Randall Holland with trophy.
Grad leaves law for poker
By John S. Cole
High-stakes poker may not be the most secure way to make a living, but it
has its advantages.
FSU Communications Group
Ask Randall Holland.
Three years ago, Holland, a 1980 graduate of Florida State University's
College of Law, gave up his more-than-$65,000-a-year job with the state
Comptroller's Office to pursue a career as - you guessed it - a professional
Don't laugh. For Holland, 44, the choice paid off hands down.
Now, instead of being stuck behind a desk crunching numbers from 8 to 5,
Holland travels around the globe, setting his own hours, living in posh
hotels and winning - or losing - outrageously large sums of money.
"I've had quite a few days where I've won or lost $10,000 in a game,"
he said. "Luckily, I've had more winning days than I've had losing."
In April, Holland won $84,000 and a first-place trophy in the "World
Series of Poker" in Las Vegas. He earned $16,000 in another tournament
for a seventh-place finish. Another FSU graduate, John Cernutto, class of
1966, also won a first place trophy in the "World Series" competitions.
The "World Series of Poker," more like the Olympic games than
baseball, pits hundreds of poker players against one another in several
competitions. The groups play elimination games until one person in each
category walks away with the pot. Holland's earnings over the past three
years have allowed him to invest in real estate and start a construction
business in Mississippi with his brother.
"Even though I gamble for a living, I am conservative and careful what
I do with that money," he said.
A former assistant attorney general, Holland went to work for the state
Comptroller's office in 1983 as assistant director of the Division of Finance.
He was soon promoted to director.
Holland's reputation for level-headed thinking was such that his parents
said they barely flinched when their son quit his job to become a professional
"He seems to make good decisions," Rose Holland. "We would
rather have a happy Randy than an unhappy Randy. He seemed to be ready for
Holland is the first to admit that playing poker for a living isn't the
wisest choice for everyone.
"You have to be a person who can stand the misfortunes that come with
any game of chance," he said.
But good poker players are not controlled solely by the hands dealt them.
"If you're just lucky, you won't last very long," Holland said.
"You've also got to play well.
"It takes an analytical mind. It's not that the decisions are complicated.
You just have to make a lot of decisions at once. "
Making those right decisions takes skill and a certain je ne sais quoi.
"You have to have an instinct for the game," Holland said. "That
can't be learned. You either have it or you don't."
Jim Towey Speaking to Louise Potocki, 83
during a tour at Colonial Care Center in St. Petersburg.
By Larry Keough
missionary's zeal to problems of aging
FSU Communications Group
In 2010, when the first batch of the post-war babies turns 65, if Florida
is ready, it might be because of Jim Towey.
Towey, 39, has founded and is leading the Florida Commission on Aging with
Dignity, which has raised nearly $600,000 to find health-care solutions
for the 76 million Baby Boomers expected to retire by 2029.
"I liken it to the time when we were in Miami watching Hurricane Andrew
form off the west coast of Africa," says Towey, who graduated from
FSU with an accounting degree (magna cum laude) and a law degree. "Some
people prepared, some did a little bit, and most did nothing."
Towey, who was appointed by Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1993 to head the state
Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, began looking for his
next big challenge last year when the Republican-controlled Senate removed
him from the job.
Chiles called Towey's ouster the "lynching" of a good man.
"There is a fair amount of anger and hurt from being thrown out of
a job that you have done well," Towey says. To overcome the negative
feelings, "I had to enroll in the school of mercy."
Towey wanted to help people, but as a father of two preschool children,
he couldn't return to missionary work. In the 1980s, he had helped Mother
Teresa comfort lepers in Calcutta, tend to AIDS patients in Washington,
D.C., and serve the needy in Tijuana, Mexico.
Towey found his new mission through his own family. A year ago last summer,
his father, Edward, died of a heart attack. Towey had observed his father's
final days and concluded that some of the worst suffering is in comfortable
"Nursing home patients are cut off from light, and they are very lonely,"
He says government can't do it all.
"I'm basically a salesman," Towey says. "I'm using my contacts
to bring people together so we can show people how important this problem
is to all of us." Towey announced in May that the commission would
bring political, religious and business leaders together to identify health-care
problems and offer solutions.
The commission's advisory board includes Chiles; Jeb Bush, chairman of the
Foundation for Florida's Future, a conservative, grass roots policy institute;
Archbishop John Favalora; Rabbi Solomon Schiff; and others. Towey says the
commission's success depends on raising the public consciousness about health
"I believe with all my heart that if people speak up, politicians listen,"
Towey says. "If that happens, I believe our democratic process will
work very well."
The commission is financed by $398,690 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation,
$85,000 from the Claude and Mildred Pepper Foundation and $87,926 from the
New regent Phil Lewis and FSU's Jon Dalton see Wendy Provenzano's
housing in Reynolds Hall in September, when Lewis toured the campus.
