LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — Successful businessman and impassioned advocate for high-speed rail in Florida, C.C. “Doc” Dockery has passed away at 89.
His widow, Paula, a former state lawmaker, said Dockery’s success never changed him.
“He was down-to-earth and people gravitated towards him because he was empathetic and a good listener,” she said.
The couple would have celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary later this year.
“I’m so lucky to have been married to him,” said Paula Dockery.
Born in North Carolina, Dockery came to Lakeland as a student at Florida Southern College.
Years later, he co-founded a workers’ compensation company.
“Founded in the late 1970s at a kitchen table in Lakeland, Florida, C.C. “Doc” Dockery and Tom Petcoff created Summit to provide workers’ compensation programs for trade associations — a niche virtually untouched in Florida at the time,” the company’s website reads.
Summit has grown to employ 700 people, with a brand-new multi-storied office building on Lake Mirror.
“Doc Dockery changed lives,” said Carol Sipe, President and CEO of Summit. “Doc’s legacy lives through our culture. We are committed to doing the right thing, and showing we care.”
Dockery was vocal in his support for the development of a high-speed rail system in Florida in the early 21st century.
“We’ll give all Floridians a choice over road rage and air rage,” he said in a News Channel 8 report from 2001.
He pushed, and sometimes sparred with, state leaders, including governors Jeb Bush and Rick Scott, to embrace high-speed rail, citing increasing traffic congestion.
“Doc Dockery was a wonderful person and a great Floridian,” former Gov. Bush tweeted Tuesday.
“Under the Scott administration and the Obama administration, they could never see eye-to-eye to bring it to Polk County. Look what’s happening now. Doc has high-speed rail coming through Polk County shortly with Brightline,” said Citrus Connection executive director Tom Phillips.
Brightline, a privately-funded company, is constructing new rail lines to connect Miami to the Orlando International Airport, and later, Orlando to Tampa through the I-4 corridor.
“We would expect eight years from now to be able to have a stop in Lakeland,” said Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz, who called Dockery one of Lakeland’s “patriarchs.” “I think it’s a direct result of Doc’s impact when we think about Brightline.”
Paula Dockery said Brightline kept her husband in the loop with its plans and he was often asked for his opinion.
“Doc Dockery was a visionary and a champion for high-speed rail in the state of Florida. His support for expanding transportation options as a community leader and former member of the Florida High Speed Rail Authority paved the way for the state and local communities to embrace Brightline,” wrote Husein Cumber, Florida East Coast Industries, parent of Brightline, in a statement.
Dockery was also focused on public transit on a local level.
“We would not have the bus shelters that we currently have in Polk County if it were not for Doc Dockery,” said Tom Phillips.
Initial funding for Citrus Connection went into running the bus service, with no money for shelters, according to Phillips.
Dockery saw people standing outside exposed to the elements and sprang into action.
He used his own money and also raised funds in the community to build hurricane-proof bus shelters, which can cost $40,000 to $150,000 each, Phillips said.
While just about 10% of Citrus Connection bus stops currently have shelters, funding continues to be raised and collected to build more.
“I think that Doc understood that for a place to be a good place to live, work and play that you needed to have transportation options for people that worked at Summit, who maybe didn’t have access to a personal use vehicle,” said Phillips.
Dockery had two children, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A memorial service is being planned for later next week.