BRADENTON -- Edgar H. Price Jr., hailed as a leader of integrity and compassion as state senator and whose accomplishments were far-reaching and lasting, died Saturday night after a long illness at age 94, with family at his side in Bradenton.
Among those mourning his loss Sunday was former Florida Gov. Reubin O'D. Askew.
"He was one of the closest friends I've ever had. He was also, I might add, one of the warmest, nicest human beings I have ever known," Askew said. "I had enormous personal respect for him. We were in the Legislature together. I got to know Ed quite well, as he did me.
"We seldom disagreed. Usually when we disagreed, I came around to his point of view," he recalled.
Askew, one of Florida's most respected governors, also revealed that he had actually asked Sen. Price to run for governor, but the Bradenton resident put his political ambitions on the back burner to put his beloved wife Elise and family first.
"I even volunteered to be his lieutenant governor, but he placed his wife and family first. That is one of the reasons I thought so highly of him," Askew said.
Sen. Price represented the then-36th District of Florida from 1958 to 1966, and chaired the Special Commission for the Study of the Abolition of the Death Penalty 1963-1965.
A native of Jacksonville, he was born Jan. 1, 1918, and attended public school in Louisiana, Texas and New York. He also attended public schools in Bradenton, Palmetto, Tampa and Venice before graduating from Sarasota High School, where he was president of the student body, captain of the football team, All South Florida Conference in basketball and football, and was the high school tennis captain. He attended the University of Florida.
With World War II looming for the United States, he enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army in January 1941. He was admitted as an aviation cadet in 1942, and commissioned as a pilot in 1943.
He would fly 26 bombing missions in the European Theater.
Even after the war, he made it his mission to keep up with his crew members.
"He had a sense of duty. A lot of that came from his war experience. He felt responsible for those nine other people in the plane," said his son, Jerald Steven Price.
"He kept up with the crew members the rest of their lives. He had a card from the widow of one of his crew members saying thank you for bringing my husband back," his son added. "He always tried to do the right thing. Much of it was done very quietly."
After Mr. Price was honorably discharged from the Army, he became manager of a 400-acre commercial flower farm.
In 1955, he became executive vice president and director of Tropicana Products Inc. and 13 wholly owned Tropicana companies.
He resigned in 1972, but served on the Tropicana board until 1983. He served on numerous other corporate and governmental boards as well.
Ed Dick, a Bradenton resident who has his own remarkable record of service to others, praised Sen. Price as a "mover and shaker" and a "great human being.""There are many who call him their mentor," Dick said.
Ann Moon served as Sen. Price's secretary for more than 40 years.
"I was blessed to have been in that position," Moon said Sunday. "He was a Christian gentleman. That's the way he was all the time. I can't imagine a more perfect job than I had with him."
Sen. Price served as a Sunday school teacher for 25 years at First Baptist Church of Bradenton and was twice chairman of the board of deacons.
Sen. Price's activities and affiliations were sweeping.
Just to name a few, he was former chairman of the Florida Citrus Commission, chairman of the Florida Board of Regents Advisory Committee for Selection of the Chancellor, former chairman of the Manatee County Board of School District Trustees., and a member of President Jimmy Carter's inaugural finance committee.
Sen. Price was also past president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and past president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.
In recognition of his service to the community, the Edgar H. Price Jr. Children and Family Health Center in Parrish was named in his honor in 2006 by Manatee County Rural Health Services.
Among his many other honors: Manatee County Agricultural Hall of fame member, and recipient of the Manatee County Branch of the NAACP Statesmanship in Human Affairs Award. He was also the first recipient of the Edgar H. Price Humanitarian Award presented by the Palmetto Youth Center.
From 1972 until 2001, he operated the Price Company, a nonprofit consulting firm in Bradenton.
"There was no one quite like Ed. He had a great sense of humor, and great integrity," Askew said. "I can't say too much good about him because I loved him so much. He was first and foremost for the people he represented and never deviated.
"He was a wonderful guy. I shall miss him. He was a true public servant. He loved Bradenton, and Bradenton loved him. He was proud of agriculture in the state and loved Tropicana," Askew said.
In honor of his legacy of service, the Edgar H. Price Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award, sponsored by the Manatee County Rural Health Services Foundation, is presented annually to a person who made a difference through leadership, community involvement and philanthropy.
In November, former Florida first lady Rhea Chiles of Holmes Beach became the recipient of the fifth annual Price Lifetime Achievement Award. She partnered with her husband, the late Lawton Chiles, during his 40 years in public service in the Florida Legislature, U.S. Senate and governor's office.
Sen. Price is survived by his son, Jerald Stevens Price, two granddaughters, Hilleary Price and Carrie Whaley, and two grandchildren, Otis Whaley and Imogene Whaley. His wife, Elise, died at age 90 in 2009.
Funeral arrangements are incomplete, but it is anticipated that the public will be invited to visitation at the downtown Shannon Funeral Home. The funeral service will be private.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 941-745-7021 or tweet @jajones1