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This week in history: A.G. Holley Hospital opens

The Southeast Florida State Sanatorium was dedicated on July 16, 1950. The Lantana tuberculosis hospital was renamed in 1969 for Adrian Glenn — known as A.G. — Holley, a Panhandle hardware store owner and a longtime member of the state’s tuberculosis board.


Caption on this 1969 Palm Beach Post-Times photo: Mr. and Mrs. A. Glenn Holley view his portrait at the A.G. Holley State Hospital in Lantana.

More about A.G. Holley from a February 9, 1992, Palm Beach Post story about the hospital:

Born in an era when a gentleman frequently went through life as a set of initials instead of a name, Adrian Glenn Holley was always A.G. or Mr. Holley to all but good friends. To them, he was Glenn. Few people ever knew what was behind the A.

So how does a hardware salesman from Florida’s Panhandle get a tuberculosis hospital in South Florida named for him?

Clout.

Holley, who died Jan. 14 of this year at age 91, was appointed to the state’s tuberculosis board in 1953 and became its chairman in 1958 when the first president, W.T. Edwards, resigned. Holley remained chairman until 1969 when the TB board was dissolved because TB was no longer a public-health threat and all but two of the state’s TB hospitals had closed. Five years later, the Tampa TB hospital named for Edwards, was phased out.

The five-man TB board reported directly to the governor and ran the state’s huge TB hospitals. You didn’t have to know anything about TB to be appointed to the TB board, but it was crucial that you know politics. Holley had been mayor of Marianna, but his clout came through substantial political connections. For instance, he owned a big farm with a former lieutenant governor.

The House of Representatives, against the votes of the Palm Beach County delegation, renamed the Southeast Florida State Tuberculosis Hospital as A.G. Holley State Hospital in May 1969. Palm Beach County representatives were miffed because no one knew A.G. Holley in Palm Beach County and the Panhandle representative who introduced the bill never consulted the delegates from Palm Beach County. Back then, real political power in Florida was still firmly based in the Panhandle.

In renaming the hospital, the Legislature also created a lingering image problem for the facility. The label ‘state hospital’ is affixed to Florida’s hospital for the mentally ill. Many people think A.G. Holley is full of mental patients.

Holley’s wife, Mary, a Canadian nurse he had met in Alabama, owned a hardware store in Marianna. They had a summer home in Little Switzerland, N.C., and continued to spend the rest of their time in Marianna, outside of Tallahassee. Mary Holley died two years ago. The couple had no children.

The Florida legislature voted to close the A.G. Holley State Hospital in March 2012. The last patients and employees were gone by July 2. Read more about the closing of the hospital here.

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Posted in Flashback blog July 16, 2012 at 6:00 am.

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