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COVER STORY | Vol. 11, No. 20, June 4, 2009
(Power List 2009)

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Power List 2009

by Rick Outzen
For the third year, the IN has dared to rank the most powerful and influential persons in the greater Pensacola area. Each year we tweak the list. In 2008, we broke out the elected officials from the community leaders. This year, we've placed the past number ones, Fred Levin and Collier Merrill, in our Power Hall of Fame. We've also separately indentified the people whose influence reaches beyond Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

The IN Power List isn't an exact science and does attract debate and criticism, so enjoy the read and let us know who you think we left out.

1. Lewis Bear, Jr.
President, The Lewis Bear Company
2. J. Mort O'Sullivan
Managing partner, O'Sullivan Creel

3. Buzz Ritchie
CEO, Gulf Coast Community Bank

4. Jim Reeves
Attorney, developer

5. Susan Story
President/CEO, Gulf Power Co.

6. Bob Kerrigan

7. Eric Nickelsen

8. Jim Cronley
Partner, Terhaar & Cronley

9. Garrett Walton
Attorney, developer

10. Fred Donovan
President, Baskerville-Donovan

11. Dick Baker

12. Lacey Collier
U.S. District Court judge
13. Kevin Doyle
Publisher, Pensacola News Journal
14. Patrick Madden
CEO, Sacred Heart Health System

15. Bill Greenhut
President, Greenhut Construction

16. Dr. Judy Bense
President, University of West Florida
17. Miller Caldwell, Jr.
Caldwell Associates Architects

18. H. Britt Landrum, Jr.
President/CEO, Landrum Companies
19. Al Stubblefield
President/CEO, Baptist Health Care

20. Tommy Tait
Northwest Florida president, Whitney Bank

21. Charles Carlan
President, Hatch Mott MacDonald of Florida
22. Julian MacQueen
CEO, Innisfree Hotels

23. Ted Traylor
Pastor, Olive Baptist Church
24. Dr. Ed Meadows
President, Pensacola Junior College

25. DeeDee Ritchie
Broker, NAI Halford

26. Neal Nash

27. Bob McLaughlin
County administrator, Escambia

28. Al Coby
City manager, Pensacola
29. Evon Emerson
President/CEO, Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce

30. Debbie Ritchie
Operations director, Studer Group

31. Dick Appleyard
President, Appleyard Agency, Vice president/marketing, Sacred Heart Health System

32. Ellis Bullock, III
President, E.W. Bullock Associates

33. John Carr
34. Mike Burns
Regional Special Assistant, Gov. Charlie Crist
35. Bobby Switzer
Vice president, Lamar Advertising

36. Lawrence Schill
General counsel, Merrill Land Co.

37. Ray Rusenberger
CEO, Marina Management

38. Lumon May
Contractor, May Construction Co.

39. Keith Gregory
VP/Region Manager, Cox Communications

40. Sandy Sansing
President/CEO, Sandy Sansing Automotive Group

41. Jerry Maygarden
Executive director, Better Pensacola Forum

42. M. Blaise Adams
Regional president, RBC Bank

43. John Griffing
President, NAI Halford

44. Bentina Terry
VP, External Affairs and Corporate Services, Gulf Power

45. Stephen Sorrell
Executive director, ECUA

46. David Peaden
Executive Director, HBA of West Florida

47. Teri Levin
Community volunteer

48. John Mathis
Pensacola Police chief

49. Nancy Fetterman
Honorary chairman, Vice Admiral John H. Fetterman State of Florida Maritime Museum and Research Center

50. Danny Zimmern
Chairman, Pensacola Mardi Gras

No.1: Lewis Bear, Jr.
Man Who Gets It Done

The cornerstones of influence in Pensacola are business success, commitment to improving the area and stubbornness to persevere regardless of how monumental the task may seem.

You can check all three boxes when you look at Lewis Bear, Jr., who tops the 2009 IN Power List.

His company, The Lewis Bear Company, is a beverage distributorship founded in 1876 that holds the regional franchise for Anheuser-Busch with offices in DeFuniak Springs and Panama City.

