Whitey Markle, Florida conservation icon, dies

The following obituary appeared in the Gainesville Sun on Nov. 5.

by  Cindy Swirko

Whitey Markle, who described himself as a proud Florida Cracker and whose heritage was reflected in his music and his environmental activism, died Monday night in Gainesville from an illness. He was 75.

Markle was a longtime president of the Suwannee-St. Johns Sierra Club whose efforts ranged from a night airboat curfew on Alachua County lakes to advocacy for protection of waterways in the region and the state. He lived in Citra.

Whitey Markle & the Swamprooters, his band, played what he called swampgrass music — a melange of bluegrass, folk and country.

“Whitey was a multi-dimensional guy. He had a master’s degree and worked at the University (of Florida) but he had the gift of understanding and talking to people at all levels of the environmental movement in Florida — he didn’t lecture, he talked,” friend Della McMillan wrote in an email. “He was also a gifted musician. He was also a great humanitarian to rural people who often had no idea where to go when environmental issues struck their land and their livelihoods.”

Born Richard Markle in north Jacksonville, he grew up on Cedar Bay Road amid 5,000 acres of woodland and tidal salt marsh, according to his biography on the band’s website

Markle attended Florida State University and St. Johns River Junior College in Palatka before joining the U.S. Army Reserve, serving six years in the 292nd Lighter Amphibious Transportation Co. in Palatka and becoming a staff sergeant.

Meanwhile, he completed a federal apprenticeship at Naval Air Station in Jacksonville and became a journeyman aircraft machinist.

Over the years Markle taught industrial arts at FSU and building trades at Alyce D. McPherson School in Ocala.

In 1982, Markle began working at the University of Florida, where he earned a master’s degree in urban and regional planning. He taught metals, welding and wood in architecture programs. He retired in 2007.

He became chairman of the Suwannee/St. Johns Sierra Club and a charter board member of the Silver Springs Alliance. His greatest environment-related accomplishment was the successful campaign as co-chair of Quiet Lakes of Alachua County in 2010 that limited airboat operation on all Alachua County waters from 7am to 7pm.

“To say that Whitey was a character would be a strong understatement. There are a million stories you can glean from a thousand people,” friend Bob Palmer said in an email. “Whitey was a passionate defender of quiet lakes, flowing streams and pristine springs. A force behind the county’s airboat ban (he sang a song in his testimony to the commission), a fighter for a free-flowing Ocklawaha (River), a stalwart in springs fights.”

Friends said Markle loved fishing, particularly cast-netting for mullet in the Gulf of Mexico.

Markle is survived by his partner, Harriet Jones; daughter Carrie Markle Thomas and three grandchildren.

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