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Justice Major Harding honored for a lifetime of achievement

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Major and Jane Harding

Retired Supreme Court Justice Major B. Harding, with his wife Jane by his side, received Susan Rosenblatt Lifetime Achievement Award  from the Florida Supreme Court Historical Society in recognition of his highly distinguished judicial career, many years of extraordinary contributions to Florida’s legal system, and lifelong devotion to improving the lives of others. Former Supreme Court Marshal Wilson Barnes once said of Harding, “Around the court, among my colleagues, we like to consider Justice Harding as a man of the people.” From judges to janitors, Barnes said, “He related to us all. He was not taken up with the power or the importance of his position.”

Major and Jane Harding

Justice Major and Jane Harding share a moment after receiving his FSCHS Lifetime Achievement Award. The Harding were married while the justice was in law school at Wake Forest.

In accepting a lifetime achievement award from the Florida Supreme Court Historical Society with his wife Jane by his side, retired Justice Major B. Harding said “her love, her care, her support, her encouragement, and her wisdom, in my judgment, are equally attributable to my receiving this award.”

Harding received the Susan Rosenblatt Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his highly distinguished judicial career, many years of extraordinary contributions to Florida’s legal system, and lifelong devotion to improving the lives of others.

Awarded by unanimous consent of the FSCHS Board of Trustees and presented during the annual dinner April 7, Justice Harding received the newly renamed award immediately after Susan Rosenblatt’s family received the inaugural award (see story here). They were the only two honorees this year. Harding and his wife Jane have been active members of the society’s board for more than 25 years and he has served on the executive committee.

“He once said in Jacksonville before he went on the Supreme Court we have discipline courses, we have civility classes, we have professionalism schools, but if you mother didn’t teach you right, I’m not exactly sure what we are supposed to do,” master of ceremonies Hank Coxe said in introducing Harding. “And he meant that because that was Major Harding. That is what he believed and that was what he experienced.”

Former Supreme Court Marshal Wilson Barnes once said of Harding, “Around the court, among my colleagues, we like to consider Justice Harding as a man of the people.”

From judges to janitors, Barnes said, “He related to us all. He was not taken up with the power or the importance of his position.”

A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, Harding received both his undergraduate and law degrees from Wake Forest University, where he also met Jane, his future wife. He was admitted to the North Carolina Bar the year he graduated, 1959, and he became a Florida Bar member one year later.

The Harding family then picked up and moved to Ft. Gordon, Georgia, where Harding spent part of his Army tour as assistant staff judge advocate from 1960-62, before finally settling in Jacksonville.

After two years as assistant county solicitor in Duval County (1962-63), Harding went into private practice.

Harding’s initial ascent to the bench has been told and retold: In 1968, he drove to Jacksonville’s airport to meet then-Gov. Claude Kirk, who suggested the gubernatorial entourage ride into town in Harding’s car.

“I was a young father on a budget,” Harding recalled in 2002 shortly after announcing his intention to retire from the court. “And my car was a Volkswagen Beetle that could barely fit two adults comfortably.”

The solution? Harding and Kirk chatted comfortably in a Florida Highway Patrol car, while a staff member followed in the famed beetle.

Not only a memorable meeting, but a productive one, as well. Kirk appointed Harding to the juvenile bench mere days later. In 1976, Harding was elected chief judge of the circuit and soon became the first dean of the Judicial College. In 1991, he was appointed by then-Gov. Lawton Chiles to the Supreme Court.

During his tenure on the court, Harding and his fellow justices dealt with such high-profile issues as the election recount and the death penalty, and during Harding’s two-year stint as chief justice from 1998 to 2000, he oversaw initiatives to improve diversity, increase public access, and boost public confidence in the courts.

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