The Lewis Bear Company was originally located at the site of the Saenger Theatre on South Palafox Place and was a combination grocery and chandlery. Bear later partnered with C.J. Heinberg and moved the business in 1892 to the northeast corner of Palafox and Main streets. The company became a franchise for Budweiser beer in 1901.

Over the years, the company handled everything from groceries, liquor, appliances and guns, but in the mid-1990s, Lewis Bear, Jr. sold off all the other interests, bought out his cousins and refocused the business on its beer distributorship.

Today, his sons, David and Lewis, III, and daughter, Cindi, and her husband, Chad Bonner, work in the business.

"They give me the time to do what I like to do," Lewis says with a smile. "My father taught me long ago that we needed to give back to the community. I'm fortunate that I am able to do that."

It's difficult to find a charity or community organization that hasn't been helped by the Lewis Bear family. Recently, Lewis helped to raise over $400,000 to put heart defibrillators in Escambia County schools, the patrol cars of the Pensacola police and Escambia County Sheriff's deputies and other public places.

"I got involved because of my wife Belle and daughter Cindi's involvement with Impact 100. The American Heart Association had applied for a grant for the defibrillators for deputies' cruisers but was unsuccessful in receiving the funds.

"Our family foundation bought 17 or 18 defibrillators, but we wanted to do more." Lewis says with a smile, "After all, I might need one some day."

Lewis and Belle Bear co-chaired the Heart Ball in 2007 and raised over $250,000 to purchase 100 heart defibrillators.

"It really was one of the easier things that I've done," Lewis says. "It was a no-brainer. People were very willing to write checks for this cause."

Long-time friend Collier Merrill says that Bear is understating his impact on the project.

"Last year was a tough year for fundraising, and Lewis stepped right up to help raise another $150,000 for the defibrillators," Merrill says. "When you need to get things done, Lewis is definitely someone you can turn to for help."

When asked about what makes Pensacola so special, Lewis doesn't hesitate.

"It's the people. Whether they have been here all their lives or moved here, we have people are committed to making this a better place to live. We really saw it in the effort to get the Community Maritime Park."

When asked why he thinks he might have been chosen to top the IN 2009 Power List, Lewis replies with another smile on his face.

"When I get committed to something, I can be pretty stubborn."

No. 2: J. Mort O'Sullivan
Consensus Builder

Mort is the managing partner of O'Sullivan Creel, LLP, a regional CPA firm that covers South Alabama and Northwest Florida. He also chairs the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce and has been an unpaid financial consultant to Community Maritime Park Associates.

Mort is seen as the big consensus builder. Whether the issue is a waterfront park or revitalizing economic development, Mort spends countless hours trying to answer everyone's concerns and build a team approach.

"My focus as a leader is to energize the community to move forward," says Mort, "And to seek ways to get on the same page and unite all our energy in the same direction."

Mort adds, "I grew up here and feel compelled to give back because I have been so blessed living in this community. I get involved because I think I can make a positive difference."

No. 3: Buzz Ritchie
Respected Spokesman

Buzz has chaired nearly every important community effort over the past ten years. From studying stormwater problems to rebuilding Pensacola after the devastation of Hurricane Ivan, Buzz has been the leader and the spokesman pushing us to be better.

Buzz is the immediate past chair of the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce and is in his second year as chairman of United Way of Escambia County. He is also the president and founder of Gulf Coast Community Bank.

"I think a lot of folks are recognized on the Power List for their constant involvement and trying to make Pensacola a better place to live," Buzz says. "I'm volunteering with the Chamber to get more jobs and working with United Way to improve the quality of life for the community.

"If someone wants to call me one of the most involved people in town, then I'm happy with that."

No. 4: Jim Reeves

Jim Reeves, attorney, developer and co-founder of McGuire's Irish Politicians Club, has been the dealmaker behind some of Pensacola's biggest urban renewal projects, including Aragon.

For over 30 years, Jim has been "Mr. Sunshine" for the Gulf Breeze Rotary Club raising thousands of dollars for charities.

"We're going to raise about $30,000 for scholarships for Gulf Breeze High School students," Jim says. "We're going to give away a 2010 "smart car" convertible, fully loaded. It's been fun driving the convertible while selling tickets."

