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Osceola mourns loss of longtime planning director Kerry Godwin

Kerry Godwin, who served as Osceola County’s Director of Planning and Design and helped shape the county’s development for over a decade, died Monday of cancer. He was 68.

Godwin’s contributions to the Central Florida landscape incorporated his love and respect for nature with a sense of practicality that allowed for smart development and community planning. He was instrumental in the designs of Celebration, Osceola Heritage Park and NeoCity. He also worked closely with Tupperware to reimagine the Osceola Corporate Center industrial park into a mixed-use transit-oriented district with its own SunRail station.

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“He was key in helping us work with the property owners and designers,” said Dave Tomek, the county’s Community Development Director. “He was our go-to guy to implement good planning principles. His design skills — I’d put them up against anybody. He understood the difference between what looks good on paper and what works on the ground.”

He was born in Albany, Georgia, in 1953 and was the third in his family line to carry the name Byron Kiernan Godwin. Godwin grew up a middle child, with two older sisters and two younger ones. He was active in the Methodist Church and with the Boy Scouts, and as a teen, he worked in his parents’ hotel and spent summers digging ditches.

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He attended junior college in Albany, then transferred to the University of Georgia. He earned his Bachelor’s degree at UGA in Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design in 1977 and remained a lifelong fan of the Georgia Bulldogs, often decorating his offices with paraphernalia and sporting red and black at the beginning of football season.

After graduation, Godwin moved to Florida and embarked on a lengthy career in the private sector beginning with his work as a planner for Turnberry Isles in Aventura. There Godwin met his wife, Meryl Matthews, on a blind date. She lived in Miami, and her best friend was engaged to his roommate. She was smitten.

“His eyes … they sparkled,” she told GrowthSpotter. “And he was tall, and he looked like Tom Selleck.”

They married in 1983 and later settled in the Orlando area, where they shared a passion for community service and home renovation, moving into a new home every few years. Meryl said the fact that he grew up with four sisters made Kerry a patient and loving husband and father to their three children, Katie, John and Callie. He passed on his love of scouting, often taking the children on camping trips.

“He would do all the things I hated to do,” she joked. “He didn’t like to fish, but he would take me fishing, and he would read a book.”

Over the course of his private-sector career, Godwin worked as a planner and project manager for Dewberry, Adkins and The Evans Group. He drafted the language for new state laws setting the standards for xeriscape design that are still in use today. He also led the master planning efforts for such projects as Heathrow, Solivita and Baldwin Park. He considered the Bonita Bay Club in Fort Myers his crowning achievement.

“It was his first Grand Aurora Award,” Meryl Godwin said. She fondly recalled her husband collaborating with golf course designer Arthur Hills to design the country club’s 54 holes in an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary setting, using the natural wetlands to enhance the course design. “The 17th hole is notorious now because it’s a par 3, and you hit over a wetland to reach the green,” she said. The cart path was also designed to avoid any wetland impacts, she added.

While at Dewberry, Godwin led the entitlements work for The Celebration Company on the Disney-owned master-planned new urbanist community. There, he worked closely with Kathy Hattaway, now the Planning Department Leader at Poulos & Bennett.

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“I’ve known and worked with Kerry for more than 25 years,” she said. “He was a very conscientious professional. He wanted to always understand all the perspectives of a project, both the governmental as well as the developer’s goals. He was a very talented landscape architect and a good and caring manager with his team.”

It was the ability to marry the goals of the public and private sector that stood out to his then employee, Don Fisher, who would go on to become Osceola’s county manager in 2007.

Later, when Godwin’s planning firm was hurt by the Great Recession in 2008, Fisher took the opportunity to bring him on. “To bring a talent and visionary, and someone who could mentor the staff, was a perfect fit,” Fisher said.

Fisher and Tomek tasked Godwin with rewriting and modernizing the county’s land development code, condensing it from 23 chapters to five and streamlining the approval process.

“To write a good code, it helps to have someone who has been a practitioner out in the field,” Fisher said.

Tomek said the revisions were logical and intuitive. He introduced new design standards and processes to make the permitting and entitlements process smoother for staff and applicants. “I don’t know that we could have gotten as much development in the county without his contributions,” he said.

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Godwin loved working for the county and took pride in his staff. He could have left and rebooted Godwin & Associates, but he chose to stay. He even came back to work full time after recovering from a serious car accident three years ago that left him with a traumatic brain injury.

“He talked to me about how much he appreciated the family atmosphere we had at Osceola County,” Fisher said.

Shortly after Godwin returned to work, he was diagnosed with cancer, his wife said. He could have retired but elected not to. “He worked until Nov. 20, all the way through his treatments,” Meryl Godwin said.

She said he always wanted to visit the gardens of Versailles but never realized that dream. And he wanted to see his beloved Bulldogs win another national title. They watched UGA lose to Alabama in the SEC Championship on Dec. 4, so she’s hoping the team can turn things around in the College Football Playoff.

A memorial service is being planned for early January. For details, contact Baldwin Brothers at (877)410-2424.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-6261, or tweet me at @byLauraKinsler. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.


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