Florida lost an environmental giant on March 3rd when John Henry Hankinson, Jr. died. On March 7, 2017 hundreds gathered at the Fort King Presbyterian Church in Ocala, FL for a celebration of his life. The service included not only friends and family, but environmental leaders from across the state and Southeast region of the United States.
During the “Celebration of Life” service, Hankinson was called a modern day Da Vinci, a patriot and an environmental land use visionary and leader of the environmental protection movement.
He was described as a good husband and father who raised two sons and a person who could make people laugh and dream.
In an email read at the service former EPA Director, Carol Browner, described Hankinson as “a good friend to me and many, many others and mentor to untold number of conservationists. He lived large and he lived well.”
Manley Fuller, Executive Director of the Florida Wildlife Federation, described Hankinson as, “someone who could disarm people with his humor and his brilliant dry wit…He was a brilliant conservation advocate who functioned at a high level but, with the common touch, he could comfortably negotiate complex deals for clean water with captains of industry or sit down and find common ground with regular folks along Florida’s waterways or around the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.”
See pictures and hear music from the celebration of life service below:
John’s most recent position was the Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force where he worked with 11 federal agencies and five states to develop strategy for restoration of the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It’s my understanding he was selected for the position by former President Barack Obama.
He has also served as the Regional Administrator of the EPA’s office in Atlanta overseeing federal wetland regulation and state implementation of delegated Clean Water Act programs in eight southern states.
His work included promoting comprehensive watershed and coastal aquatic ecosystem management including the Florida Everglades, National Estuary Programs, and efforts to establish a compact for the Apalachicola/Chattahoochee/Flint (ACF) River System. The list of awards for his accomplishments is long.
Before working for the EPA he held the position of Director of Planning and Acquisition at the St. John’s River Water Management District in Florida. In that capacity he helped the state acquire more than 200,000 acres of environmentally important lands.
Early in his career Hankinson told me he was inspired by the environmental activism of Marjorie Harris Carr. Carr is best known for her work at helping stop the construction of the now defunct Cross Florida Barge Canal. Even though the project came to a halt, there are dams on either side of the state, the Inglis Locke on the Gulf Side and the Kirkpatrick Dam (better known as the Rodman Dam) between the St. John’s and Ocklawaha Rivers.
In 1996 I produced a series on the Cross Florida Barge Canal controversy when the federal government gave money back to each of the counties who had contributed to the dream for the “Big Ditch.” To hear John Hankinson’s comments about Marjorie Carr click on segment 5 of my Cross Florida Barge Canal Series entitled, “Remembering Marjorie Carr.”
Hankinson continued the efforts of Carr as he worked for years trying to restore the Ocklawaha River to be a free flowing system. At times it seemed as if it would really happen as various governors and numerous environmental groups supported the idea. But each time supporters thought the dam would finally be removed, state lawmakers pushed back. Leading the opposition for many years was the late State Senator George Kirkpatrick who loved to fish on the Rodman Reservoir.
On the day I interviewed Hankinson for the series in 1997 he was in town for the first official “Undam the Dam Jam” held at the Cousin Thelma Boltin Center in Gainesville. I can still recall how as we sat outside for our interview, a plane circled above us pulling a banner that read, “Save the Rodman.” It was as if the opponents of the restoration effort knew I was talking to Hankinson and decided to disturb our interview. We both got a pretty good laugh out of the scenario above us as I couldn’t keep interviewing him without picking up the sound of the plane overhead. You can hear his comments in segment 6 of the series listed above.
Former Florida Lt. Governor Buddy MacKay spoke at the service and described Hankinson’s determination to “Free the Ocklawaha.”
Hankinson loved playing music and was an avid blues harmonica player with several bands including the band known as Johnny Matanzas and the Hombres as well as the band called, The Non Essentials.
On the morning of March 7th, 2017 John Henry Hankinson, Jr.’s body was laid to rest at Prairie Creek Cemetery near Micanopy , FL.
In lieu of flowers, his family suggested a donation be made to Florida Defenders of the Environment for the John H. Hankinson, Jr. Ocklawaha River Restoration Fund. (put on bottom of the check). The address is P.O. Box 357086, Gainesville, FL 32635.
John Henry Hankinson, Jr. May 8, 1948 – March 3, 2017
To read two other interesting articles about Hankinson’s legacy go to the Orlando Sentinel at the following link:
Another interesting article: