Frederick H. Kent III, president of Jacksonville’s Marks Gray law firm, shares family history.
For Jacksonville’s Kent family, the practice of law is a three-generation tradition.
Frederick H. Kent III, president of Jacksonville’s Marks Gray law firm, has kept the family’s archives and oral history.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Kents lived in Fitzgerald, Georgia, where the family was in the cotton business.
Kent’s grandfather, Frederick Heber Kent, enrolled at the University of Georgia and graduated from law school there. He moved to Jacksonville after getting into some mischief during a weekend outing to Atlanta.
Kent said his grandfather’s father, somewhat embarrassed over the notoriety following the youthful transgression that included being arrested, told his progeny that it would be a good idea to leave the state.
“My grandfather was exiled to Jacksonville. He called it ‘Siberia,’” Kent said. “But he met my grandmother and they fell in love.”
The move also was the beginning of a law career that spanned nearly 60 years. It was a time of great change in Florida.
Kent said his grandfather left his mark on the state, including in the areas of business, education and even entertainment.
After he helped get Fred Cone elected governor in 1937, “my grandfather could do no wrong,” Kent said.
He was appointed attorney for the state Road Department and served as chair of the Board of Control, now the Board of Regents that oversees the state university system.
The focus on education became local after Kent’s grandfather was appointed to lead the group that established the statewide junior college system in the early 1960s.
That included Florida Junior College at Jacksonville — now Florida State College at Jacksonville.
The first campus was built along Roosevelt Boulevard on land donated by the U.S. Navy at the request of his grandfather, Kent said.
In 1977, the advocacy was permanently recognized when the site was named “Kent Campus.”
One of Kent’s grandfather’s clients was Edward Ball, the prominent financier who controlled the Alfred I. duPont estate, Florida East Coast Railroad and Florida National Bank.
“My grandfather didn’t always agree with Mr. Ball, but he admired how he did business,” Kent said.
The movie business also got into the family’s blood. Established about 1930, Kent Theaters was a chain from Vero Beach to Tallahassee. In Jacksonville, it included the Blanding, Main Street and Southside drive-ins and enclosed theaters at the Beaches.
“My grandfather always enjoyed the theaters, but I don’t think he made any money,” Kent said.
Kent’s father maintained the family legal tradition, graduating from law school at the University of Florida and being admitted to The Florida Bar in 1960.
In addition to his professional practice, he was a trustee of The Bolles School and a director of Riverside Hospital.
Kent III became the third in the line of lawyers when he graduated in 1981 from Florida State University College of Law.
Florida board-certified in real estate law, he also practices in the areas of commercial litigation, estate and probate matters
Kent, 61, said he plans to maintain the family tradition for the foreseeable future.
“I don’t expect to retire anytime soon. If this law firm or some other firm will have me, I will probably be carried out of my office one day in a box,” he said.