Larry Durrence, Retired College President and City Commissioner, Dies at 80

Larry Durrence

Larry Durrence, a retired president of Polk Community College and former Lakeland city commissioner, died of cancer Thursday at age 80.

Durrence served on the City Commission from 1981 through 1988, and was mayor in 1982 and 1986.

“His kindness, his selflessness and his humility” were his best attributes, said Terry Worthington, retired president of the United Way of Central Florida. “Larry cared a great deal for the little guy.”

Durrence spent a long career as an educator after earning earning a Ph.D. in American diplomatic history in 1971 from the University of Georgia.

Durrance was a professor of history and political science at Florida Southern College from 1970 to 1990.

James Larry Durrence was born in Glennville, Ga., on August 22, 1939. His family moved to Florida when he was eight years old, living in the Daytona Beach area before moving to Lakeland, where he graduated from Lakeland Senior High School.

Gene Strickland, retired Lakeland city manager, said he and Durrence attended Volusia Elementary School together and remembered each other decades later. In Lakeland, Durrence was one of Strickland’s City Commission bosses.

“Larry was a professor so he had an insatiable appetite for information,” Strickland said. “He was meticulous.”

Strickland and Durrence led the successful 2017 “No Boss Mayor” effort, which opposed a proposal to change the form of city government to strong mayor.

Strickland said he always felt inferior to Durrence as a public speaker, especially when they appeared together. “He was such an eloquent speaker,” Strickland said,

Despite his love for education, Durrence never quite got the political bug out of his system. Thirty years after he left the City Commission, in 2017, he ran for another seat on the commission.

He said during the campaign that indecisive commissioners had been “kicking the can down the road” on a number of sensitive issues.

Durrence lost to Michael Dunn, owner of Vets Surplus, 819 N. Florida Ave, who subsequently resigned from office after facing murder charges.

Durrence worked in state government in Tallahassee from 1990 to 1998. He was a Florida State University program director at the Florida Center for Public Management. He served as executive director of the state Taxation and Budget Reform Commission and as the intergovernmental relations advocate for the Department of Revenue.

But he came back to Lakeland.

ALSO: Read Durrence’s family-placed obituary

In 1998 Durrence was appointed president of Polk Community College, which is now Polk State College. He served until 2006. His accomplishments there, according to a college news release:

“He increased enrollment … by nearly one-third. He introduced new degree programs in areas vital to the community including health care and information technology, and he launched the Polk State Corporate College for workforce training as well as the College’s first collegiate high school for accelerated learning.”

In subsequent years, he served as interim president of several small colleges out of state, always returning to Lakeland between jobs.

Two men who also served as Lakeland’s mayor praised Durrence.

Former Mayor Gow Fields said Durrence saw himself as an ambassador of sorts when he was mayor. He said Durrence sent him a thoughtful “welcome” note when he got his first job at Juice Bowl.

“He loved serving and he loved working with people,” Fields said.

Former Mayor Frank O’Reilly said Durrence’s death really upsets him. “I feel so bad because he was such a great guy,” O’Reilly said.

“He was an excellent administrator. And he never voted for special interests. He voted for the people.”

Moments after this article was published, current Mayor Bill Mutz responded in the comments section: “What a consummate gentleman and civic servant!  A model for us all!”

Durrence is survived by his wife, Connie, a retired lawyer. Other survivors include children Jeff Durrence and April Durrence, stepchildren Stephanie Weil and Ralph Durrance, 11 grandchildren and three siblings.

A service and celebration of Durrence’s life will be held at First United Methodist Church, 72 Lake Morton Drive,  at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.

Lakeland skylineSupport Independent Community News. We rely on people like you to invest in the community by supporting this non-profit service. Donate