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Cedar Key’s former Mayor Eugene “Gene” Hodges was born into a politically connected family, an heir to knowing how to get things done for the island community and district that he represented in the Florida House from 1972 to 1988. His father, Randolph, was a state senator from 1952-62, a 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 that 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 inNorth Africa from 1955-58, the Florida Parole Commission, a s 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 that would provide money for isolated schools like CKHS. It passed and was signed into law. Cedar Key High is the only school to meet those three criteria.
Hodges was also a proven rainmaker. Two years ago when Levy County was suffering from a drought and water tables dropped so low that saltwater intrusion made the city’s water undrinkable, Hodges had one bit of advice: Pray. 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.
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, was governor of Florida when Hodges was in the Legislature and he remembered him as someone who was very effective.
“He was one of those people in the legislature who got along with everybody. He was very proud of his heritage and the Big Bend area,” Graham said in a phone interview.
“He knew the territory and he represented it well,” Graham said. “He was the kind of person who could reach across the aisle and deal with legislators of any background. I was proud to have served with him and he was an important member of the House of Representatives.”
Graham said Hodges’ ability to get along with people was important. “That’s not a quality everybody necessarily has.” The senator noted that “Some people can function well only with people like themselves.”
He said Hodges had “The ability to establish the confidence and respect of people who had a different background.”
Graham said Hodges’ knowledge of how state government functions also served him well in the Legislature. “He brought knowledge and real world experience to every issue he had to vote on or debate. That again was a part of his makeup that caused him to be so effective.”
“I remember he has a good sense of who he was and self confidence.”