In Memory

Jacqueline Griffin - Class Of 1965

Most weekends before she was diagnosed with the cancer that would take her life on Sept. 10, 2015, Jackie Griffin could be found inside a Petco store where volunteers offered homeless pets for adoption. Most of the volunteers knew her as a warm, funny, unpretentious person who cared passionately about animals, especially cats and dogs. What many didn’t know was that during the week, Jackie was the Honorable Jacqueline R. Griffin, the distinguished, no-nonsense Fifth District Court of Appeal judge who kept a sign on her desk that declared: “Read the rule, Fool.”

Jackie was born Dec. 15, 1946 at the Chelsea Naval Hospital, Mass., to Gladys and John Renna Griffin, Jr. She and her younger sister, Patti, were Navy brats who lived in eight different cities. Jackie graduated from high school in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, one of the family’s favorite posts. It was there that her high-school Spanish teacher, Mrs. Suarez, inspired Jackie’s passion for Spain and its language. In college at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, she spent her junior year in Spain at the University of Madrid, sparking a lifelong interest in its food and wine. After receiving her master’s degree in Spanish at UNC, she taught Spanish at Lyman High School in Seminole County and was named Young Teacher of the Year in 1972. She then changed direction to discover and embrace two new passions that came to define her life’s work: the law and the University of Florida.

As a law student, Jackie won many honors and awards, including being named only the second woman editor in the history of the Law Review at the University of Florida, before graduating in 1975. She then practiced law in Orlando until she was appointed by then-Gov. Bob Martinez to the Fifth District Court of Appeal in 1990. Former law partner and long-time friend Charles T. Wells, a former chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court, said what distinguished Jackie from many lawyers and judges was her extraordinary preparation. “She always read the record in every case,” which requires a great deal of time and patience, he said. “She was a gifted writer and could explain complex issues in an easy-to-understand way.” She had a powerful voice that she projected like a stage actor, and was known, even by her doctors, as a quick study. Simply listening to her expound – on anything – was both interesting and entertaining.

It took no time for Jackie to catch Gator fever at the University of Florida, and she became a life-long, die-hard, vociferous Gator fan (is there any other kind?). Though on her deathbed – and in a deep sleep – she smiled at the sound of the Gator game on the TV in her room last week. Retired U.S. District Judge Anne Conway, a classmate in law school and close friend ever since, recalled they started going to Gator football games in 1973 when they were in law school. They formed the Conway-Griffin partnership to buy tickets when the Touchdown Terrace was first opened. “We started the tradition of drinking champagne before the games back then because we often had nothing to cheer about afterwards,” Conway recalled. 

It was in the last 20 years that Jackie discovered a new passion that is as much a part of her legacy as her love of the law: caring for and protecting animals in Orange, Volusia and Flagler counties. Fellow rescue friend Julie Ozburn said that Jackie “saved hundreds” of neglected and abandoned animals. She regularly sat in pet stores on weekends trying to adopt out animals. She also would check out prospective adoptive families and do home inspections to ensure the families were right for the pet, and the pet was a good fit for the families before she personally delivered pets to their new homes. If she was going to a football game in Gainesville, she sometimes transported rabbits abandoned in Volusia County to a shelter in Gainesville. Besides her time and energy, Jackie poured money into animal causes for food, shelter, crates, spaying and neutering and medical care. Jackie ran tabs at various veterinary clinics that provided care for neglected animals the way some people run tabs at a bar. She also contributed to all manner of rescue operations and wildlife refuges. Though cats and dogs were her favorite, she cared for all animals small and large. 

Jackie’s deep love of Spain and Spanish, Southern food, red wine, Gator Nation, the law, and animals of all kinds was surpassed only by her devotion to family and love of friends. Attorney Carol Ponton, one of Jackie’s closest friends for 41 years who helped care for her at the end of her illness, said what she valued most was Jackie’s character. “She stood for something. She was the most ethical person you could ever know. She was there for you, but she would tell you what she thought – right or wrong,” Ponton said. “There was a power to her . . . a force. She was a shining light about the law and wanting to do the right thing.”

Since her father’s death in 2008, Jackie was one-third of the Griffin-family triumvirate. Nearly every evening, even when her energy was depleted from chemo and radiation treatments after complex uterine cancer was diagnosed in 2013, Jackie joined Patti at their mother’s home for dinner. Jackie often was chief cook, preparing her specialty pork dishes and Patti’s favorite – Spanish tortilla. The three women, each with her own collection of dogs or cats, were a universe unto themselves. There was nothing one would not do for the other; both survive her