, an academic, a clever legislator, a crafty dealmaker and a country boy who could be colorful with his words.
The former state House speaker from Daytona Beach who went on to become president of his alma mater, Florida State University, was noted for having four “F’s” in his life: faith, family, friends and FSU, in that order except on Saturdays when the school’s football team played.
Wetherell was also known for his love of country music, fried food, Blue Bell ice cream, NASCAR, hunting and fishing, said Bob Smith, president and CEO of Capital City Bank who is involved with the Florida State Athletic Board and The Florida State University Student Investment Fund.
“He played that country boy up naturally, but it was a disguise,” Smith said. “He was always three steps ahead of the crowd. The boy was smart.”
Wetherell, who served as speaker from 1990 to 1992, died Sunday after a long battle with cancer.
Wetherell, who would have turned 73 on Saturday, attended Florida State on a football scholarship from 1963 to 1967, while earning bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from the school.
Wetherell went on to serve in the House from 1980 to 1992 and had a long career in education. He was provost and dean at Daytona State College and an associate professor of education at Bethune-Cookman University before becoming president of Tallahassee Community College in 1995. He served as FSU president from 2003 to 2010.
Current FSU President John Thrasher, who was chairman of the university’s board of trustees in 2003, credited Wetherell with increasing the school’s diversity and expanding academic programs and facilities, accounting for “a lot of the national prominence FSU enjoys today.”
The funeral service was held in the Ruby Diamond Concert Hall, which underwent a $33 million renovation that was a focus of Wetherell.
Wetherell also led the school’s successful fight against the NCAA to keep the university’s Seminoles nickname and had to ask legendary football coach Bobby Bowden to step down in 2009. Bowden was a position coach for the team when Wetherell was a receiver and kick returner.
Thrasher said Wetherell’s legacy will be his passion for academics, which has resulted in “countless Floridians who are better off today because of the battles he fought, the legislation he passed, the students he taught and mentored and the institutions he led.”
But Thrasher also recalled Wetherell’s passion for the school’s athletics, which once included him running in the rain across the upper deck of Doak Campbell Stadium to meet a football recruit, only to slip and break his hand.
“With a broken bone and blood on his shirt, he met the recruit, and then headed to the ER, got a cast put on and was back in the office at 4 o’clock,” Thrasher said. “That’s T.K.”
The recruit, Thrasher noted, was Myron Rolle, who was one of three Rhodes Scholars from FSU during Wetherell’s term.
Thrasher, who served in the Legislature after Wetherell, also said Wetherell could be seen as “a good old boy who just happened to have a Ph.D.”
Thrasher said Wetherell was a “wily negotiator” who had a “legendary way with words,” which once got him in trouble because he got a little too comfortable during a news conference and referred to a small Southern college as a “dipstick school.”
“Actually, he didn’t say stick,” Thrasher continued. “That prompted the (small school’s) president to send a letter the next day to T.K. and as you can imagine, he wasn’t too pleased. But my point is, that was TK. He said what was on his mind. He did what he thought was right. And he never failed to see the humor in all of it.”
News Service of Florida