Interview with WPI Alumnus, John Peyton

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John Peyton is President of GATE Petroleum Company, and he joined The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida’s Board of Trustees in January. He participated in the inaugural Weaver Philanthropic Initiative Class in 1999 and served as Jacksonville’s Mayor from 2003-2011. 

We connected with Mayor Peyton for an interview about his mayoral service, his commitment to early childhood literacy, and why he entrusts TCF with his giving. 

You were part of the first class of the Weaver Philanthropic Initiative. What was most valuable about it? Looking back, what difference did it make in your philanthropy and leadership?

Being part of the Philanthropic Initiative gave me new insights into giving and The Community Foundation. I had never given much thought to the difference between charitable giving and philanthropic giving before this experience. The difference is important, and helped shape my thinking about how to be most impactful over the long run to address our most pressing challenges with a focus on outcomes.

The program also allowed me to gain firsthand knowledge of the goals and vision of The Community Foundation. I enjoyed learning about the role TCF plays in shaping our community. TCF has an extraordinary opportunity to provide donors with a venue to better understand ways they can make a positive difference in areas that concern them most. They are a trusted partner that connects individuals and families with philanthropic opportunities to help improve Northeast Florida.

What social and historical events have influenced your giving?

As mayor, I was keenly aware of the importance of childhood development and learning to create a safer and more economically competitive community. Jacksonville has had the unfortunate distinction of being the murder capital of the state for many years. During my time in office, it became obvious that our work in early learning and literacy was critical to reducing crime and improving educational outcomes.

Rally Jacksonville, our office’s early literacy initiative, and the Jacksonville Journey were both designed to create a safer and more economically competitive community. These types of initiatives and philanthropic work around early childhood learning and development require long-term thinking, which is not often rewarded in politics today.

My fund at TCF is focused solely on early literacy. TCF has the staying power, the vision and the focus to have a huge impact on issues like these that require the long view.

What inspired you to serve on The Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees?

I have always been impressed with the work of TCF. Nina Waters has been a dear friend for many years, and I had talked to her about serving on the board when the time was right. TCF has always had a great board, and I have tremendous respect for people who have given their time and treasure to this organization to grow it to what it is today.

TCF can help ensure positive outcome and accountability for philanthropists looking to make a difference. This organization has the luxury of not responding to the political winds of the day. They can take the long view and make data-driven decisions.

My hope is we can continue to experience the same success, growth and impact in the future.

What do you think is the most valuable role of The Community Foundation?

To be the most credible and trusted venue for donors looking to make a difference in our town.

Q: If you could have looked into the future at the end of your mayoral term, in 2011, what would impress or surprise you about Jacksonville in 2024?

Since leaving office in 2011, it has been disheartening to see politics, even at the local level, become more divisive. It has been a travesty to watch the dismantling of our most trusted local news source, the Times-Union over recent years. I was also hoping to see downtown further along. We still have a long way to go, but our downtown has more energy and prospects of more investment than we’ve seen in many decades.
What has impressed me the most is our community has shown a willingness to invest in itself with the passage of the half-cent sales tax and increased millage rate for schools. Voters also supported raising the gas tax and extended the Better Jacksonville half-cent sales tax. The citizens of Jacksonville have expressed a willingness to increase revenue to improve the city. That takes courage. More needs to be done, but we are off to a great start.

What do you hope is next for the future of the city and region?

Jacksonville is blessed to have the largest park system in America. We need to invest significant resources to go from the biggest to the best. Our natural resources are one of our biggest assets and we should do everything to protect and enhance our waterways and our parks. Our quality of life can ultimately be our biggest economic driver.

Robust funding for early childhood learning and literacy is critical for a safer and more prosperous community. I hope we will continue to invest in the youngest members of our community to lay the groundwork for a better city.

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