GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Former educator and former Clay County Commissioner Larry Ray Lancaster died Monday in his home. He was 70.
A lifelong resident of Clay County, Lancaster had a 39-year career in the Clay County School District where he had served as a teacher and vice principal at Orange Park High School. Prior to teaching government and history, Lancaster had a short stint as a Florida Highway Patrol officer after graduating from Georgia Southern College. He would later go on to serve 12 years on the Clay County Board of County Commissioners from 1992-2004.
Former county commissioner Dale Wilson grew up alongside Lancaster in Green Cove Springs where they went to elementary school together and played Little League baseball on the same team. After graduating from Clay High in 1965, both Wilson and Lancaster enrolled at St. Johns River Community College. Later, as adults, both Lancaster and Wilson would serve on the college’s board of trustees.
“In high school, I was president of Student Council and he was my vice president. We later went on to St. Johns River and he was president of Student Government and I was vice president,” said Wilson, who warmly describes Lancaster as “a gentle spirit.”
“He loved Clay County, he was a big family person and he did so many positive things for Clay County we cannot enumerate them all. He was just a wonderful man,” Wilson said, who served on the county commission with Lancaster.
Lancaster comes from a tradition of public service as his father Lanny Lancaster also served on the county commission before going on to serve as Supervisor of Elections. Lancaster’s younger brother, Scott Lancaster, was elected as Clay County Sheriff after having risen through the ranks in that agency.
Wilson said Larry Lancaster’s first love was education.
“After I graduated from law school and came back and started practicing law, Larry was in education and education was his first love. He would’ve been a wonderful school superintendent. He loved children and he made many contributions to our school system,” Wilson said.
When Lancaster retired from the District 5 seat on the county commission in 2004, four newcomers vied for his seat. Prior to the election, Lancaster sat down with political newcomer candidate Harold Rutledge and gave him what Rutledge described as fatherly advice.
“We spoke a lot before the election and we met several times and he explained some of the ropes, some of the ins and outs of the job, the good, the bad. It was the kind of advice like a father would give a son and I can’t thank him enough for doing that,” Rutledge said.
Rutledge, who went on to serve one term on the BCC, characterizes Lancaster as a statesman.
“What a huge loss for our county – he was truly a statesman, not a politician. I could talk about Larry for hours. I thought he always did what’s best for the county and not what’s best for him. It might not have been popular, but it was the right thing to do.”
“Larry was an extremely honest person. We didn’t always agree on every issue, but you always knew he was sincere,” Wilson said.
Former Clay County School Board member Lisa Graham remembered Lancaster for his work as an educator.
“I appreciate all he did for Clay County and the school system! Praying for the family,” Graham wrote on social media.
Orange Park entrepreneur Jane DiLoreto offered her prayers for Lancaster’s family.
“Larry was one of a kind. I am so sorry for you and his family. I know a void in your life had been created. I pray for your strength and faith,” DiLoreto wrote in a social media post.
Former Orange Park Council member Eugene Nix honored Lancaster for his years of public service.
“[An] Amazing person for sure and I’m a better man for having known and spent time with him. He's in a beautiful place now and will be missed by many. A true community servant in many ways,” Nix wrote.
An active member of First United Methodist Church of Green Cove Springs, Lancaster served with various community organizations, such as the Clay County Fair Association, Clay County Cattleman’s Association, 4-H, Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranch and the Town of Orange Park Planning Committee.
He was predeceased by his parents: Lanny and Frances Lancaster; wife, Thanna Jewell (Edwards) Lancaster; and son, Murray Leon Lancaster.
Survivors include his wife, Dawna P. Berlin; children: Rebecca Lynn (Mike) Minigh, Joseph Earl (Shelley) Lancaster, Sharon (Joe) Ploeger and Bret Berlin; 2 brothers: Barry (Sandy) Lancaster and Scott (Stacie) Lancaster; sister, Joanie (Kevin) Bressler; and 15 grandchildren and a host of nieces and nephews.
Family received friends from 6-8 p.m. on April 18 at First United Methodist Church. Funeral services will be held 1 p.m., Thursday, April 19 at the church located at 500 Walnut St. with Rev. David Jackson and Rev. Rick Douylliez officiating.
Burial will follow in Holly Hill Memorial Park. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranch, P.O. Box 2000, Boys Ranch, FL 32064. Lancaster’s family asks that friends, family and colleagues post words of comfort online at www.hardage-giddensrivermead.com.
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