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Gene Hodges dead at 77

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Former Cedar Key Mayor Eugene “Gene” Hodges, born into a politically connected family, was the heir to that way of knowing how to get things done for the island community and the district that he represented in the Florida House from 1972 to 1988. 

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Hodges'  father was a state senator from 1952-62, Senate President and later a lobbyist. 

The son, a lifelong Democrat, made his mark in politics by being smart and likable. He used his quick wit the way a carpenter uses a wood plane — smoothing and finely shaping the final debate. 

His life was devoted to public service, serving in the U.S. Air Force in North Africa from 1955-58, the Florida Parole Commission, as Cedar Key Judge, on the Cedar Key Planning Commission and the Cedar Key City Commission and Community Redevelopment Agency. 

Hodges was also the hero who saved his alma mater after the Levy County school board closed it in 1980, according to “Cedar Key Florida, a History” by Kevin McCarthy. The 32 students were to be bused to Bronson or Chiefland because of the school district's fears of violating Title IX which required equal sports opportunities for boys and girls and decreasing enrollment. 

Hodges, a 1954 graduate of CKHS, introduced a bill to provide money for isolated schools like CKHS. The schools were required to have at least 28 students, the school board had to levy the maximum discretionary millage and the students had to score at a level equal or above the state average on statewide tests. Cedar Key High is the only school to meet those three criteria. 

Hodges is also a proven rainmaker for his hometown. Two years ago when Levy County was suffering from a drought and water tables dropped so low that saltwater intrusion in wells made the water undrinkable, Hodges, the mayor, had one bit of advice: Pray, Hodges said. Pray and then pray some more for an end to the drought. That was on June 21.

A week later Tropical Storm Debby checked into Cedar Key with more than 10 inches of rain. The rains have pretty much continued since then.

On Sunday, July 6, Hodges, 77, was found by his beloved fish pond at his hunting camp in Rosewood by sheriff's deputies alerted to his absence. The 8th Circuit Medical Examiner's Office has ruled it death by natural causes. 

He leaves behind a wife, Annette, two sons, Eugene Randolph (Randy) Jr. (Debbie), of Crystal River and 

Michael (Anna) of Cedar Key, a daughter Gina Hodges Tovine (Bill) of Clermont, stepdaughter Jamie Naff, adopted son, Bobby Tramell, of Cedar Key, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, Mildred and William Randolph Hodges.  

Visitation is Thursday, July 10, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Knauff Funeral Home in Chiefland, with services on Friday at 10 a.m. at Cedar Key United Methodist Church. Butial will follow in Cedar Key Cemetery. 

Hodges' son said his father had plans for when he left Tallahassee that did not pan out. 

“When he retired, that was his ambition to go get in his birddog and go mullet fishing,” Randy Hodges said. The “bidrdog” was a type of boat created by the Tremblay Boat Works in Chiefland with a high bow and a low stern suitable for pulling in nets. “Then they banned the nets and that pretty much wound up his fishing.” 

Randy Hodges was referring to the constitutional amendment that banned use of gill nets for mullet fishing. Just one day after the elder Hodges' death the Florida 1st District Court of Appeals smacked down a commercial fishing association's challenge to the state enforcement of the ban. 

“He mainly stayed out on his pond, Randy Hodges said. “In his last years he tended to his hunting camp out there. It was pretty much his last days. He passed away right where he wanted to be.”

Gina Tovine said the pond was her father's joy. “He was there every day,” she said. But lately he was worried about his fish dying. “He had to get those dead fish out of his pond. He was found with his bucket and net. That's what he was doing. He just would go out there and feed them.”

Tovine said her father was a devoted family man and the family would take trips together. She said they were planning a trip to the Keys in three weeks when he died. 

Randy Hodges mentioned that the whole family went elk hunting in Colorado. Seems his father, son and daughter bagged elk, while Randy Hodges came away empty handed. 

And the family hunted together in Levy on numerous occasions, spent holidays together and having fish frys. 

“He was better eater than he was a fish fryer,” said Randy Hodges. “He did 'em OK when he did 'em. But they were better done by my grandaddy or my brother.”

Both Gina Tovine and Randy Hodges mentioned that their father's one enduring quality was integrity, ollowed by his ability to get along with people.  

“It seemed like he could correspond with anybody from either level. He could deal with lawyers or regular old mullet fisherman,” said Randy Hodges. 

“He had the kindest heart. He couldn't hurt a soul ever. I never saw my dad be harsh,” said Gina Tovine. “He just was a good hearted guy who tried to treat people the way he always wanted to be treated.”

Tovine said she hopes to emulate her father one thing ? to support her childrens' decisions the way he supported hers. “He was always very supportive of me even if he didn't agree with my decision. Most of the time I wouldn't know if he didn't disagree with me but he supported me.” 

Of his life, Tovine said, “He was a good guy and he made a difference. He made a difference for a lot of people. He left a legacy.”

 

Among Hodges' honors and distinctions:

• FLAGPAC Agriculturalist of the Decade nomination for 1970-1979. 

• Veterans of Foreign Wars Distinguished Service Award 1975. 

• Florida Chiropractic Association Legislative Award 1977 and 1981. 

• Florida Farm Bureau Legislative Award 1978 through 1981. 

• Gamma Sigma Delta Agricultural Honor Society Distinguished Service Award 1980. 

• Dairy Farmers Inc. Legislative Appreciation Award 1979. 

• Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association Award of Recognition 1979. 

• Florida Agriculture Award of Excellence 1982. 

• Florida Veterinarian Association Layman of the Year Outstanding Services Award 1982. 

• Citrus County School Board 1983 Award. 

• Alliance of North Florida Education Employees Excellence in Education 1985 Award. 

• Cedar Key Sidewalk Art Festival 1985 Award.