August 1, 2015

Florida Icon

Lucy Morgan is a 'Florida Icon'

Journalist, Tallahassee; age 73

Art Levy | 2/28/2014

When I was a child, and my mother began to read me a story, my first question was, ‘Is this really true?' If it was not a true story, I had no interest in it.

Reading got me my first job as a reporter. In 1965, I was living in Crystal River, married to a high school football coach and had three children at home. A woman knocked on my door and introduced herself as the area editor of the Ocala Star-Banner. Her name was Frances DeVore. She asked me if I would write for the Ocala paper. I said, ‘Well, I don't know. I've never written anything. Why would you come to me?' She said, ‘Well, the local librarian tells me that you read more books than anybody else in this town and I thought perhaps if you read, you could write.'

I just had surgery three weeks ago, a lumpectomy, and have breast cancer, and so I have to start chemo and radiation. I'm optimistic I can deal with it. I have no idea what to expect because chemo affects individuals so differently.

There is always some corruption, certainly in government, and in law enforcement. If no one looks at it, it gets worse.

A leader has to be willing to lose an election.

I remember standing outside the courthouse after a 9-year-old was killed by a 12-year-old and I was talking to the father of the dead child. At one point, he stopped me and said, ‘You have no idea what I am going through.' And I said, ‘You're right. I don't because I haven't lost a child.' Later, after my son was killed in the traffic accident, I understood.

The thing that made me better known and trusted by the legal establishment and the ordinary citizen was getting sentenced to jail in 1973 because I wouldn't reveal a source.

I think we are in a moment in time when we have no one in either legislative body or in the governor's office who can lead any kind of change.

The reduction of staff at news organizations has dramatically changed the way we cover the news. I think we've lost a great deal. I think we've created black holes, particularly in small counties, where no one knows what's going on until something really erupts.

I had people who would call and ask me to meet in Steinhatchee on the bridge at midnight and I'd say, ‘How about the courthouse steps at noon?'

The Florida Sheriffs Association had me speak to a convention one year of newly elected sheriffs, and I proceeded to tell them what not to do essentially. I told them I had mixed emotions because it might cut the number of really good stories about the bad things they'd do, but I decided to go ahead because most of them would ignore the advice, anyway.

I am really bothered by the lack of humanity — the lack of civility — among a lot of people.

One of the nice things about covering a group of good old boys is they presume that a woman has no brain and, in my case, they presumed that until it was too late.

The biggest thing I think we could do is get the money out of the political process.

My son was 18. It happened on the Courtney Campbell Causeway, March 1979. There was a knock on our door at like 6 a.m., which you know can't be good. My biggest truth I guess came the next morning at 6:30 a.m. My husband had been answering the phone, but he was in the shower, so I picked up the phone and a woman whose voice I recognized said, ‘Is this Lucy Morgan?' I said, ‘Yes,' and she said, ‘Well, I'm glad your son died.' I had been covering stories on a trial involving her and her husband and a claim against a builder and they had lost the trial.

The biggest award I got out of the Pasco sheriff series was not the Pulitzer. It was the voters of that county throwing that sheriff out.

Almost every week brings up a new animal horror story of the way people treat an animal. Those bother me a lot.

I was the Tallahassee bureau chief at the time and I had all I could handle covering the governor and Legislature, but I got a call from a law enforcement official who said, ‘There's this sheriff in Gulf County and he's requiring women in his jail to provide him with oral sex — and we have a prosecutor who doesn't want to prosecute him.' Those are hard charges to prove for one thing because, in this case, you're dealing with women in jail whose reputations weren't very good. So, I went over and started interviewing people and did some stories on it. The U. S. Attorney's Office impaneled a grand jury, and 22 women went and testified that they had been subjected to this treatment. He was found guilty and, after the trial, I went back to my office and someone had sent me a dozen roses with a card that said, ‘From the women you believed.' It moved me to tears. That's better than any prize you could ever win.

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