As Originally Posted in St. Cloud Town News Today, By Merrell Palmer, Editor
SAINT CLOUD- The young boy sat in the front seat of his mother’s passenger van and peered into her face as she leaned close. “Fred, you’re going to think the people we pick up today are different, but they are God’s special children,” she said, “Always take care to champion them.” It was a lesson Fred Hawkins Jr never forgot. He spent that day and many others riding with his mother as she transported special needs clients. “I learned compassion very early from my mother; she is an angel,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins, Osceola County Commissioner for District Five, has spent much of his life serving and advocating for others. He also learned early the importance of hard work and customer service.
Working with his father at the family-owned auto salvage yards in St. Cloud and Kissimmee welded a sense of responsibility to the public. “If my dad came through and noticed parts numbers and names of potential customers written down in a notepad on the counter, he’d ask, ‘Have you returned that call?’ Even if we didn’t have the particular part in stock, he expected a follow-up phone call. People may not like the response, but they respect an answer.” Hawkins said, ‘Even now, my constituents may not like my answers, but I am accessible, and I will always respond.”
Hawkins’ interest in politics began in junior high school, and he worked on numerous campaigns during his college years at the University of Akron, where he graduated with degrees in pre-law and political science.
After being invited into and serving on a planning commission for eight years, Hawkins successfully ran for election in 2008. He was selected by his peers as Chairman in 2010.
He currently serves as Osceola County’s representative on the Board of Directors of the Central Florida Expressway Authority, Florida Association of Counties, GOPEP’s (Greater Osceola Partnership for Economic Prosperity) Agricultural Advisory Committee, the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission, St. Cloud Hospital’s Advisory Board of Trustees, and the Public Risk Underwriters of Florida, Inc., Board of Trustees.
He has served as Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Osceola County Planning Commission, Vice Chairman of the Osceola County Charter Review Commission, and Chairman of the Republican Lincoln Day Dinner. He has also sat on the Board of Directors for the Harmony Institute, the Boys & Girls Club, the Children’s Advocacy Center, Community Vision, Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, Workforce Central Florida, the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council, and the Foundation for Osceola Education.
In addition to his position on the county commission, Hawkins is the Director of Business Development and Legal Affairs for Waste Corporation of America.
“My work ethic was instilled by my father,” said Hawkins, “He used to say, ‘You’re gonna fail a lot of times in your life, but don’t ever let anyone outwork you.’ To this day I’m not above rolling up my sleeves and getting in the trenches. I don’t ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.”
Hawkins is running for re-election. District Five is a mostly rural area, ripe for growth and development that extends east to neighboring Brevard County and south to Indian River County. St. Cloud and the development of Harmony are part of the district.
Osceola is in the top 15 counties in the nation known for growth, and still has 74% open green space. But the state demands growth, and Hawkins pointed to the county’s need to diversify its economy. “We will still support agriculture, but we need to welcome technology,” he said. “True economic development makes it easier for existing companies to expand.”
Hawkins considers the county’s partnership with the University of Central Florida as one its biggest accomplishments. “We will be part of a technology triangle in the works right now,” he said. “It was important to me that when Tavistock stretches from Orange County into Osceola, it continues with the same quality.”
Hawkins said the county is primed for growth. Vacation home rentals outpaced hotels for the first time this year. “When people come to vacation in Florida, especially now with the arrival of the professional soccer league in Orlando, a lot of them stay in Osceola County.”
The county has benefited from its relationship with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who has roots and ties to Osceola. Dyer was instrumental in efforts to secure the RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo for Heritage Park.
Hawkins sees growing pains as part of the process of growth. “With every blessing comes burdens,” he said, “You can’t let burdens overcome you.”
Hawkins shrugs at being the only Republican on the commission. “Roads and ditches are not partisan,” he said. “I respect anybody who holds a position or office. The most important quality we can have is to listen. The citizens are supposed to give us direction. We are supposed be the voice of the people, not the voice to the people.”
As for future political ambitions, Hawkins simply says, “The people will dictate that. I always run like I’m in last place. I never want to lose being humble. Another lesson my father taught me is that no matter what day I’m having, I get to chose how I treat others.”
Hawkins considers his greatest accomplishment to be remaining level-headed during tumultuous times. “I came into office with two other new commissioners, and within months the economy tanked. We steered the ship through that storm.”
For the man who enjoys speech writing, golf, sports, photography, outdoor work, cooking and running, the roots of his raising run deep.
“The most satisfaction possible is participating in the Special Needs Rodeo each year,” Hawkins said, his eyes filling. “Those kids have the time of their lives. The rodeo queens greet them and they get to ride animals and be down in the arena. They really are God’s special children.”