J. Wayne Reitz, fifth president of the University of Florida, was a dedicated educator, astute administrator, and tireless public servant whose many accomplishments and honors reflect his profound humanity and love of life. As UF president from 1955 to 1967, Dr. Reitz guided the university skillfully through an era of enormous and important change, engineering transformations that led to UF's emergence as one of the nation's preeminent public research universities.
Born in Olathe, Kansas, J. Wayne Reitz was first and foremost a product of his rural origins. He received a bachelor's degree from Colorado State Agricultural and Mechanical College (1930), a Master of Science degree from the University of Illinois (1935), and his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin (1941). On the strength of his education and background, he joined the faculty of the University of Florida as assistant professor of agricultural economics in 1934, a position he held for ten years. In the 1940s, Dr. Reitz served as economic consultant to the United Growers and Shippers Association.
He worked for the Farm Credit Administration and as an economist for the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., before returning to UF in 1949 to be the university's acting dean and then its provost for agriculture. In 1955, J. Wayne Reitz became the first UF president to be chosen from among the university's faculty. Dr. Reitz married Frances Houston Millikan in 1936. He freely shared credit with her for many of his most professional accomplishments. The couple had two daughters, Margaret Ann Cooke and Marjorie Turnbull, and, ultimately, three grandsons. His family was ever the bedrock of his values.
The President Reitz Years
Dr. Reitz presided over a period of unprecedented growth and change at the University of Florida. Hundreds of new facilities were constructed in those 12 years, and the UF student population grew from about 9,000 to nearly 20,000. Many of today's campus landmarks were products of the Reitz era: Century Tower was completed at the beginning of his tenure as UF president. The University of Florida Health Science Center developed under his leadership; the university added Library West; and - reflecting his abiding commitment to University of Florida students - the student union that bears his name opened in 1967 to accommodate a burgeoning UF population. Dr. Reitz steered the university through dramatic changes in higher education as well. The Florida State University System added five new universities during his years in office. He adroitly and peacefully managed the racial integration of the university. Under his leadership, the University of Florida accelerated the pace of its fundraising programs; and in response to the national challenge posed by the Soviet launch of the satellite Sputnik 1, Dr. Reitz helped stimulate interest and support for the university's research mission.
Counselor, Advocate, Friend
His love for and devotion to the University of Florida did not end when he stepped down from its presidency. Dr. Reitz continued to be a chief advocate and supporter of the university and all aspects of its educational mission. For instance, he and Frances Reitz were active sponsors of the Friends of Music organization, which she helped found. He continued to work "without portfolio" on behalf of UF out of his office in the University of Florida Foundation, Inc., even as he remained active in the community of Gainesville and in corporate affairs. Dr. Reitz's door was always open to anyone seeking his counsel and advice. Individuals from all walks of life, from all across campus, and throughout the state and nation considered him friend and mentor. He remained a ready and invaluable resource for the university, its leaders and its aspirations. J. Wayne Reitz received numerous honors and recognitions during his lifetime, among them Panama's Cross of Balboa and Norway's Order of the North Star for his involvement in international agricultural development. He holds honorary degrees from several institutions, including the University of Florida. In 1957, he was named Progressive Farmer magazine's "Man of the Year" for his service to Florida agriculture, and he received the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce "Outstanding Citizen" award. In 1993, he was one of four persons named to the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame for their lifelong contributions. In Dr. J. Wayne Reitz, the University of Florida found a tireless and loyal servant, a fervent champion, and a wise and compassionate friend.