Gator QB, politician, developer Larry Libertore dies at 78

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Larry Libertore Jr.
Larry Libertore Jr. is shown in 1996 during the development of Eaglebrooke, a golf course community. [FILE/THE LEDGER]

By Marilyn Meyer
GateHouse Media

LAKELAND — Former state representative, Polk County commissioner, real estate developer and University of Florida quarterback Larry Libertore died Monday at age 78 after a very brief illness.

Libertore had retired from real estate but continued to serve as an advisor for the Libertore Fund for Children, a family nonprofit, said his sister Lana Jean Swartzwelder, chief executive officer.

In 2005, he was inducted into the University of Florida Hall of Fame. He had been a star quarterback, safety and punt returner from 1960 through 1962. Libertore was one of the smallest players in major college football, at the time he stood 5-foot 8-inches and weighed just under 140 pounds, according to an article in The Ledger that year.

“Larry and I went to school at the University of Florida together. We’ve been friends since 1960,” said Don Stephens, of Lakeland. As quarterback of the UF football team, which was a powerhouse team, he was Mr. No. 1, back then, Stephens said.

“They called him Lil’ Lighting. He was quick and fast, the most competitive guy I have ever known,” Stephens said. “He was a great guy, a very dear friend to me for a long time.”

Joe P. Ruthven, who is also a real estate developer in Lakeland, described Libertore “as a very successful gentleman, an outstanding player.”

Libertore was born in Ohio, moved to Miami with his family and attended Miami Edison High School – where he was recognized with All City, All State and All American awards. At the University of Florida, he was named Most Valuable Player at the Gator Bowl and was on the SEC All Scholastic Team.

After graduating from college, he came to Lakeland in 1963.

At the time, Scott Kelly – a state senator from Lakeland – was making an unsuccessful bid for governor and he hired Libertore to head up his campaign, Stephens recalled. “He had that much name recognition” that as a kid fresh out of college he was asked to take on the role, Stephens said.

Libertore stayed in Lakeland and organized The Florida Brahmans, the city’s first professional football team. And he partnered in a real estate venture, Loftin-Libertore.

In 1970 he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, serving four years.

In 1974, he founded his own real estate firm, Larry Libertore Inc. His commercial and residential developments included the residential portion of Eaglebrook golf community. He was also president of ADLIB Inc., a builder of commercial and residential buildings.

He served on the Polk County Commission from 1984 until 1992 and became chairman.

He was past president of Lakeland South Rotary, was on the board of directors of the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce, was involved in the Lakeland YMCA membership campaign, and was a campaign director for Polk County Chapter of March of Dimes.

His widow, Mary Libertore, said survivors include his son Larry Libertore III, his daughters Lisa Libertore and Christy Libertore, a stepson Nathanael Snell, and two step-grandsons.

He is also survived by a brother, Doug Libertore, of Sarasota.

Marilyn Meyer, writes for The Ledger in Lakeland, can be reached at marilyn.meyer@theledger.com or 863-802-7558.

27 COMMENTS

  1. I am so sorry to hear of this passing. My father and I began going to Gator Bowls and particularly the Georgia-Florida game in the fall of 1960, and I’ve always remembered watching Larry Libertore playing several times on those great Ray Graves teams. In fact, I got to meet him once after a game….the 1960 Gator Bowl win against Baylor…we went c some friends from St Augustine who knew Bob Wehking’s family, so we went down to the field after the game when the team would come out of the locker room in civvies afterward, to meet Bob (the largest man I ever saw up to that age of 13 or 14), and Larry came over too in his Gator blazer…the difference in size was astonishing. What I remember most was how kind Larry was to me as a kid who had just died and gone to heaven. He talked to me like we had known each other all our lives, and was incredibly nice. That’s how I will always remember him, even more than for what a great QB he was. Among those men that day were also Bobby Dodd Jr, Lindy Infante, Bob Hoover (“Hoover the Mover”), Vic Miranda, Pat Patchen and Bill Cash, all Gator greats. Even Ronnie Bull, the Baylor great. My biggest thrill, of course, was being able to talk to Bob and Larry, and I’ve never forgotten it. My very sincere condolences to his family.

