Sunday, May 3, 2009

(L) Lewis Brantley (R) Charles Brantley

The Story of Lewis and Charles Brantley

Too many people think that Shriners put on funny clothes, get in go-carts and parade around on Saturday afternoons. Yes, they are committed to having fun, but their mission is much more profound. The Shriners seek to foster self improvement through leadership, education and community involvement, while their ultimate goal is to serve mankind and in particular, through their operation of Shriner’s hospitals, burned and crippled children. This is the story of two former Laurens County men, who have dedicated most of their adult lives to those goals and in the process rose to the pinnacle of the Shrine of North America.

Lewis and Charles Brantley were born into a sharecropping family in Wheeler County. Lewis was born in McRae in 1937 and Charles was born in nearby Towns, Georgia in 1939. Their parents, Charles Slaton Brantley and Mary Lois White Brantley, were the parents of four other children, Harris Brantley, Margaret Bottoni, Carolyn Stallings and Christine Lewis, the eldest sister who lives at Ben Hall Lake in Laurens County. The Brantley family sharecropped on the farm of Stump Prescott in the mid 1940s. The boys attended school here. Their father had gained some experience as a plumber. His brother Taylor Brantley operated a plumbing business in Dublin for many years. In 1949, when Lewis was twelve and Charles was ten, the Brantley family moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where the senior Charles got a job as a pipe and steam fitter in the ship yards. Lewis graduated from McCoy Vocational School and attended Jacksonville University, while Charles graduated from Robert E. Lee High School and Nova Southeastern University with a BS degree in management. As young men, the Brantleys served in the U.S. Army Reserve in Jacksonville. Lewis and Charles have always been close. Charles described his older brother as “a strong competitor who had a strong work ethic and was highly motivated to succeed early in his career.”

As a high school student, Lewis worked in a small neighborhood sheet metal shop. By the age of nineteen, he owned a small shop. A few years later, Lewis merged with another shop and eventually owned that shop as well. As he began to succeed in business, Lewis became interested in politics. He sought political office because he believed that the business community needed support from state government. At the age of twenty-nine in 1966, he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives. After four years in the House, Lewis decided to run for a seat in the Florida Senate. He served in the Florida Senate until 1978. In 1976, he was elected to a two-year term as President of the Florida Senate. It was during his term as President that the State of Florida completed a new capitol building. While he was the last Senate President to preside in the old building and first Senate President to preside in the new building, Charles said “ Lewis never forgot where he came from selling boiled peanuts and shining shoes on the streets of Dublin, Georgia.” While in office, Lewis worked hard to promote the construction industry and small businesses throughout the state. He served as Chairman of the Committee on Commerce and the Senate Rules Committee.

Always active in industry organizations, Lewis served as president of the Jacksonville and Florida Roofing and Sheet Metal Associations. He served as Vice-President of the Florida Council of the Boy Scouts. As a Rotarian, Lewis served as a director of the Jacksonville Club and a Paul Harris Fellow. He was the founding chairman of the Jacksonville Economic Development Council and a member of the Florida Committee for Employer’s Support of the National Guard. In 1991, he sold his two companies, Brantley Sheet Metal Co. and Park & Mick Welding and Machine Works, and concentrated on his residential and commercial properties, as well as farming and cattle ranching. He continued to serve on the board of directors of First Guaranty Bank and Vice Chairman of the Methodist Hospital. All of this he did with the support of his wife Catherine and his five children.

Charles inadvertently got into public service. He began working with the Florida Legislature while he was in college. The next thing he knew, he had completed twelve years as an assistant to David Kerns, director of the Florida Legislative Bureau, assistant to Rep. James Sweeny and senior legislative analyst with the Florida House Committee on Transportation. Charles moved over to the executive branch of government in 1981, first as the Assistant Director, then in 1993 as Director of the Florida Motor Vehicle Department. After a twenty-year career with the department, Charles retired in 2000. During his term as director, Charles played a leading role in the automation of titling and registering vehicles within the state. Still wanting to serve the public, Charles accepted an offer to become the President of the Florida Trucking Association, a position which he still holds today.

Charles was appointed to the post because of his vast experience in the operation of Florida government as it pertained to transportation issues. “While I did not intend to have a career in government, it was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Charles said. “ I enjoyed my 32 years in government service and it was great for me. I wouldn’t change a thing,” Charles concluded.

Lewis, who was everlastingly devoted to his family, joined the Shrine, which allowed him to extend that devotion to many children who needed medical help. Through the Shrine Clubs of North America, Lewis with undying compassion provided children throughout North America with much needed support. A Shrine member since 1960 and a Master Mason since 1959, Lewis spent nearly three decades climbing the various Chairs. In 1987, he was awarded the honorary 33rd degree of Scottish Rite Mason along with Senator Sam Nunn and singer Burl Ives. On July 3, 1997 during the annual Shrine convention held at St. Louis, Missouri, Charles was elected the 109th Imperial Potentate of the Shrine of North America. As the leader of the national organization, which operates 22 hospitals in North America to aid children with orthopedic and burn problems, Lewis felt a great responsibility to do more for the children, funneling every available resource to provide better medical care.

Charles was appointed by Lewis as Chaplain of the Shrine of North America. While he is not a minister, Charles is an active member and Deacon of the First Baptist Church of Tallahassee. Charles enjoyed his year as chaplain and sincerely hoped that along with his wife Suzanne, a talented concert pianist, that he was able to positively influence the people they came to know. “It certainly changed my life and helped me to become a better Christian. I will always be grateful to my brother for that appointment,” said Charles.

The Brantley brothers are the epitome of public servants. Devoting their lives to serve their fellow man, they have lived their lives according to the long established and universally appreciated principles of the Shrine of North America.

Update: Lewis Brantley lost his battle with lung cancer on Tuesday, May 9, 2004.

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