Vision and passion to serve others are common elements of great transformations. The life and work of former Miami mayor Maurice Ferré can attest to that.
With an unwavering dedication to serving the people, Ferré extended the boundaries of what had previously been just another town in the state of Florida. In his twelve years as mayor (1973-1985), he transformed the city into the metropolis it is today, a leading global hub of economic and cultural activity. That is why he is widely regarded as the father and architect of modern-day Miami. His legacy goes beyond the city limits.
Born in Ponce, Maurice Ferré was a humanist in action. Democracy and the essence of Latin America were the major causes he worked for from his City of the Sun. These causes led him to organize and chair the Miami-based Interamerican Institute for Democracy. The entity’s mission is to spread the principles and values of liberty, human rights, democracy and institutionalism in the Americas, “through debate, academic studies of the cultural and socio-political nature and projects at the local level aimed at promoting these values.”
With an entrepreneurial spirit, his devotion to serving others led him to put those skills at the service of the people. He served in the Florida House of Representatives from 1967 to 1968, before becoming the first Hispanic mayor of Miami, a city still marked by racial segregation back then. He served on numerous government commissions until his last days, including the Miami-Dade County Transportation and Public Works Commission.
As a mayor, his Latin American spirit led him to place Miami as a bridge and hub for exchange and solidarity among Hispanics. He made many trips to South American countries to attract the investment that restructured the city and its ethnic composition. With the same devotion, he welcomed thousands of refugees fleeing dictatorships in Central and South America, from both the left and the right as brothers.
He was an active member of the Democratic Party and participated in the reorganization of the community in the late 1960s. He also devoted attention and efforts to Puerto Rico. His firm belief that all people, without distinction, had the right to participate in electoral processes he directed his efforts to work for the Democratic Party on the island, and in 1979, the first primary of a U.S. party was held in the territory.
Also, along with other Puerto Ricans, he worked for President Jimmy Carter’s administration to recognize statehood and independence as alternatives to the Puerto Rican status, by concluding that the Commonwealth didn’t resolve the island´s colonial status.
Those who knew him highlighted his Renaissance spirit. In addition to his remarkable respect for fundamental rights, he was a lover and supporter of the arts. A voracious reader, he was passionate about great Latin American writers.
That’s why, as mayor, he promoted conferences and art exhibitions, inviting talented artists previously unknown in the United States. Earlier this year, the Miami City Commission renamed Museum Park, in downtown Miami, in his honor.
Miami, Puerto Rico and Latin America have lost an exceptional leader. But Maurice Ferré’s legacy and causes must continue as examples and inspiration, particularly for those who have the immense responsibility of serving the people.