  2. Larry Libertore at Florida and Billy Lothridge at Georgia Tech were the first two college football players I identified with growing up in the south. I remember watching both play for their respective schools on black and white TV in the early 60s and the sports influence they both had on me as young boy. I imagined what it would like to be both on a football field back in those days, and both Billy and Larry played the college football game way beyond their sizes and skill sets. Lothridge died of blood cancer years back in Atlanta at a time I was fighting off a similar challenge. And now Larry is gone way too young. Just reminds me that the years of cheering and rooting on the Gators are decreasing rapidly.

    • Just a function of growing older, Rick, but following your passion and commentary for quite a while, I’d opine that you’ve got a whole lotta Gator football ahead of you. Me too, I think, because I’ve already put in my will that it’s not effective until such time as the Gators win another damn national championship! (although that could actually work against me, at that).

      Both of those men did indeed go way too young. Or maybe it’s that we’re old enough now to appreciate the meanings of things like this. The fact that we both, many others of us too, still remember them so vividly speaks more about their legacies than I ever could in words. This is a sad day, regardless.

  3. Gator-6, Rick Gilmore, really loved reading your comments. I’m a little younger, so I don’t recall Larry, with my Gator football memories really beginning with players like Spurrier, John Reaves, Carlos Alvarez, Tommy Durrance and Steve Taanen. As a kid growing up in Ft. Lauderdale in the 60’s and early 70’s, we had only black and white newsprint available to read about our Gator heroes. I don’t recall seeing a Gator football or basketball game on TV until the very late 60’s. My basketball hero was Gary Keller, who I later had the privilege to know and do business with early in my business career. At 6’9, he is quite the opposite of Larry physically, but like him, a true gentleman. I think us older Gators have a different perspective than many of the younger guys who post here regularly, and that’s OK, as long they keep it civil. I hope both of you gentleman continue to post your memories and comments along with your views about all things Gator so the rest of us can hear about greats like Larry and others we may not have heard of. We are never too old to share our experiences and thoughts, and I look forward to reading yours for as long as you are around. Thanks.

    • If my memory serves and I can still do basic math, Libertore, as stated, graduated in Spring, 1963. SOS got there that fall, playing on the freshman team which was the custom back then as I recall, so SOS I think started in the fall of ’64. So no overlap, but close enough for guvmint bidness. I’m sure they knew each other, of course. Which all goes to the point that this was a long time ago, but not really long at all for us old duffers. Time is a peculiar thing, ain’t it just? Damn, now that I’ve thought this all through, I think I need a dose of Geritol and a nap!

        • Well if that’s the case, Dan, I’m just going to have to increase my exercise program at least by two fold……I’ll start rolling over twice when I take a nap!

  4. I was always astounded at the level of play and the toughness of Libertore. As you said he played way above his size. I remember watching him play when I was in Junior high. He gave all us smaller guys motivation to play even when we were one of the smallest on the team. His competitive nature was a true inspiration. The Gator Nation has lost a fine man and an exemplary Gator. R I P Larry Libertore.

  5. Liberators n threw the game winning two point conversion against Georgia Tech in 1960. That game marked a giant change in Gator football. Ever since then we have felt like we had a chance to beat any team. One of the top 5 best games I ever saw. My first Gator game was in 1953, so I have seen many.

    • Nevins–I remember the game, but my memory is acting up again–I thought it was Bobby Dodd, Jr who threw the winning pass for us. He was none other than the Tech coach’s son.
      And who could ever forget LL? All of my friends and I loved to watch him play; we gloried in his successes and marveled at his audacity. Not five days ago I told somebody, a non-gator, all about him at length–how he could run, how his legs splayed out when seen from behind as he cruised the line in an option, how he could turn upfield on a dime.
      Looking back, I think he meant something important to us about how one might aspire even at a great disadvantage.

