D. Burke Kibler III
“A life in war, the law and public service”
At the end of a long career in law and public service, D. Burke Kibler III recalled an early assignment.
“I looked around during one of the first days, and it dawned on me that the whole U.S. Army was behind me,&wuot; Kibler told a newspaper in 2009.
His job at the age of 21 was directing artillery fire against the German army during World War II as a forward observer and second lieutenant in the 103rd Infantry Division. While the division fought its way from the South of France into Germany, Kibler took one of those opportunities of being in front of the infantry to crawl into the open under machine gun and sniper fire, which had pinned down his company. Kibler directed the artillery to great effect, allowing his company to regroup and resume its advance, according to an official commendation. In return for this act of bravery, the Army awarded Kibler the Bronze Star with a “V” for valor, and he earned the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf cluster (meaning he was wounded in combat more than once).
Like so many war heroes, the Lakeland lawyer downplayed his own patriotism and commitment as no greater than his fellows in arms. But he would remain in the Army Reserves for 14 years after the war and rise to the rank of major. And whatever his modesty regarding his role in winning the war, there was no doubt that Kibler rose beyond most of his peers in his chosen fields of endeavor as a civilian.
For Kibler, that meant first finishing studies at the University of Florida with a law degree in 1949. When he returned from the war, he married Nell Bryant, with whom he corresponded throughout the war. Back in his hometown of Lakeland, Kibler joined Nell’s father, Thomas Bryant, in his law firm. He became a partner in the 1950s and in 1964, he joined Holland, Bevis and Smith and Kibler’s name was added to the firm. In 1968 Holland, Bevis, Smith, Kibler & Hall merged with Knight, Jones, Whitaker & Germany to form Holland & Knight. During the next four decades, Holland & Knight grew to among the nation’s top law firms, and Kibler served as chairman of the board from 1983 to 1995.
At 28, Kibler survived a devastating battle with polio, which spared his legs and spine, but put him in bed for months of recovery. Competitive yet always a true southern gentlemen, as old friends Chesterfield Smith and Bill McBride said in a 1992 newspaper profile, Kibler showed that he made a full recovery as he became renowned for his prowess in squash and tennis, defeating much younger men in those sports into his 60s.
While still in Europe and before he had a law degree, Kibler was assigned to defend men accused of desertion from the Army in their courts-martial. This unpopular duty would foreshadow Kibler’s chairmanship of the Florida Board of Regents when upheaval shook college campuses and protests raged against the Vietnam War. The positions he staked out — which he felt defended the free speech of students and faculty — earned him the enmity of certain members of the political establishment and of students alike, Kibler recalled. The controversy led to calls for his ouster as chairman and for calls to abolish the Florida Board of Regents altogether, Kibler said. Despite the turbulence, Kibler continued with public service when he left the Board of Regents including as part of a higher education planning commission under Gov. Bob Graham and as chairman of the Council of 100, a business group that recommends public policies to promote education, business and growth management. Kibler served as general counsel of the Florida Citrus Commission and of the Florida Phosphate Council.
Kibler served on the UF Foundation Board of Directors and was recognized in 1991 with the UF Distinguished Alumnus Award. He was a member of the University of Florida Law Center Association, Inc. Kibler loved to spend time at his enormous Manatee County ranch and he faithfully went to his office each workday, continuing to do so even during the last months of his life. Nell Kibler passed away in 1996 after 51 years of marriage and Kibler is survived by his second wife, Carolyn, and his four children, David B. Kibler IV, Thomas Bryant Kibler, Jacquelyn Thompson and Nancy Dew Ross