Stephen C. O’Connell
Building on the legacy of Stephen C. O’Connell and the tradition of Florida Blue Key since its inception in 1923, the O’Connell Society is established and managed by Florida Blue Key Alumni to profoundly support and guide tomorrow’s leaders by perpetually endowing current and future leadership and service initiatives entrusted to an executed by the Florida Blue Key active chapter.
Stephen C. O’Connell was an athlete, World War II veteran, attorney, public servant, a prominent Catholic layman, justice and chief justice of the Supreme Court of Florida, banker, rancher, and man who knew the names and faces of literally thousands of Florida residents. A native Floridian, O’Connell also was the first University of Florida graduate to serve as president (1967-73) of his alma mater. Born in West Palm Beach on Jan. 22, 1916, O’Connell entered UF as a freshman in 1934. He was elected president of the Student Body, Florida Blue Key, and Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. He was also captain of the boxing team. He went undefeated in 1938, winning the middleweight division Southeastern Conference Championship. O’Connell served in Australia during World War II, was an executive officer of a bomber group in Okinawa, and ended his military career as a major. In 1955 Gov. LeRoy Collins appointed him to the Florida Supreme Court and he eventually became chief justice. Justice O’Connell served in the state’s highest court of law until 1967 when he received another calling, president of his alma mater. O’Connell’s years in office coincided with the most passionate and disruptive social movements of the 20th century. He proved in this situation—just as he had on the beach—to be a good listener as well as a forceful decision-maker. A notable legacy from O’Connell’s seven years in office was his promotion of a more open and welcoming environment for minority students and faculty members. O’Connell was credited with saving the University auditorium from destruction with significant opposition, later calling it the soul of the campus. He was also personally involved in securing the College of Dentistry and College of Veterinary Medicine on the University of Florida campus. Also during his tenure, O’Connell reorganized the alumni association and created an office of development. In 1973 he announced his retirement from the university and returned to Tallahassee, where he resumed the practice of law as well as other business and ranching ventures. He later served as a member of the Board of Directors of the University of Florida Foundation and as a continuing consultant to one of his life-long interests, Florida Blue Key. During the Fall 2000 Homecoming activities, Florida Blue Key’s annual banquet was a tribute to O’Connell. He died on April 13, 2001, at the age of 85.