Few political success stories begin so early, or rise so quickly. But Will Weatherford has never followed someone else’s script.
And for eight years, the former legislative aide showed Floridians what youthful, supercharged conservatism looks like, first as a Representative and then as the youngest Speaker of the Florida House in the state’s history. His passions included making politics more accessible to younger voters, those in their 20s and 30s.
He leaves that demographic with a 40th birthday Nov. 14 but not before striking a forceful and influential tone, both in Tallahassee and with countless charities.
“When you look up ‘political will’ in the dictionary, there’s a picture of Will Weatherford,” said Mark Wilson, the president and chief executive officer of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. “He’s one of the few people I know whose beliefs don’t change based on popular opinion.”
His constituents in Pasco County elected Weatherford to the House in 2006, a week shy of his 27th birthday. The former Jacksonville University football standout brought a contagious energy with him, a charm that softened resistance.
“He’s a very gregarious, ‘fills-up-a-room’ kind of guy,” said Molly Moorhead, who covered Weatherford’s first run for the Legislature for the Tampa Bay Times. “Good looking with an easy smile.”
Born in Dallas to a poor family, he learned priorities from Kathy Weatherford, who started days homeschooling her children with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. A grandmother, Carolyn Warner, set a different kind of example by winning the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in Arizona, and might have defeated Evan Mecham had not a third party candidate split the vote.
He never forgot where he came from, donating generously and consistently to Best Buddies International, The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and taking a church mission trip to Uganda.
In December 2015, when someone stole a trailer full of toys and food bound for another of his favorite beneficiaries, Metropolitan Ministries, Weatherford pleaded with the public to make it right — and backed it up with a pledge to match contributions up to $2,000.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce also counted on his help.
“Our partnership to help end generational poverty through the Florida Chamber’s Prosperity Initiative will be among Will’s greatest legacies,” Wilson said.
While the House typically elects Speakers in the final year of their fourth term, Weatherford got there after his third.
“Will was the fastest to date,” then-Rep. Richard Corcoran, a Pasco County Republican and former Speaker, told the Times in 2013.
While the public saw him as a conservative hard-liner, a closer looks shows some of Weatherford’s views were not predictable. He advocated raising the minimum age for buying assault weapons to 21, fought to increase benefits for state employees and wanted to leave casino gambling up to voters.
Nor did his ambitious rise to the top mean he wanted to stay there indefinitely. Indeed, he had often complained that the four-hour commute meant time away from his wife, Courtney, and four children. He told colleagues that if was going to miss his daughter Ella’s first bicycle ride on her own, then what he did in Tallahassee had better count.
In 2018, Weatherford declined an opportunity to run for Governor. He co-founded Weatherford Capital with brothers Sam and Drew, marrying twin passions for investment and entrepreneurship.
“While I’m compelled at some point to re-engage in the political arena, I just think the timing right now is not right,” he said in passing up a chance to succeed Gov. Rick Scott.
As of June 2019, the firm was in a position to double its output.
That’s how Speaker Weatherford rolls, with a zest Floridians could yet see again. His birthday celebration runs from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. today at the Regions Bank building, 100 N Tampa St., Suite 2320.