Rumberger remembered as tireless champion for Everglades

E. Thom Rumberger was remembered Monday as a champion of the Everglades who was gracious and effective while also helping build the modern Republican Party in Florida.

The 79-year-old general counsel of the Everglades Foundation died Sept. 7 from complications associated with diabetes.

“The Everglades has lost its most important advocate,” W. L. “Bud” Kirk, Rumberger’s law partner in Rumberger Kirk & Caldwell, told a memorial service in Tallahassee on Monday.

Born in California, Rumberger and his family moved to Florida when he was young. Here, his love for wildlife and the outdoors took root.

To earn money while at the University of Florida, Rumberger worked for Ross Allen’s Reptile Institute in Ocala, where he handled rattlesnakes.

Rumberger represented the Republican Party of Florida in 1992 and was instrumental in redrawing district lines in the Legislature. But in 2009 he was chairman of the PAC backing a constitutional amendment — opposed by Republican leaders — requiring that districts be redrawn without party favoritism.

He also represented Audubon of Florida in Everglades court issues involving water quality and the U. S. Sugar Corp. land purchase in 2010. He appeared before the Cabinet on Dec. 7, 2010, supporting the transfer of 29,412 acres to Big Cypress National Preserve.

Mary Barley, president of the Everglades Trust, told the memorial service that Rumberger was her “go-to guy” on Everglades issues.

“He never, ever let me down,” Barley said. “He executed every single thing we discussed. He did it perfectly, and we never lost anything when Thom was involved.”

Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, said the Republican Party in Florida grew and prospered “because of true believers” like Rumberger, who she called the “most tireless, dedicated champion” on behalf of the Everglades.

“He believed it shouldn’t be difficult for political leaders to embrace conservation and the values of clean air, water and irreplaceable natural resources,” Dockery said. “But he didn’t have much company in our party.”

The funeral service was like a get-together for Florida environmentalists and some Republicans. Those attending included former Attorney General Bill McCollum, former Sen. Curt Kiser, Everglades Foundation CEO and President Kirk Fordham, 1000 Friends of Florida President Charles Pattison, Audubon of Florida Executive Director Eric Draper, Florida Wildlife Federation President Manley Fuller and Earthjustice managing attorney David Guest.

“He was a big man who loved the Everglades,” Fuller told “He also offered his offices to us to meet and have working strategy sessions. That still continues and has been going on for years. He was a real friend and champion.”

Rumberger “offered a very conservative Republican perspective,” said Peg McPherson, executive director of the Legacy Institute for Nature & Culture and formerly of the Everglades Foundation. “He carried a lot of clout with the establishment that the environmental was not a political issue, it was a social issue, and we all have to step up to the plate on that.”

Rumberger’s survivors include Hayden Dempsey, former special counsel to Gov. Rick Scott, E. Thom “Todd” Rumberger Jr. of Tallahassee and Debbie Harrison, his wife since 2008. She is senior policy advisor to the National Parks Conservation Association.

(Photo by Mark Wallheiser/, used with permission . Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained at .)