UF grad named first black president of Florida Bar
Published: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 at 6:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 at 6:19 p.m.
Fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, The Florida Bar has sworn in its first African-American president.
Eugene K. Pettis, a University of Florida alumnus, was sworn in June 28 to the third largest bar association in the United States.
Pettis was sworn in as the 65th president of The Florida Bar at the Boca Raton Resort & Club. The UF Association of Black Alumni and the Virgil Hawkins Florida Chapter of the National Bar Association hosted a lunch reception and program in Pettis’ honor, and the Chestnut Law Firm in Gainesville, UF Alumni Association, and UF Levin College of Law were all local sponsors.
Terry Nealy, president of the UF Association of Black Alumni, said Pettis’ mom was the first one who said he should be a lawyer because he talks so much. When Pettis was older, he realized he had the skill set to be a lawyer and wanted to help people, Nealy said.
Nealy said The Florida Bar made Pettis president because he always had a knack for attracting all kinds of people and being in a coalition to get things done.
Among his successes, Pettis was the first black Student Government treasurer at UF, and he was president of the UF Black Student Union.
“We’re proud of someone who lived in Gainesville like we did and went to Florida like we did,” Nealy said on Wednesday.
Pettis graduated from UF with a Bachelor of Arts in political science in 1982 and a juris doctor from the UF Levin College of Law in 1985.
Nealy said Pettis becoming The Florida Bar president is big for UF.
“It’s neat to see someone start at a place like that and do well after leaving the safe confines of The Swamp,” Nealy said.
Nealy said Pettis is one of UF’s most active and committed alumni. He comes to events, is active in organizations and supports UF events independently and financially.
Pettis is a co-founder of the Haliczer, Pettis & Schwamm law firm in Fort Lauderdale.
Nealy said that while Pettis is leading the third largest bar association in the country, which has over 96,000 members, Pettis hasn’t forgotten his roots at UF.
“Even in everything he’s doing, he’s still making time for the University of Florida,” Nealy said.
Nealy also pointed out that 55 years ago the first black student enrolled at UF in 1958.
“The UF Association of Black Alumni has adopted “Gator Nation Celebrating Dreams Fulfilled” as its theme for the year,” Nealy said. “We, like many others around the country, are reflecting on Dr. King’s legacy but also celebrating UF alumni dreams that have been fulfilled over the past year.”
Nealy said that 50 years after Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” Pettis has fulfilled that dream.
Pettis was on vacation and unavailable for comment.