News and Events

Losing a Legend

Remembering UF Historian Sam Proctor

Samuel Proctor
Samuel Proctor
(Courtesy Oral History

This article was originally published in the August - September 2005 issue of CLASnotes.

UF has lost a living legacy, a man who has arguably done more to advance and protect the history of the University of Florida and the state than any other person. Samuel Proctor, a distinguished service professor emeritus of history and the university’s historian, died at his Gainesville home after a long illness on July 10. He was 86.

Born and raised in Jacksonville, Proctor came to UF as a freshman in 1937. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in history in 1941, he earned a master’s degree in history in 1942—in just two semesters—writing a 560-page thesis on Florida Governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward. Proctor then was drafted into the Army during World War II and served at Camp Blanding, near Starke, giving illiterate recruits a basic education in reading and arithmetic.

When he was discharged from the service in 1946, he was offered scholarships to pursue an international law degree at Yale University and The Ohio State University. But Proctor was persuaded to come back and teach at UF by the chairman of the freshman social sciences program, William Carleton. Then-UF President J. Hillis Miller named Proctor the university’s first historian and archivist and commissioned him to write a book on the history of UF in honor of the university’s 100th anniversary in 1953. Proctor submitted the book as a dissertation and received a doctorate from UF in 1958.

In 1967, Proctor established the Oral History Program in UF’s department of history, with the purpose of preserving eyewitness accounts of the economic, social, political, religious and intellectual life of Florida and the South. The collection, to date, holds nearly 4,000 interviews and 350,000 pages of transcribed material, making it the largest oral history archive in the South and one of the major collections nationwide.

Proctor published a history of the university called Gator History: A Pictorial History of the University of Florida in 1986 and edited Florida Historical Quarterly for 30 years. He was named one of the 50 Most Important Floridians of the 20th century, a list compiled by the Lakeland Ledger in 1998.

Proctor taught Florida history to thousands of students during his 50-year teaching career. One of them was former Florida Governor and US Senator Bob Graham, who has described Proctor as one of the most influential individuals in his life. “Through his inspirational teaching, thousands of students were introduced to the history of our state and given a better understanding of the personalities and events that made Florida what it is today,” says Graham. “He made history an exciting adventure.”

Proctor retired in June 1996 but continued to serve as the official UF historian and as director emeritus of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, which was renamed in his honor. He regularly conducted oral history interviews for the program. In July 2004, the university presented him with an honorary Doctorate of Public Service degree in recognition of his lifelong contributions to the university community.

David Colburn, a UF history professor and former provost, knew Proctor for more than 30 years and says it is hard to think about the future of UF without him. “Sam is so much a part of this university’s history, and he stood for all of the right things that you want a faculty member to stand for,” Colburn says. “He cared greatly for his students and stayed in close touch with them. He invested enormously in UF by participating in every major committee on campus, and the historic buildings would not still be standing were it not for his leadership. No one has done more to advance the history of the state and the University of Florida.”

Proctor is survived by his wife of 56 years, Bessie; two sons, Mark of Pensacola and Alan of Atlanta, both of whom are UF alumni; two daughters-in-law; two brothers, George and Sol, both of Jacksonville; two granddaughters; and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.

Two funds have been established in honor of Sam and Bessie Proctor. The Samuel Proctor Scholarship fund in history provides annual scholarships to history students, and the Samuel and Bessie Proctor Scholarship fund in Jewish studies supports undergraduate scholarships to Jewish studies majors. Donations can be mailed to the UF Foundation, PO Box 14425, Gainesville, FL 32604.

A memorial service for Proctor will be held on Sunday, October 16 at 2 pm in Gainesville at the Congregation B’nai Israel at 3830 Northwest 16th Boulevard. For more information, please E-mail or call (352) 846-2032.

—Allyson A . Beutke and Buffy Lockette

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