I went to a friend’s funeral last Saturday. I had met Dexter Douglass when he was chief legal counsel to one of my mentors, the late Governor Lawton Chiles, and we shared many a laughing or mind-sparring moments together while I worked for Bob Butterworth during his tenure as Attorney General.
A 20-plus-year friendship developed, as I found out many of his friendships were made. Once you were included on his ‘friend’ list, you stayed.
Needless to say, Dexter had a gazillion friends, many of whom were present at the Faith Presbyterian Church Saturday. His extended family spoke lovingly about him and the Chiles family were there to support the Douglass family, too. Lawton Chiles and Douglass had been close friends for decades since college and law school at the University of Florida.
The mood in the church was sad, but with quite a few ‘Dexter’ tales that brought laughter. In one, Dexter, who was a cattle farmer, watched as some of his farm crew tried to move a herd into a new pasture. After two unsuccessful hours, Dexter went up to the lead cowboy and said, “You’re not doing it right,” as he sauntered over to a grain barrel, scooped up a healthy load in his hands, and headed to the bull. He calmly walked into the new pasture, with the whole herd following him! He advised the cowboy that it was safe to do this with a bull but never walk behind one.
Douglass is best known as one of Vice President Al Gore’s legal representatives in Florida’s disputed 2000 presidential campaign election results, in a case that ended up at the U.S. Supreme Court. The dispute brought Florida’s Supreme Court to demand on December 8, 2000 to have all 67 counties’ disputed votes recounted. The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 the next day to stop the recount and George Bush was declared the winner by a little over 1,000 votes.
Dexter was what I’d call a completed man. He was the ultimate gentleman, standing when a woman walked into a room. He was courtly and wise. He was a down-home type of guy who loved animals. He, with a brilliant legal mind, would go out of his way to perform legal miracles for anyone, no matter how little money they had. He’d get paid by the big lawsuits, he used to say, like
Florida’s Big Tobacco lawsuit; the regular people back home needed him, too.
Dexter Douglass served on two constitutional revision panels, chairing the second. It is symbolic that he died on September 17th, Constitution Day. He’ll be missed.