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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Remembering David Flagg – former Gainesville mayor, Florida House representative

Flagg is remembered for his dedication to Gainesville’s people and environment

The first plane David Flagg ever flew in, he jumped out of. That’s just the kind of person he was, said his wife Christina Flagg, 76.

When he wasn’t jumping from planes as an 82nd Airborne lieutenant, the Gainesville native, history buff and diehard Gators football fan served as a Gainesville city commissioner and mayor-commissioner from 1985 to 1988, followed by two terms in the Florida House from 1988 to 1992. During his time in office, he championed natural resource protection and gun safety legislation.

“He put his money where his mouth was,” Christina said. “If he said something was important, he’d work toward that — and work very hard toward it.”

Flagg died on August 21 at age 86 after a life of service to his city and country. 

A “born and bred Florida boy” according to Christina, Flagg was born in Alachua County General Hospital in 1937. He attended Gainesville High School, where he worked as a substitute mail carrier while squeezing in football practice and ROTC.

When Flagg’s father Norman died before Flagg’s senior year of high school, he enrolled as a private in the Army reserves for one summer to honor his father and support his mother.

“He thought it was the right thing to do,” Christina said. “He tried to use whatever power or expertise he had … to take care of his family.”

Flagg returned to GHS for his senior year and then attended UF, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the College of Journalism and Communications. Two months later, he reported for active duty, joining the 82nd Airborne after volunteering for Jump School at Fort Bragg. 

“He always said he joined the airborne because it was a bigger paycheck,” said Flagg’s son Eric Flagg, 47. “An extra amount of money for being crazy enough to jump out of airplanes.”

Cold War tensions permeated Flagg’s service; his unit was summoned and issued ammunition in preparation to jump into Cuba during the Bay of Pigs incident before President John F. Kennedy averted the crisis. Flagg even had a brief encounter with the president himself while serving.

“It was just in passing — the president asked him a question — but he never forgot that,” Christina said.

In 1962, Flagg left the service after a three-year commitment. Following a brief career in public relations for Pepsi-Cola and DuPont Textiles in Charlotte and New York, he returned to Florida, where he chased his life’s ambition – becoming mayor of his hometown – by running for City Commission. He was elected in 1985.  

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Flagg was ahead of his time in realizing the importance of environmental protection and focused his political career on protecting Florida’s resources, said Flagg’s older son Byron Flagg, 51.

“Growing up, whenever we would drive around with Dad, he would point out a new building and say ‘Boys, when I was your age that used to be a field or a forest,’” Bryon said. “He had a memory of the land that he carried with him.”

Flagg’s influence can be seen throughout Alachua County’s natural landscape; he secured the land acquisitions for the San Felasco Preserve and served as founding director for Friends of Paynes Prairie. He would later sponsor a bill that de-authorized the Florida Barge Canal, an effort to cut a canal across Florida that would have created vast environmental harm.

Flagg’s love for nature also survives through his sons. Eric holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and has worked in water quality investigations throughout the country. His father impressed an appreciation for the environment on him from an early age, he said.

“His love of adventure and the outdoors is something that really stuck with me and became a big part of me,” Eric said. “I have a production company and we focus mostly on big environmental topics … I do a lot of video work with springs organizations as well.”

In 1988, Flagg won a seat in the Florida House. The following year, the Miami Herald named him freshman legislator of the year after he proposed a bill banning the sale of retail assault weapons. 

The bill failed after NRA pushback, and Flagg and his family even received phone threats from gun proponents, but Flagg’s willingness to tackle the issue is another example of his future-minded thinking, Byron said.

“He was brave enough to take it on,” Byron said. “Now, we see more and more violence around the country with these kinds of weapons … he tried to do something about it way back then.”

Christina and their two sons Byron and Eric supported Flagg throughout his political endeavors. Flagg was a family-oriented man who loved playing sports and going on adventures with his sons, Christina said.

“He was a youth soccer coach for Byron, and they had a winning team even though he had never played soccer before,” Christina said. “So maybe Byron taught him how to play soccer.”

Flagg was also a caring man whose greatest joy came from helping others. Byron remembers when his father made a detour on their trip home from the hardware store after noticing a woman and her two children on the side of the road.

“He whipped the car around and drove into Hogan’s Heroes sandwich shop,” Byron said. “He got sandwiches and hoagies … and we pulled up next to that family and handed [them] a meal. I’ll always remember that as my dad, just somebody always keeping an eye out for others.”

Flagg was not only a man of “absolute integrity and high principle,” but a loyal friend always full of fun ideas, said Jon Mills, a UF Levin College of Law Dean Emeritus who occupied Flagg’s House seat before him and called him a friend for over 30 years.

“He studied karate a long, long time ago … and he persuaded me to start, and neither one of us were very young at the time,” Mills said. “But he said, ‘You’re really going to like this,’ and he was a persuasive man.”

Flagg is remembered by friends, family and the Gainesville community for the natural landmarks he fought to protect and the people he loved to help and serve.

“His legacy is that of the honorable and principled public servant that we need a lot more of today,” Mills said.

Contact Zoey at Follow her on Twitter @zoeythomas39

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Zoey Thomas

Zoey Thomas is a second-year media production major and the university administration reporter for The Alligator. She previously wrote for the metro desk. Other than reporter, Zoey's titles include espresso connoisseur, long-distance runner and Wes Anderson appreciator. 

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