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Remembering a man of firsts: Thomas Coward passes at age 95

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A man of many firsts for Alachua county has passed away at the age of 95.

Thomas Coward fostered opportunity for minorities and women in the workforce.

“He would go to the bat for them,” said Ida Rawls Elmore, former Alachua County Equal Opportunity Manager. “He would stand up for them. He would fight for them to get what he believed was an appropriate response.”

He was Alachua county’s first black county commissioner from 1974 to 1992.

“When you’re the first, everyone is watching and they’re wishing and praying for you to make mistakes,” said Darry Lloyd, state attorney deputy chief investigator. “Well, not only was he the first, but he was the longest serving for 18 years.”

Coward was also the first black person to receive a real estate broker’s license in Alachua county and owned Thomas Coward Realty.

“People could always depend on him to be honest, credible, he had such integrity,” said Marca Coward, Coward’s daughter. “He was also very witty. He can find humor in the most serious situations, he can make you laugh at yourself.”

Coward was known in the academic community as well. He taught civics and served as dean of Lincoln High School. While there, he sat on the Biracial Committee for Civil Rights, playing a critical role in the integration of schools and public facilities in Alachua county.

“He was teaching what civics and history were in that era, and that’s something people didn’t want to be taught,” Lloyd said.

No matter his accomplishments, everyone seems to say it’s his persona and heart for people are what distinguished him from the world…and that’s the legacy he leaves behind.

“He understood what was need in order to make things happen,” Marva said. “The kind of leader he needed to be in order to affect that change and it was not going to be overnight.”

“He always encouraged you to keep on going,” Lloyd said. “Regardless of what people are saying and doing, you’re doing the right thing, just keep on going.”

Services for Coward will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist church, 2505 NW 8th Avenue in Gainesville.

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