Dear 1000 Friends,

1000 Friends of Florida’s Board of Directors and staff mourn the passing on Tuesday, February 21, of Tom Pelham, who twice served under Republican governors as the Secretary of the state’s former land planning agency, the Florida’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA). He served first under Governor Bob Martinez from 1987 to 1991, and then Governor Charlie Crist from 2007 to 2010.

“Tom was a visionary advocate for community planning whose principles and policies helped promote environmentally and fiscally responsible growth in the Sunshine State,” notes 1000 Friends of Florida President Paul Owens. “We were proud to count him among supporters of 1000 Friends from the organization’s earliest days.”


Tom’s obituary in the Tallahassee Democrat notes that he received a B.A. degree in Government from Florida State University, a M.A. degree in Political Science from Duke University; a J.D degree from Florida State University; and a LL.M degree in law from Harvard University. Over his career he was a lawyer, Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners, mediator, teacher, and writer. He represented private and public clients and throughout reflected a deep, admirable appreciation and understanding of sound principles and the imperative to balance interests.

As noted, Tom led DCA twice, during periods of its greatest accomplishments. During his first stint as Secretary, Tom had the challenge to develop state policy and work with local governments to implement the landmark Growth Management Act, adopted in 1985.   In his second stint, Tom dealt with the impacts of the Great Recession and battled ongoing efforts to weaken Florida’s planning process.

Leading Florida environmental and land-use attorney and early legal counsel for 1000 Friends of Florida, Richard Grosso, worked with Tom throughout his career. “I move forward with an even greater resolve, having just learned that Tom Pelham, the man who ran the DCA twice, during the apex of its usefulness, has passed away,” explains Richard. “He was a mentor, friend, confidant, and a real and brilliant warrior for strong land use planning. He had a huge, positive impact on Florida, and on my career. I respected and cared for him greatly.” 


Bob Rhodes, a fellow attorney and mediator, leader in Florida’s growth management process, former executive and counsel with the Walt Disney Company and St. Joe Company, and former 1000 Friends of Florida board member, recalls that he was privileged to be friends with Tom for 50 years. “There are many heavy hearts among sound planning supporters, a leader has passed,” notes Bob. “Infused to the core of his work in the public and private sectors was a fierce commitment to make his home state a better place through smart, sustainable planning and meaningful, fair regulation. That was his professional life's mission and he performed exceptionally.”

Born in 1943, Tom grew up on the family farm in the Panhandle’s rural Holmes County. Childhood memories included picking cotton, milking cows, baling hay, hoeing garden rows, and other responsibilities. His earliest years were spent in a “two-room shotgun shanty without indoor plumbing or electricity.” He relayed these and other stories in his 2021 autobiography, Kids Don’t Have Backs. That phrase was his father’s response when Tom and his brothers complained about the unending backbreaking labor expected of them daily to keep the farm solvent.

This childhood, upon which Tom came to look upon fondly, left him with a deep appreciation of the need to protect Florida’s rural natural and farmlands from rampant suburbanization. Explains Bob Rhodes, “His legacy will long be remembered and will serve as a polestar for those who travel after him.”

Tom leaves behind his wife, Vivian, sons Christopher and Evan, brother Stanley, sister Sherri and many nieces and nephews. His memorial service is set for Sunday, February 26, at the Bevis Funeral Home in Tallahassee. Visitation is at 2 and the service at 3.

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