'Great peacemaker' knows the system
By John S. Cole
FSU Communications Group
When the Board of Regents divvies up the money among 10 growing state universities,
decides the volatile question of tenure and struggles to balance all the
other interests that divide higher education, it can't hurt to have a peacemaker
That would be former state Senate President Phil Lewis, 67, a cigar-chomping
(but not smoking) South Florida real-estate broker appointed in May by Gov.
Lewis led the Senate in 1978-80, an era of such legislative backbiting and
grandstanding that, one observer says, little would have been accomplished
without his cool head and skilled leadership.
"He was the great peacemaker," said Virginia Ellis, who covered
state government for the St. Petersburg Times during the 1970s, when Lewis
was in the Senate.
"He wasn't the mastermind (behind most bills) but, boy, without him
things couldn't get passed," said Ellis, now an investigative reporter
with the Los Angeles Times.
Lewis has made a reputation as a friend of education even though he says
himself he "wasn't much of a student."
He left Georgetown University after one year to work on his father's ranch
near Lake Worth.
But life was simpler then, he says, and a high school diploma went a lot
further than it does now, when college dropouts can scarcely survive, much
less thrive, in a high-tech workforce.
Lewis' decision to drop out of school is not one he would be willing to
make today, for himself or anyone else.
"The more sophisticated we get (as a society), the more education is
needed," Lewis said. "It's something that everybody needs."
But he's not sure everybody will have it.
"What I see long range is a huge group of young people coming up through
the system and not having room," Lewis said.
Besides working for access, Lewis hopes to do something about standards.
"We have sort of dumbed down the system somehow," he said. "(It
was) all very well intentioned, but it hasn't done the kids any good."
Lewis has been a major proponent of education reform and has worked on countless
boards and committees dealing with issues affecting kindergarten through
"Education was always sort of a thing with me," he said.
In the Senate, Lewis served on the subcommittee that created the summer
semester and helped pass the Common Course Numbering System, which paved
the way for articulation agreements between community colleges and universities.
"We were having kids who were accepted into the university and having
to take courses all over again," Lewis said. "I thought that was
When he retired from the Senate in 1980 - though he was, and remains, extremely
popular - some said his refusal to resort to ruthless politicking was a
"Each person has his own personality, his own way of doing things,"
Lewis said at the time. "I never believed in putting the arm on anybody,
and I never believed in taking senators for a walk over glass when I knew
plain well ahead of time what the results were going to be."
J.R. Harding, left, and Dave Briscoe water skiing.
Doctoral student won't be stopped
By Claire Sand
Special to the Florida State Times
James Raymond Harding is studying to be a university president. He skis
and scuba dives. He follows politics. He has taught school. He dates a lot
("I'm single, like to mingle"). And now he's a member of the Florida
Board of Regents.
The most striking Harding trait is his zest for life. If it's out there,
and he can do it, he will.
Without that eagerness to embrace life, Harding, who is paralyzed from the
chest down, might be in trouble. More than 10 years ago, a fellow high-school
student attacked him from behind and threw him to the ground, breaking his
neck and leaving him in a wheelchair for life.
"I tried to do something right and walk away from a fist fight,"
he explains, but he doesn't dwell on it.
"You move forward," he said. "You have to see how far you
can go instead of wondering how it might have been."
So far, at age 29, he's gone a long way. He's a doctoral student in higher
education at FSU. Until recently he was a substitute teacher. Last year
he interned at the state House and in the Governor's office.
And he plans to compete as a water skier. Because he has limited use of
his hands, Harding sits on a kind of snow-board with a parasail harness
attaching him to a boat.
"There's no classification for my level of injury," he says "The
authorities are going to have to work on that and figure out how I can compete
with persons with more ability than myself."
In the meantime, he's just taken the student seat on the Board of Regents,
which governs Florida's 10 state universities.
When Harding learned the regents include one student member, he thought
serving "would be cool." He actively campaigned for the position
and, "to my general surprise, I had an interview with the Governor.
... Speaking with the Governor was a privilege and I tried to do my best."
Harding is used to challenges. He was born in Chicago and went to military
school in Indiana when he was in third grade. A self-proclaimed "military
brat," he has traveled all over the world, and the walls of his campus
apartment display masks from many of the places he's visited.
He spent six months of his high school senior year in the hospital but graduated
on schedule and immediately went to Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio,
where he studied English. He earned a master's degree in curriculum and
instruction at the University of West Florida.
Dr. David Leslie, Harding's lead professor at FSU, who is now teaching at
William and Mary College, says that initially he was a little concerned
about the university's ability to meet Harding's needs. But Leslie says
there was never a problem.
"He won't let you be intimidated," Leslie said. "He comes
right at you and says, 'Take me as a full-blooded human being, respect me
and don't pity me. Give me as much help as you can and I'll make it on my
He hopes to receive his doctorate in December 1997. After that, "Dr.
J.R.," as he wants to be called, plans to pursue teaching and research
at a university or community college.
What would be his dream job? Running a public institution. "President
of a university ­p; West Florida or (Pensacola Community College) would
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