Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Betty Castor Wins Liberty Bell Award

The HCBA on May 13 honored Elizabeth B. "Betty" Castor with this year’s Liberty Bell Award, which recognizes outstanding non-lawyer citizens whose community service strengthens the effectiveness of the American legal system.

Castor's dedication to education and public service make her a particularly appropriate recipient of this award. Although her "classroom" grew and changed, her life has always been one of teaching people, old and young, by giving voice to issues and by the examples of leadership roles she has achieved. She sees education as a tool for empowering people to be better citizens in our country, and she has fought for opportunities and justice for all people.

Born in Glassboro, New Jersey, where her father served as the mayor, Castor has focused her professional life on blending education and public service. Armed with a bachelor's degree in education, in 1963 she taught secondary school in Uganda as part of the Teachers for East Africa program. In Africa, she participated in a project to help lead two dozen African girls to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, the first all-female expedition to accomplish this.

In 1965, Castor returned to the United States and moved to Dade County. While teaching school, she obtained a master of education degree from the University of Miami. In 1968, the couple moved to Tampa, where she joined the League of Women Voters’ Tampa chapter. She became its president in 1970, the same year her third child was born. In 1972, facing several opponents, she was the first woman ever elected to the Hillsborough County Commission, which she chaired in 1976.

Running on a platform of government reform, Castor was elected to the State Senate later in 1976, becoming only the fourth woman to be elected to that body. She served three terms there. In 1986, she successfully ran a statewide campaign to become the commissioner of education and became the first woman elected to the Florida Cabinet. She served in that position for seven years, during which she helped to establish the first preschool early childhood programs.

In 1994, Castor became the first female president of the University of South Florida. As president, she advocated for funding for higher education and expansion of academic degree programs. She served as president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, urging teachers to pursue rigorous certification standards. Castor returned to USF in 2006 to serve as executive director of the Patel Center for Global Solutions.

Castor's awards include:
- 1996 Florida Women's Hall of Fame
- 2008 Florida Education Association Lifetime Educator Award
- 2009 League of Women Voters Lifetime Achievement Award
- Audubon of Florida, Women In Conservation

Castor currently serves in the following leadership positions:
- The Commission on Federal Election Reform at American University (co-chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker)
- Leroy Collins Institute at Florida State University, member of the board of directors (nonpartisan, studies and promotes creative solution to key private and public issues)
- William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, vice chair
- Hillsborough County Education Foundation, board member
- Tampa Bay History Center, board member

Betty Castor is an outstanding non-lawyer citizen of Hillsborough County who has dedicated her life to education and public service and who currently contributes a considerable amount of her time to community service aimed at achieving fairness and justice for all. An educated populace makes for a more informed citizenry, better equipped to make good choices for themselves and their families. She has worked to ensure teachers are well qualified to do their jobs, and that educational opportunities for young and older students have been expanded.

She continues to work to ensure elections are fair. And, her numerous "firsts" in attaining leadership positions as a woman have encouraged other women to strive for greater heights in their careers.