Former County Commissioner Durrance left behind legacy


Published: Monday, April 22, 2013 at 11:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 22, 2013 at 11:09 p.m.

John R. Durrance, better known as Jack, was devoted to Alachua County.

He spent 28 years as a county commissioner, guiding the area's development from his seat on the board from the mid-1950s through the early 1980s.

Durrance died last week at the age of 89, leaving behind a big family and a local legacy.

His impact on life in Alachua County may not always be obvious, but the mark he left on the County Commission is clear. The board he served on for so long now hears concerns from its residents in a room that bears his name, the Jack Durrance Auditorium.

Durrance had non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a form of cancer, and passed away on April 15, his son, John R. Durrance Jr., said. He was living in the Atlanta area near much of his family but had spent most of his life in Gainesville, where he graduated from Gainesville High School and the University of Florida.

He is survived by four children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His wife, Janet Hiers Durrance, died in August from bone cancer.

Durrance served in World War II and was a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation before returning to Gainesville to work as a part-owner of Gainesville Bonded Warehouse. He got involved in local government and served on the County Commission from 1954 to 1982.

Durrance retired from local government and business in the early 1980s and spent his last few decades golfing and spending time with his family, his son, John, said.

His father was a good explainer, which came in handy whenever John asked him philosophical questions about life. In the Durrance household, Mom was the go-to parent for homework help but Dad was always willing to talk through big-picture questions with his children.

“I was lucky because he could take things that were complex and not necessarily make them simple, but make them understandable,” John said.

John remembers playing tennis on Saturday mornings with his father as a teenager and going on long walks where they'd talk about whatever they felt like. He also recalls how proud his father was to serve the people of Alachua County as a commissioner. “He always called it ‘public service,' and he always felt honored that people kept electing him,” he said.

Durrance inspired former County Commissioner Leveda Brown to join the board. He served on the commission from 1954 to 1982, leaving the same year she joined. Brown said she used to tease him about that since she wanted to be on the board primarily because of him.

“I've never seen him angry and I've never heard him give much of an impassioned political speech. He was just very quietly doing things,” she said. “I admired him extremely.”

He was more about taking action than talking big, but he got things done.

Brown said Durrance helped pull Alachua County into the 21st century during his time as commissioner, shepherding it alongside his fellow board members from a time when Florida was more rural and less populous into the bustle and urban growth of the '80s.

He was instrumental in establishing a zoning process for development within the county before it was a popular or required practice, she said. Now it's the norm.

He also helped move the county toward a digital platform before many other local governments did, according to Brown, in part by encouraging the establishment of an information technology department.

Clerk of the Court J.K. “Buddy” Irby worked with Durrance back then. He remembered Durrance as a quiet Southern gentleman who was great to work with and who did a lot of good for the community.

He was likely the longest-running County Commissioner, according to modern records, Irby said. There aren't many commissioners who sit on the board for more than four terms, but he served seven.

“He was a gentleman and a good commissioner,” Irby said. “He was always prepared and he was one of them that really had a major impact on making Alachua County into what it is today.”

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gvillesun.com.

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