Pensacola, Florida
Monday July 22nd 2019

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The 2018 Power List: Hall of Fame

Once you’re named the most influential, you deserve a special place. Jim Reeves will join this group of movers and shakers who each earned the number one spot on the Inweekly Power List over the past 11 years.

Fred Levin (2007)
The flamboyant Pensacola trial attorney helped rewrite legislation in 1993 that led to a $13.2 billion settlement by the tobacco industry with the state of Florida. Levin received the Perry Nichols Award in 1994, which is the highest honor bestowed by the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers. In 2009, Mr. Levin was inducted into the National Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. In 2017, he gave $100,000 to support UWF football, as well as $550,000 to establish the Reubin O’D. Askew Institute for Multidisciplinary Studies. Mostly recently, he gifted his $8 million waterfront home and estate to the institution.

Quote: “Everything I’ve gotten in life I’ve had an awful lot of luck. Roy Jones fell in my lap. The tobacco legislation fell in my lap. Politics fell in my lap and everything else. I think I’m lucky.”

J. Collier Merrill (2008)
When Presidents, Governors, U.S. Senators, Congressmen, and state lawmakers come to Pensacola, they want to be seen at the Merrill brothers’ restaurant, The Fish House. Merrill runs Great Southern Restaurant Group that also owns the Atlas Oyster House, Jackson’s Steakhouse and Five Sisters Blues Café.  He is also the president of Merrill Land Company. Merrill has been named an Art Education Hero by the Florida Cultural Alliance, Community Leader of the Year by the Greater Pensacola Chamber, Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser by the National Society of Fund Raising Volunteers, Fiesta of Five Flag’s DeLuna LXV and UWF Distinguished Fellow.

Quote: “We’ve got to continue with the growth that we’re having downtown, but we’ve got to do it in a way that 100 years from now people will be talking about how great it is.”

Lewis Bear, Jr. (2009)
The president and CEO of the Lewis Bear Company, a wholesale beer distributorship that his great-grandfather founded in 1876, learned from his father the importance of giving back to the community.  Bear has been the driving force behind the area’s economic development recovery since 2004. He lobbied Gov. Rick Scott and state lawmakers for funds to help Northwest Florida recover from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Bear also has devoted countless hours to the University of West Florida Board of Trustees, which he has chaired, and UWF Foundation Board of Directors. In 2013, The Bear Family Foundation donated $1 million support the UWF engineering department and supply chain logistics program.

Quote: “Whether they have been here all their lives or moved here, we have people who are committed to making this a better place to live. When I get committed to something, I can be pretty stubborn.”

Quint Studer (2010)
The founder of Studer Group has led the charge to revitalize downtown Pensacola. He championed the Maritime Park.  Southtowne, his $50 million apartment project, has been transformative. The apartments are across the street from the new $16 million Bear Levin Studer Family YMCA, and his mixed-use office building that houses the Clark Partington law firm. He has partnered with the University of Chicago to pilot the Thirty Million Words initiative in Pensacola. With the help of the News Journal, Studer has launched CivicCon, a series of thought-provoking speakers who have sparked discussion of how to shape Pensacola’s future.

Quote: “You have a minority of people in the community, about 25 percent, that would be against anything. You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable.”

Ashton Hayward (2011)
In 2010, the Pensacola native was elected mayor of Pensacola. In his first term, Ashton oversaw the completion of the Community Maritime Park and Admiral Mason Park. He built the Theophalis May Resource Center and Woodland Heights Resource Center. He convinced the police and general employee unions to close their pension plans. In 2014, the mayor signed an agreement with VT Mobile Aerospace Engineering to establish a facility at the airport that will open this spring. He has made several historic appointments–the city’s first African-American police chief and the first female fire chief and port director.

Quote: “My power is to be able to reach out to the citizens of Pensacola and see how I can make their quality of life better, build our infrastructure better, to make sure we’re looking at every detail of our city– whether it’s our enterprises, downtown or neighborhoods.”

Dr. Judy Bense (2012)
The founder of the UWF program of Anthropology/Archaeology became the fifth President of the University of West Florida on July 1, 2008, after serving the university for 28 years. In December 2017, she stepped down as president but has stayed connected to the institution. The University of West Florida board of trustees cemented her legacy by naming her president emeritus. Last year, the Greater Pensacola Chamber awarded Bense its Pioneer award for her contributions to the community.

Quote: “I’d always had the ‘Lucille Ball’ approach to life: don’t mess with success, stick with what you’re good at.”

David Morgan (2013)
His defeat of the well-financed, two-term incumbent Ron McNesby in 2008 is considered one of the biggest upsets in Escambia County politics. And many of the good old boys have never forgiven him but failed to defeat him during the re-election campaigns of 2012 and 2016. He has dealt with a Department of Justice investigation of the jail and longstanding civil rights violations under his predecessor, budget reductions, K-9 incidents, and the Billings murders that caught international media attention.  He is considered one of the top sheriffs in Florida.

Quote: “It’s important you stay grounded and never forget what got you where you are.”

Mike Papantonio (2014)
Considered the nation’s top trial attorney, Pensacola’s Renaissance man is a regular commentator on the news networks, author, and jazz musician. Last year, Papantonio reached an agreement with DuPont that pay $670 million to 3,000 clients exposed to the chemical C8. He has nowt set his sights on the billion-dollar opioid industry. He has been awarded the Perry Nichols Award, Defender of Justice Award by the American Association for Justice, and Temple University Beasley School of Law’s inaugural Award for Social Justice. His second legal thriller, “Law & Vengeance,” debuted last fall.

Quote: “When I think about everything that I have spent my time doing and drill right down to why, it’s out of conviction.”

Stan Connally (2015)
The president and CEO of Gulf Power Company worked up the ladder of Southern Company with steps at all its subsidiaries. He is the chair-elect of the Board of Directors of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. He serves on the Board of Directors of Capital City Bank Group, Florida Council of 100 and Enterprise Florida. He serves as vice-chair of Enterprise Florida and vice-chair of Achieve Escambia. Gov. Scott appointed him to the board of Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc., which will distribute the $1.5 billion settlement for economic damages from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Quote: “I’ve been on the record and very public talking about an outcome from good economic development must be diversifying our economy. By that, I mean increasing the impact of the innovation space.”

Bentina Terry (2016)
Last year, we lost Terry when she was promoted to be the senior v9ice president of the Metro Atlanta Region for Georgia Power. However, her decade of living in Pensacola had a profound impact on this community. She was the highest-ranking black woman at Gulf Power with more than 330 employees under her supervision. She served on the Community Maritime Park Associates and the University of West Florida boards and chaired the Florida Chamber Foundation. She also worked to make the multi-cultural Voices of Pensacola a reality.

Quote: “We need to start a whole effort from cradle to career. We’ll never grow as a community unless we improve the quality of our education.”

Rishy Studer (2017)
She has created and runs five businesses as part of the Bodacious Shops that sparked vibrancy in Pensacola’s downtown. Studer leases space to 10 other downtown businesses at the corner of Palafox and Main Streets. She revived a historic corner in the heart of the Belmont-Devilliers community and created Five Sisters Blues Café. She’s the one who drives the decisions and writes the checks—$13 million and counting—for the Westgate Escambia School and its Snoezelen Center, Pace Center for Girls, Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital and numerous other gifts to improve her adopted home.

Quote: “Will this work in our town? Can we do it? Can we try?”