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A jack of all trades

Travis Northcutt never walked on the moon. But beyond that, there wasn’t much he didn’t do.

He earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from Florida State University, and later he received the first-ever masters degree in epidemiology granted by the University of North Carolina.

He was a full-time social scientist, then a sociology professor at FSU. He was a research associate for the Board of Health, then he worked for Florida’s Board of Regents. He taught and ran USF’s planning and development wing of the then-College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, then he became dean of that college. He went back to teaching and became director of the Human Resources Institute.

He was also influential in the establishment of the College of Public Health and played a major role in founding USF’s School of Social Work.

Oh, yeah. And he did all of the aforementioned after he had careers as a bus driver, bouncer, riveter, truck driver, professional heavyweight boxer and minor league pitcher.

It would seem that all of those careers couldn’t fit into one lifetime, but Northcutt, who died last week of complications from pneumonia, not only fit them all, he excelled in most everything he did.

“He was undoubtedly the most unique person I have ever met in my entire life,” said long-time friend and USF Associate Provost Phil Smith.

Smith and Northcutt, in fact, go way back. They met in Tennessee and became friends. Northcutt persuaded Smith to move to Florida in the early ’70s. And after spending some time working in Tallahassee, Smith joined Northcutt at USF where they developed the social work program.

His favorite motto at USF, Smith says, was “If it’s academically sound, it should be administratively feasible.”

But despite all of his successes, Smith said Northcutt was always humble. He drove a beat-up 1963 Ford pickup with a bumper sticker that read, “Eat more opossum.” Smith said when Northcutt would park in the reserved space for the Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, students would often warn him about the dangers of parking illegally because his truck hardly reflected his stature.

When scientists developed a vaccine for polio, Northcutt traveled the state administering it. But because the vaccine contained a small amount of the virus within, many were scared of ingesting it. Smith said Northcutt routinely swallowed the sugar cubes dropped with the vaccine to prove to people it was safe.

“He probably took more doses of the polio vaccine than any person who ever lived, just to show folks it was OK,” Smith said.Northcutt was one of those people, Smith said, who was always expected to be there. And when he died, Smith found himself searching for answers.

“It was a major shock (when he died),” Smith said. “I kept asking myself why it was so shocking. And then I realized. It was simple. He was such a larger-than-life person. He had an aura of immortality.”

Northcutt is survived by his wife, Susan Northcutt, his three children, three grandchildren and sister.

A memorial service will be held today at 4 Spring Lake United Methodist Church in Brooksville.