      • Wow, this stretches my memory to about the snapping point. Let’s see….Georgia Tech was still in the SEC at the time, Bobby Dodd was their HC and Bobby Dodd Jr and Larry Libertore were both Gator sophmores, neither were lettermen yet. I think Florida was down 17-10, I think it was Dodd who threw the late TD to make it 17-16 and Ray Graves decided to go for 2 c Libertore running what we’d now call an RPO, sort of….Florida ran a lot of motion plays back then c Lindy Infante or Bob Hoover in motion….faked Baylor out of their jock straps and Libertore threw it instead to Pat Patchen? Somebody help me out here, this was 57 years ago men! Anyway, the great Pepper Rogers was also a Florida coach then, and the Gators beat both Georgia and Georgia Tech for the first time in 20 years that season. Only losses were to Rice and Auburn. From my 50 cent Gator Bowl book that year, signed by Bob Wehking, Don Goodman, and Bob Hoover (but not Larry for some reason), the late Miami Herald sports editor, Edwin Pope, wrote: “this from a team picked to finish 9th in the SEC….before the season started someone suggested to QB Larry Libertore (that) the Gators would be lucky to break even….break even, he cried….who we gonna lose to?”.

      • Rick Caseres! Did he go to Tampa Jefferson? Play fullback? Play high school basketball? Beat Jacksonville’s Lee High 33-30 in (probably) 1948 even though I made six points for Lee?

        • Roger that, leland….same guy. I never saw him play, I was probably only 6 or so when he graduated and went on to the Chicago Bears, but my Dad always said he was the toughest, roughest, and best back who ever played for the Gators. Now, that’s high praise from my old man, a life long Gator, since he didn’t pass away until 1993 and saw many very fine Gator backs over the course of his life.

          • As for me, I left for the army right after high school so was unable to follow Caseres’ exploits at UF over the following years. But I remember that basketball game! He had such big muscles that I heard he went through three years of high school basketball without being fouled. I guarded him in that night and stayed so far away I don’t think he ever noticed me

  6. Larry Libertore was one of the first Gators I can remember seeing play – I was 6 in 1962 and my Mom and Dad were big Gators so that’s the way we were all raised. He was probably my first Gator hero, followed by Jack Card, a tough little undersized linebacker under Ray Graves that wore #1 because it fit on his jersey. Larry Libertore is a name that will live forever in Gator lore, a fine man then and for the rest of his life, successful in business and always caring about people. Thanks for being who you are Larry, one of the pillars that Gator Nation was built on.

    • “…..thanks for being who you are Larry, one of the pillars that Gator Nation was built on”.

      Nicely put, turnabout. Translated to words what we all feel.

  7. The winning touchdown against Georgia Tech was a pitch from Larry to Lindy Infante,not a pass.I remembered but confirmed it by watching a 4 minute you tube.Larry then threw a two point conversion to honest John MacBeth for the victory.I recall listening to the UF- LSU game(at Baton Rogue) where Larry ran 66 yards on the first play of the game to spur the Gators to a 13-10 win.I WAS 14 at the time and really starting to get into the Gators.My first Gator game was the 1955 UF-UGA game(a win) when I was 9.My first game at Florida Field was 1960-a 10-7 loss to Auburn which cost us the SEC.Our only other loss was to Rice.

    • Eric & Ron–I’ve got so many holes in my brain left over from my callow youth that I can’t swear to it at all, but I was sure it was Dodd who brought them within a point and then Larry came in for the conversion. But Eric, you obviously watched it on YouTube, so I’ll go c your version of the story. Well, makes sense….if Larry passed to Infante for the TD, he’d be the guy for the 2-pointer too. I clearly remember all those pitches to backs in motion, thinking at the time that was the coolest thing I had ever seen. McBeth was an FB, so he must have come out of the backfield on a fake hand off and received the pass in the end zone. Is that correct? Only losses that year were to Auburn 10-7, as you stated, and Rice 10-0. I watched them beat Baylor and Ronnie Bull in the Gator Bowl that December.

      • Sure did Rick, and it wasn’t that long ago for Ray Graves, too. In our mind’s eye…of course…we still see them as they were way back when. Larry Libertore might be kind of the exception, though….but for the haircut, when I looked up his 1960 photo you could definitely tell he was the same guy.

  8. I have a lot of fine memories of my time living in Sledd Hall nexto to Little Lucky Lightning Larry Libatore and Linde Infante. He played a big game, coming back a black and blue bruised 128 lb after most games. Remember sitting in the old North End Zone in front of the Bell and watching him slither between two big Miami Defenders, as they collided with each other, and scoring. A lot of good times in those times and both he and Lindy were good fellows.

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