End of an Era as Don McClosky Dies


The end of an era is a phrase overused, especially by the media.

In the case of Don McClosky’s death from cancer Wednesday, the term is apt.

McClosky, 84, was the lawyer/lobbyist most responsible for today’s Broward. No arguments.

Sawgrass Mills. The Sunrise hockey arena.  Wheelabrator’s waste incinerators.  All McClosky clients.

Dozens of housing developments like Forest Ridge.  Scads of shopping centers like the Pembroke Pines Mall and Lauderhill Mall. Hundreds of other landmark projects like the Marriott Harbor Beach and Hallandale’s Three Islands that now are sprinkled across the county.

Just about everybody who helped shape Broward fro 1970-2000 was McClosky’s client.  The Forman family of real estate titans, Wayne Huizenga, Charlie Palmer, scores of others.


McClosky was the maestro of government process.  He knew who to call, what procedures to use and what was the downside of any vote for office holders and staff.

With polished negotiating skills, McClosky often fine-tuned agreements between elected officials and developers. The result was the buildings we see today.

“He could do more in five minutes on the phone than other lawyers could do in a day. He just knew how to get things done,” said Browardbeat.com’s Sam Fields, a lawyer with McClosky’s firm and long-time friend.

The McClosky I knew was tough, wily, witty, often profane, razor sharp and a straight shooter.

 McClosky Fought His Way to Success

Born in pre-Depression boom in Miami, McClosky was raised by a single mom on the edge of poverty.  He told me that he learned to use his fists because Jews were often the target of bullies.  He also taught himself basketball, a game he enjoyed well into his 70s.

After leaving the U. S. Army Air Corp as a World War II vet, he worked his way through the University of Miami as a salesman and later the youngest manager of a Jackson Byron store. While in school he met Simon Ruden, who encouraged him to go to law school.

After graduation, McClosky was living in Broward.  He said he couldn’t find work because Jewish lawyers were shunned by the deeply anti-Semitic downtown Fort Lauderdale establishment in 1960.

So McClosky got the last laugh.  He joined a new firm being put together by Ruden, Elliot Barrett and Carl Schuster.  It eventually became the biggest law firm in Broward and one of the biggest in the state.  Today it is called Ruden McClosky.

And the old timey law firms that shunned McClosky?  They mostly folded as the demographics of South Florida changed.

Success didn’t come easy.  At first they took anybody who would walk through the front door. Then a client who wanted to build a gas station in Fort Lauderdale and McClosky took the case.

He was off and running.

McClosky was a true believer in free enterprise and development.  He said that projects he got approved permitted millions to live, shop and enjoy Florida.

But he was Darth Vader to the environmentalists like County Commissioner Anne Kolb.  Patti Webster, then of Broward’s Environmental Coalition, was quoted in the Miami Herald two decades ago calling McClosky “Mr. Destroy Southwest Broward.”

I discussed the conflict between the environment and development with him many times.

He said that the only way to stop development was to put a wall on the Georgia border. People wanted to live in South Florida and they deserved reasonably priced housing and nice places to play, eat and shop.

The free enterprise philosophy aside, the McClosky I fondly remember had fun.  He enjoyed his job. People can’t ask much more from life.

One day he was standing in front of the county commission getting particular rough treatment. He left the microphone for a minute and walking to get some papers, he saw me on the aisle and leaned over.

With that McClosky twinkle in his eyes, he quipped, “Maybe I should tell her that I think the state seal of Florida should be a concrete block.”

I started laughing, resulting in a stern look from the commissioner in question.

Rest in peace, Don.

15 Responses to “End of an Era as Don McClosky Dies”

  1. Jim Kane says:

    He will be greatly missed. He was the most knowledgeable and thoughtful lobbyist I have ever dealt with over the past thirty years.

  2. Floridan says:

    I knew McClosky very, very tangentially, but he was successful because he knew more about the projects he was representing and the laws and regulations governing them than did anyone else.

    Amateurs tend to believe that success comes from relationships (or underhanded deals), but those, like McClosky, who are regulars at getting things through government oversight, know that while relationships may be necessary, they are never sufficient, and that relationships usually come from success, not the other way around.

  3. Smart Move says:

    …tough, wily, witty, often profane, razor sharp and a straight shooter….he could get more in 5 minutes on the phone than other lawyers could do in a day…

    Impressive description.


  4. Las Olas Lawyer says:

    Floridian is right. Don never counted only on relationships he had with politicians. He was a consummate lawyer. He knew whatever issue or project he was working on from front to back. Nevins is also right to point out Don’s prodigious sense of humor.
    Don will be missed.

  5. S only says:

    Buddy’s writing at its best—excellent obit.

  6. Proud Son says:

    Thank you Mr. Nevins for the wonderful tribute to my hero and my father.

  7. granddaughter Erica McClosky says:

    That’s MY grandpa!!! LOVE U PAPA DON!!! You are watching over me now! 🙂

  8. Dan Reynolds says:

    In addition to his skill as an attorney and lobbyist Don was also a true gentleman. I will miss his generous smile and his disarmng wit.

  9. David Brown says:

    Don was a true gentleman. He was full of humor and more than occasionally a few expletives. He was a great story teller especially about the early days in Broward when many “community leaders” didn’t look beyond his last name and so felt comfortable expressing their anti-Semitism right in front of him.

    He always remembered who they were and delivered payback when they would least expect it or wouldn’t even see it. But it would put a little smile on Don’s face.
    Ultimately he brought great credit on himself, his firm and his family. In the last few years our run-ins were few and far between but I will miss his smile.

  10. Ben Graber says:

    Don was a gentleman and a scholar. A good soul. May G-D b
    less him.

  11. Elaine Bezer says:

    I am so so sorry to hear he is gone before ever really getting the priveledge to meet him. I have a very vague chilhood memory and that was 45 years ago. My mother was Don’s sister and she always spoke very highly of him. My sincerest condolences to the family. You are blessed to have such a great man to look up to and remember.

  12. Paul Gougelman says:

    I worked for him as a law clerk back in the 70s. His witty and candid responses were the measure of the man. He was an amazing fellow, and he was truly down to earth. I am glad to have known him, and my sympathies go out to all his family members. Thanks buddy for the sterling obit.

  13. Young Esquire says:

    When I was contemplating attending law school I had a chance encounter with Mr. McClosky at a seminar that we were both attending. One of the promising associates from his firm was a lecturer at the seminar and after the lecture I approached the associate to obtain some incite into the profession. Mr. McClosky overheard the conversation and invited me to lunch. During lunch, which he paid for, he provided me with an hour’s worth of advice in his “profane, razor sharp and a straight shoot[ing]” manner. His frankness was difficult to hear as a young black male especial from someone who appeared to be an old establishment white male, but there was something about his manner that convinced me that the advice came from personal experience although he never mentioned his early struggles with prejudice. Reading his obits. has given me a greater understanding of why he gave me the advice he did and the manner in which he chose to do so. I appreciate them all the more now. Thanks again Don.

  14. Warren Meddoff says:

    Don was a great advocate and left his mark in a positive manner for generations to come. He will be missed.

  15. John Kelly says:

    I first met Don while working for Irv Rosenbaum at the Town of Davie. When I was offered the City Manager position in Tamarac, Don called to tell me that he couldn’t give me any deep insights into individual city commissioners, but he wished me luck and offered this gem of advice: “Watch your back, my friend.”