By Marilyn Meyer
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7558.