Jim is involved with the NAIOP, the commercial real estate development association, on both the local and state levels.

"We want NAIOP to be a catalyst and bring everyone together and not have just a county commission economic development plan or a chamber plan, but have one everyone can buy in to, particularly the private sector with their money."

Jim says that he loves Pensacola. "Whatever is good for Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, I'm for."

No. 5: Susan Story
State Power

Heading the region's largest utility, Gulf Power, comes with tremendous pressure to make a difference. Susan Story handles it with style and grace. This nuclear power plant engineer represents Pensacola on a state level as the chair of Florida Chamber of Commerce, vice-chair of Florida Council of 100 and the immediate past vice-chair of Enterprise Florida.

However, Susan hasn't kept eyes off of Pensacola. She served on the Community Maritime Park Board of Trustees and is spearheading an effort to build a diversity museum at the park.

"Pensacola is such a wonderful community with the most amazing people," Susan says. "It is a tremendous honor to be viewed as a leader here."

Susan shares that she looks forward to the development of the Maritime Park along with a continued growth in vibrancy in downtown, the beach and other local communities in our area. 

"We have so much to work with, and we need to take advantage of all of our strengths."

No. 6:  Bob Kerrigan

Attorney Bob Kerrigan's office is filled with mountains of paper. His newly-formed Escambia County Taxpayers Association has been reviewing Escambia County operations looking for tax savings.

"We are doing research on local government spending," Kerrigan says. "I think that we are headed in the right direction as we have all become aware that we have excessive local government spending."

Kerrigan says that he is also working on building membership of the taxpayers association and plans to have a formal kick-off in the next couple of weeks.

As far as being on the IN Power List, he says, "Influence can be good or bad. It comes with a great burden.

"It doesn't mean you have to have a "glorious" bumper sticker. It does mean you have to participate in making this community better."

No. 7 Eric Nickelson

This banker turned developer freely gives of his time to the community. He serves as president of the Catholic Foundation of Northwest Florida, board chairman of Sacred Heart Health System, president of the Fiesta of Five Flags Foundation and chairman of the Escambia County Community Foundation.

He and his wife Peg founded the Sacred Heart Miracle Camp, which provides camps and programs that lift the spirits of children and adults with chronic or life-threatening illnesses.

Eric shies away from being called a leader.

"I wouldn't necessarily call myself a leader, but I'd hope to be known as a concensus builder, someone working with people who have the same interest at heart and helping the community to become better."

No. 8 Jim Cronley

This former Army helicopter pilot began his own construction company in 1971. He formed Terhaar & Cronley 22 years ago and over the years their company has completed over $200 million in commercial and industrial construction.

Cronley served on the Chamber Economic Development Study Committee that recently presented to the Pensacola City Council and Escambia County Commission a plan to revitalize economic development.

"I hope to see the chamber and the county get together on an economic development plan," Jim says. He is also a supporter of consolidated government and hopes the consolidation commission will come up with new recommendations to save money.

On the responsibilities of leaders, Jim says, "As a leader, you have to be passionate about your community and be willing to put the time and effort into the things you're into. One of my philosophies is that we're blessed, and we should always try to give things back to the community."

Once you're named the most influential, you deserve a special place.

The flamboyant and outspoken Pensacola trial attorney has the University of Florida law school named after him. Fred has won more than 25 jury verdicts in excess of $1 million. His biggest achievement was helping rewrite legislation in 1993 that led to a $13.2 billion dollar settlement by the tobacco industry with the State of Florida.

Fred has attended cocktail parties with former President Bill Clinton, former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev, U2's Bono and David Rockefeller. He was honored at the United Nations by being made a Chief in the Republic of Ghana, one of only two non-Ghanians ever so honored.


This developer and restaurateur works behind the scenes for college, maritime park, downtown improvement and political candidates and causes. With his brothers, Will and Burney, Merrill co-owns Merrill Land Company, a real estate development and holding firm, The Fish House, Atlas Oyster House and Jackson's Restaurant in Pensacola. His contacts stretch beyond the Escambia County borders and his restaurants have served such national newsmakers as Sen. John McCain, Rudy Guiliani, Mitt Romney and Gov. Charlie Crist.

