The dean of Florida reporters has died. Lucy Morgan was a Pulitzer Prize winner and former Tallahassee bureau chief of the then-St. Petersburg Times. She started her career at a time when not many women held top positions in newsrooms, but quickly commanded respect for her work ethic and her passion for truth. Morgan died Wednesday at 82.
In every profession, there are people the others admire. In Florida political journalism, no one shone brighter than Lucy Morgan. She and Jack Reed won the Pulitzer Prize in 1985. She broke story after story. And in 2005, the Florida Senate renamed its press gallery honoring her 20 years of reporting on the Legislature.
“She did not suffer fools. She abhorred corruption. And she fiercely went after people she thought were unethical and corrupt.”
That’s former Gov. Jeb Bush, who calls Morgan “the lioness of Tallahassee.”
“She had the total respect of her fellow journalists for sure, but I think she had the respect of the politicians that she interacted with,” Bush said. “Because they knew that she had incredible tenacity and high integrity and that’s it — she was fierce. If you got into her line of sight, her line of fire, it wouldn’t be a pretty ending.”
Morgan began her journalism career in 1965 as a stringer for the Ocala Star-Banner. In 1973, she was sentenced to eight months in jail for refusing to reveal an anonymous source. The Florida Supreme Court overturned the conviction.
“She came in as a bona fide star.” Retired radio journalist Rick Flagg started covering the state capital in 1978 and was there when Morgan arrived to report on the Legislature.
“She had had those big stories down in Pasco County, she’d broken open huge investigations, and that was the Pulitzer Prize,” he said, “and that meant that Lucy could just waltz into Tallahassee and call her own shots.”
Flagg says Morgan set the agenda at the Capitol.
“The greatest thing that happened was when there was a committee meeting going on and things were kind of like la-di-da-di-da ho hum. And Lucy would walk in the door. And suddenly every back at that table would straighten. Every aide would suddenly look up: Lucy’s here. So they knew something serious was going on. A lot of times the committee didn’t even know what was going to happen, because the chairman was going to pull some little sleight of hand. But Lucy knew.”
“I remember Lucy was just feared,” says Sally Bradshaw [laughs]. “I had not met her yet, so I just was going off what people said, but she clearly was not only feared — she was respected.”
Bradshaw moved to Florida in 1991 and became political director of the Florida Republican Party. She became Jeb Bush’s chief of staff when he was governor. She and Morgan were sometimes on opposite sides of an issue.
“And it was not until years later that I began to think of her as a friend,” Bradshaw said. “I think the world of her. And my life is richer because I was tested by Lucy Morgan on multiple occasions.”
“You know, I would actually seek her advice, as I did anybody who I thought was smart and honest,” said former Governor Charlie Crist [laughs]. “And she was both of those to an extraordinary level.”
Crist says he had dinner at Morgan’s home. She and her husband Richard Morgan – a former Times editor – were famous for their hospitality. Former Governor Bush was also a guest at their table.
“They have created this massive family of mostly very talented people.” Barbara Petersen, executive director of the Florida Center for Government Accountability, says Morgan taught people her craft. “Lucy would help anybody.”
Morgan’s reporting could wreak havoc, yet she encouraged young reporters to “be nice.” And she was. Her charm was another part of her effectiveness – as she explained in a 2017 interview with WFSU’s Tom Flanigan.
“I think to do it you really need to be honest with people,” she said. “You can’t surprise them with what you’re going to write about them. I guess because I’m a southerner in a ‘good-ole-boy’ town where everybody presumes that women don’t have a brain, that I managed to make it through it.”
Former WFSU reporter Susan Gage says Morgan was a powerhouse who didn’t need to prove it.
“I mean, it was almost like if someone came into the press corps and said, ‘I’m going to do the gotcha thing,’” Gage said. “That was SO frowned upon – definitely by Lucy. Lucy had no patience for that. This is not a job of ‘gotcha.’ This is a job of getting to the bottom of things.”
Lucy Morgan got to the bottom of things. Florida has lost a legendary reporter.