William D. “Bill” Gunter, Jr. was born on July 16, 1934 in Jacksonville, Florida. He was raised on a Suwannee County dairy farm, and while attending Suwannee High School he served as FFA chapter president, student body president, and page to U. S. Congressman Charles Bennett of Jacksonville. Bill was the proud showman of the Grand Champion Guernsey cow at the State Fair and served as Florida FFA Vice President. Following his senior year in high school he was named Star Dairy Farmer of Florida and went on to continue his education at the University of Florida. As a student leader, Bill was a member of Florida Blue Key and held the post of managing editor of the Florida Alligator student newspaper. He continued his involvement in FFA and was elected as National FFA President in 1954.
Upon his graduation from UF in 1956 with a degree in agriculture, Bill joined the Army and served for two years. When he left the service in 1958, he taught agriculture for a year at Orlando’s Edgewater High School and then entered the insurance business with State Farm of Orlando. In the midst of a successful career as an agency manager, Bill was elected to the Florida Senate in 1966. In Tallahassee Bill worked to increase funding for agriscience education and agricultural research and was a vocal supporter for stronger laws on land and water management. After twice easily winning re-election, he moved on to the national scene and was elected to the U. s. House of Representatives in 1972. Bill continued to be a strong advocate for agricultural issues, including crop insurance legislation, and gained widespread respect for his support of solar energy research and development.
After two terms Bill decided to leave Washington to return to Florida, where he was elected Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner. He served as President of the National Association of State Treasurers in 1981 and President of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners in 1983. The Washington Monthly magazine name him one of the top twelve state government officials in 1983, and the citizen’s group TaxWatch assigned him the highest grade in state government in their 1985 report card on government spending. After winning two reelections by huge margins he returned to private business as CEO of his own insurance agency and head of a consulting firm in 1989.
Bill’s achievements have earned him many awards over the years, starting with his election to the University of Florida Hall of Fame in 1956 and being named one of Florida’s Five Outstanding Young Men in 1966. He won the State Jaycees Good Government award in 1972 and was the Florida Audubon Society’s Conservationist of the Year in 1987. Stetson University honored Bill with an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree in 1987, and in 2004 he was presented with the University of Florida’s Distinguished Service Award.
Even with such a distinguished career in public service and business, along with his continued strong support of agricultural education and FFA, nothing is more important to Bill than his marriage to the former Kathy Atkins and their children Bart, Joel, Rachel and Rebecca.
Bill Gunter was inducted into the Florida FFA Hall of Fame October 3, 2009.