FEBRUARY MARCH 1999 STORIES
FSU LAUNCHED AN EDUCATION GOVERNOR
By Dana Peck
Special to the Florida State Times
Parris Glendening has spent most of his 56 years defying the odds against success, and he credits Florida State University.
As a toddler in the 1940s, Glendening wasn't just poor; he was dirt poor. There was no indoor plumbing or electricity in his South Florida home; his father was often absent; his mother was distracted; and he and his five brothers and sisters were hungry.
But those days are relegated to memory now - a starting point for a tale of accomplishment.
Glendening made his way from poverty to become a history-making student, a professor, a proud father and husband and a twice-elected governor of Maryland.
"There is no question Florida State gave me those opportunities," Glendening said from his office in Annapolis. "People reached out and helped me."
Of all his accomplishments as governor, he said, he's proudest of his efforts to strengthen education. He has spearheaded unprecedented spending for schools and is working to offer scholarships to good high-school students and expand a reading program across the state.
"I am a fanatic for education," he said. "I want to be able to open the same doors for children that were opened for me."
Glendening opened his first door by himself. His senior year in high school, he left home and moved to Hollywood, Fla., to get his diploma. He survived by working at a drug store for a boss who became a lifetime friend.
During that time, the Women's Club of Fort Lauderdale took an interest in him and gave him $225 a semester so that he could earn an associate of arts degree from the junior college.
Then a dream came true. The Southern Regional Scholarship Foundation offered him a scholarship at Florida State.
"That's where I got my break," he said.
From the moment he accepted his scholarship, Glendening said, he pressured himself to succeed, and succeed rapidly. He was too poor to dillydally.
Within four years, he earned three degrees: a bachelor's degree in history in 1965; then a master's in international relations; and finally, under the influence of Marian Irish, an FSU professor, Glendening gave up a yearning to work in the foreign service and earned a doctorate while teaching.
In 1967, at the age of 25, Glendening became the youngest student to receive a Ph.D. in political science at FSU.
"It was hectic," he said. While studying at breakneck speed, he worked at the Sweet Shop restaurant and at a drug store.
He was also married for a brief time.
Nevertheless, he found time for his passion: politics. He joined others to form a student political party - the New Party - and joined picket lines protesting segregation.
"It was an invigorating time," said Glendening.
With a Ph.D., Glendening made his move to teach political science at the University of Maryland, never knowing that he would one day lead the state.
"I always intended to return to Florida to get in politics," he said. "But I got in politics there."
In Maryland, he began simultaneous careers as professor and politician, again defying the odds. By all accounts, and his own admission, Glendening is painfully shy.
Despite his experience, he said, "I still get fluttered in my stomach when I have to speak."
Yet he chose two professions that require heavy doses of public speaking. Undaunted, Glendening began making his name in politics by working in the national campaign for one of his heroes, Hubert Humphrey.
His campaign work was impressive, and Maryland Democrats recruited him for public office.
Unfazed by one loss, Glendening won elections and re-elections in local politics until 1994, when he was first elected governor.
But there was adversity ahead.
In 1996, Glendening had a 24-percent approval rating, the lowest of any governor in the United States, and was expected to lose his second term in 1998.
As he views it, he made some powerful enemies his first term as governor. He bucked the tobacco lobby by working for tougher laws banning smoking, the National Rifle Association by enacting one of the toughest gun-control laws, corporate interests by fighting pollution, and the gambling lobby by refusing to allow slot machines at racetracks.
But he overcame the odds, and won.
"We won big," he said. "I pulled additional legislators in."
Today his life couldn't be better.
He works in an office once used by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
For 22 years, he has been married to Frances Anne Hughes, a lawyer for the Federal Elections Commission and one of just four governors' wives who work fulltime outside the governor's mansion.
"She's a fanatic University of Maryland fan." Glendening said.
Cheering for the Seminoles with Glendening is his son, Raymond, 19, a West Virginia University student.
Life "has been very, very rewarding, every bit," Glendening said. "And it has been from the foundation laid at Florida State."
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