Collier has taken to heart the saying of the late M.J. Menge: "It's better to be the kingmaker than the king." 


No. 1 Don Gaetz, State Senator
The former Okaloosa County School Superintendent has made his mark in Tallahassee during his first three years in the Florida Senate. He chairs the important Select Committee on Florida's Economy, Policy and Steering Committee on Commerce and Industry and the Health Regulation Committee.

Despite this, Sen. Gaetz is reluctant to tout his power.

"Any influence I might have is really built on the relationships that I've been fortunate enough to have with people in Northwest Florida and leaders across the state," Sen. Gaetz says.

He realizes that the indictments of Rep. Randy Sansom and college president Bob Richburg and the conviction of Sheriff Charlie Morris for fraud and money laundering have tarnished the image of Okaloosa County.

"I think that it's more important than ever for public office to be treated as public trust and not an opportunity to create power or increase net worth," says Sen. Gaetz.

"Public office should be a duty and to some extent a sacrifice as well as an honor."

2. Jeff Miller, U.S. Congressman

3. David Morgan, Escambia County Sheriff

4. Malcolm Thomas, Escambia Superintendent of Schools

5. Chris Jones, Escambia County Property Appraiser

6. Ernie Lee Magaha, Escambia Clerk of Courts and Comptroller

7. Bill Eddins, State Attorney

8. Mike Wiggins, Pensacola mayor

9. Marie Young, Escambia County Commission chair

10. Lois Benson, ECUA board member

11. Wendell Hall, Santa Rosa County Sheriff

12. Gordon Goodin, Santa Rosa County Commissioner

13. Timothy Wyrosdick, Santa Rosa Superintendent of Schools

14. Grover Robinson, Escambia County Commissioner

15. Kevin White, Escambia County Commissioner

16. Wilson Robertson, Escambia County Commissioner

17. Clay Ford, State representative

18. Ed Gray, III, Santa Rosa School Board

19. Janet Holley, Escambia County Tax Collector

20. Diane Mack, Pensacola City Council

21. Greg Evers, State representative

22. Dave Murzin, State representative

23. Jewel Cannada-Wynn, Pensacola City Council

24. Don Salter, Santa Rosa County Commissioner

25. Gene Valentino, Escambia County Commissioner


Pensacola is fortunate to have people who influence issues on a national and state scale. These individuals are positive ambassadors for this community.

Secretary of the Agency for Health Care

Benson heads the state agency that is the health policy and planning entity for the state. AHCA is responsible for the state's $16 billion Medicaid program. Prior to being appointed by Gov. Crist to this agency, Benson served as secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and represented our area as a state representative for six years.

Founder and CEO of the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition and the chairman of the NASA Advisory Council

Dr. Ford has developed IHMC into one of the nation's premier research organizations that focuses on building technological systems aimed at amplifying and extending human cognitive and perceptual capacities. In 2004, Florida Trend Magazine named him one of Florida's four most influential citizens working in academia.

Attorney, Author, National commentator

Papantonio is noted for his success in mass torts, product liability, personal injury and wrongful death cases, and he has returned verdicts of multi-million dollar damages for the plaintiffs, the latest being a nearly $380 million verdict in Spelter, West Virginia. He is author and publisher of American Trial Lawyer magazine, co-host of the national radio show "Ring of Fire," co-founder of and a regular guest on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News.

Host, "Morning Joe"

This former U.S. Congressman puts Pensacola on a national stage every morning with his MSNBC news program, "Morning Joe." Scarborough is an author and much sought after public speaker. His latest book, "The Last Best Hope: Restoring Conservatism and America's Promise," outlines his vision of a GOP revival.

CEO, Studer Group

While many know Studer as the driving force behind the Community Maritime Park, the former president of Baptist Hospital has a much larger national reputation. Studer has been named one of the "Top 100 Most Powerful People" by Modern Healthcare and has gained recognition (USA Today, Inc. Magazine, Investor's Business Daily) as a thought leader in health care. His book, "Hardwiring Excellence," was published in April 2004 and has since sold more than 300,000 copies.