Warren M. Cason
It was 1933 and the father of 8-year-old Warren Cason had just died from the flu at the family’s Hillsborough County farm. Warren’s mother, Bertha, gathered him and four siblings together after the funeral. “Each one of you is going to college,” Mrs. Cason told the children, ages 3 to 11.
“And we all did,” Warren Cason recalled many years later.
Cason would leave the farm, fight in World War II and graduate from the University of Florida with a law degree in 1950. He transformed himself into an influential political operator, banker and successful lawyer focusing on probate and financial regulation; in 1989 Cason became a partner in Holland & Knight, one of the nation’s premier law firms. As Cason prospered, he gave back time and money to the University Florida and the Levin College of Law.
After the death of his father and the promise by his mother, Cason continued his education at the Springhead “strawberry school,” an elementary school whose year ran from April through Christmas, so that students were able to pick strawberries during the winter.
On the farm, the children grew strawberries, citrus, corn, tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables while Mrs. Cason continued to run the school cafeteria. Long before his 16th birthday and before children were required to carry driver’s licenses, Warren drove the produce the few miles into Plant City for sale.
Warren continued working on the farm while attending elementary school and then high school in Plant City. “I knew one thing: When I got big enough, I was going to leave that farm,” he told an interviewer in 1992.
He accomplished that goal by volunteering for World War II. Upon graduation from Plant City High School, the U.S. Navy deployed Cason to the Pacific where he served with a underwater demolition team. Cason matriculated at the University of Florida in the fall of 1946.
During law school, Cason and his friends piled into a car and drove to Tallahassee to lobby against a requirement that law school graduates had to take the state bar exam — at least against a requirement that those currently enrolled would have to take it. That first foray into politics was successful as the youthful lobbyists convinced legislators to exempt them, requiring that future students would be required to pass the bar in order to practice law in Florida.
Cason paid for his education, room and board with the GI Bill and a potato-delivery business to cafeterias and restaurants in Gainesville with his brother, Tom. After all, reasoned Warren: “When you think about a college town, what do you eat most? Probably French fries.”
Cason graduated with a LLB from UF Law in 1950, and his business acumen would continue to serve him as he began practicing law in Orlando with the firm Pleus, Edwards & Rush. From 1952 to 1960 he was a partner in the Tampa firm of McEwen & Cason, then opened his own law offices in 1961. That practice evolved into Cason, Henderson & Baker, which continued until 1989.
At the same time, Cason was becoming more deeply involved in Florida and local politics. He helped run Gov. Farris Bryant’s campaign for governor and was subsequently appointed to the State Road Board in January 1961. This was an influential position that controlled the road building in 14 counties along the state’s west coast. The day after he was sworn in as a member of the State Road Board, Cason opened his first bank. It was the first of many he chartered, which he would eventually consolidate as Sun Trust Banks.
Cason parlayed his political influence into jobs as Hillsborough County attorney from 1964 through 1973, and he served as Tampa City attorney from 1978 to 1979.
In 1989, Cason merged his firm with Holland & Knight and as a partner he oversaw regulatory financial areas of the practice. The move was eased by Cason’s friendship since law school with Chesterfield Smith (JD 48), a managing partner of Holland & Knight.
Cason was instrumental in raising money for the construction of Bruton-Geer Hall. Judge James D. Bruton (LLB 31), the building’s namesake, was Cason’s role model as a teenager in Plant City. Cason also devoted time and money to renovation and expansion of the law library — the Lawton Chiles Legal Information Center.
He was involved in the hiring of coaches and served as advisor to the university president. Cason served as president of the Florida Foundation and estimated that at one point he was spending 25 percent of his time working on behalf of his alma mater.
Cason once explained why he was determined to aid the University of Florida. “You get out and get to the point where you can do some things, and I think it is important that you give back to the university something that it gave you,” he said. “I do love the university, and I credit it, along with my mother and my wife, for everything I have.”
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