Integrity, Ingenuity and Intellect


image of T. Sessums news articleLEADERS:

T. Terrell Sessums

Lawyer Educator

Terrell Sessums is a lawyer who has served both as a leader for his peers, and as a leader in our legislature championing Florida education

A product of the Florida public education system, Terrell Sessums is a double degree University of Florida Gator, obtaining his juris doctorate in Gainesville before being admitted to The Florida Bar in 1958. While at UF, he was president of the student body.

His time in the legislature was also marked by his efforts to improve the state's education system, including two major education initiatives which have profoundly affected public education.

Terrell represented Hillsborough County in the Florida House of Representatives from 1963-1974, including serving as Speaker of the House in 1972-1974. He introduced and secured enactment of legislation to establish the Hillsborough County Expressway Authority, the Tampa Sports Authority, the Hillsborough County Pollution Control Commission (n/k/a the Environmental Protection Commission) and the Arts Council of Tampa. He also introduced and secured the enactment of legislation authorizing establishment of the Colleges of Medicine and Nursing and the University of South Florida, the Florida State Fair Authority and the Florida Education Finance Act of 1973, which replaced the Florida Minimum Foundation Program.

Terrell and the House committee that he chaired developed the legislation that lowered property taxes and established statutory limits on ad valorum taxation that were included in the new Florida Constitution of 1968, the first revision of Florida Constitution since 1885 He served as a member of joint senate/house committees that completed the final draft of the new constitution and the revision of Article V, the judiciary article of the Florida Constitution, which was adopted in 1972.

As a lawyer, he earned an AV rating by his peers, the highest available from Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, chaired the Florida Bar Legislation Committee, chaired the Florida Bar Workers' Compensation Section, served as President of the University of Florida College of Law Alumni CounCil, as Special Counsel to U.S. Senator Bob Graham, and was a member of the Federal JudIcial Nominating Commission of Florida (Middle District Panel).

Image of Terrell Sessum's plaque

His time in the legislature was also marked by his efforts to improve the state's education system, including two major education initiatives which have profoundly affected public education. First was the accountability movement, pioneered in Florida, which required school children to be regularly tested. Second, was the enactment of the Florida Education Finance Act of 1973 to substantially equalize and to provide more adequate funding for Florida Public Schools with greater support from the state.

Terrell has long been a children's advocate, ranging from leadership roles in the Florida PTA to chairing Florida's Board of Regents, the governing board of Florida's State University System. He has also been a leader in independent higher education, having served as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the University of Tampa and later as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, a college affiliated with the United Methodist Church of which he has served as the Lay Leader of the Florida Annual Conference.

His contributions have been recognized by the awarding of four honorary degrees, the distinguished service award from the Florida Association of Colleges and Universities, and the Francis Asbury award for service to Higher Education by the Florida Conference at the United Methodist Church. He has also heen recognized by the naming of a Hillsborough County Elementary School in his honor and by the naming of the Terrell Sessums Mall at the University of South Florida.

Terrell and Neva Steeves were married in Jacksonville on August 16, 1958. They were students at the University of Florida at the time they met: Neva in the College of Education; Terrell, who had returned to Gainesville after Military Service as a Captain in the U.S.A.F, in the College of Law. They have three children, Tom (Thomas Terrell, Jr.), Richard H. and Sandra S. Slayton, and five grandchildren. Terrell's hobbies have included sailing, tennis, travel, reading and hiking. Neva, a former public school teacher, PTA officer and Chair of the Hillsborough County School District Advisory Council, has been Terrell's partner in education causes, and the nurturer and supporter of their family and church.

Terrell's law practice focuses on assisting clients at the Salem Law Group with their business and government advocacy needs. Last year marked his 50th anniversary of both practicing law and being married, which his firm described as celebrating one hundred years of service.

Steve Sessums, Terrell's brother, recalls that when they were kids, Terrell originally wanted to be an architect, and spent hours designing and drawing. Steve observes that Terrell's careful, meticulous and thorough approach carried over to his public service, to mastering the details in public education and funding issues in the legislature, and then with the boards on which he served.

Former law partner Dallas Albritton says Terrell is not only a great lawyer, but a great human being. He describes Terrell as sensitive to needs of people, especially those who need a break, and observes Terrell is very generous in giving of his time and money.

Judge Paul Danahy has known Terrell since law school, and observes that beyond being a top notch lawyer, he is a "truly honorable person and outstanding leader whose public service has affected so many of our citizens in a positive way on the state and community level. He has an orderly, organized mind, and the ability to bring people together to accomplish a goal."