It won’t help you much if you get stopped speeding along U.S. 98 by the Florida Highway Patrol, but it’s good to know the newly named head of the state’s largest law enforcement agency has deep roots in Franklin and Gulf counties.
On April 6, Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Executive Director Dave Kerner announced Col. Gary L. Howze II, 55, as FHP’s 15th colonel. The department conducted a brief swearing-in, attended by Howze’s sister Donna Thompson and her two daughters. A change of command ceremony is slated for later this year.
“In accepting this position, I am truly coming home,” said Howze. “I have the utmost respect for the dedicated men and women who serve the state and protect Florida’s roadways and those citizens and visitors who travel them.
“I look forward to getting to work and am committed to clear, transparent communication in my leadership and actions. I will honor my solemn oath and execute upon the lawful orders directed to me,” he said, in a press release issued last week.
Howze, who the family nicknamed “G2,” is the son of the late Nancy and Gary Howze, of Port St. Joe, both of whom passed away in the last year.
To understand how deep the Howze family’s roots go in this area, you have to go back nearly a century.
G2’s father grew up in Apalachicola, one of two sons of Boyd and Mae Howze. Boyd Howze served in law enforcement, as a Franklin County deputy sheriff and as a firefighter, while Mae Howze worked as a registered nurse for Dr. Brent Mabrey.
The couple had two sons, and while Sandy Howze had a career in business, and eventually became mayor of Apalachicola, Gary Howze joined the Marines after graduating from Chapman High School in 1958, a career that meant his son and daughter would attend schools throughout the nation and world
As a master gunnery sergeant, Gary Howze’s last duty station was as cryptologist at Naval Air Station Pensacola Corry Station. After his retirement he then became the NJROTC instructor at Port St. Joe High School, where he served for 13 years.
G2’s younger sister Donna married George Thompson, from Apalachicola, the son of Gary Howze’s classmate at Chapman, Harold Thompson.
George Thompson, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Florida State, worked for the Florida Department of Corrections for 25 years, including a stint at the former Bay City Work Camp. After his retirement, he trained in information technology and cyber security, and now works a civilian job in that field at Tyndall Air Force Base.
Donna Thompson is the district reading coach for the Gulf County School District. The couple have two daughters, Sarah Beth, who graduated in 2022 with high honors from Port St. Joe High School and is now a student at Gulf Coast State College, and Kara, who is in the seventh grade at Faith Christian School in Port St. Joe.
That’s G2’s family circle; here’s details of the journey that led up to his being chosen to head the FHP.
He very briefly attended elementary school in Apalachicola, but was mainly schooled in Hawaii, Oregon and other places during his father’s many duty assignments.
He eventually graduated from Gulf Breeze High School in 1986, and went on to the University of West Florida, with the ambition to be an FBI agent.
While a college student, G2 was involved in a traffic accident in Pensacola, Donna Thompson recalled, and the FHP trooper who investigated had a profound effect on the young man’s life.
“The trooper that worked that wreck was so thorough and so professional that Gary changed his career path,” she said. “It all started from that wreck.”
G2 went on to attend Florida State University, where he earned a bachelor of science degree and certificates in public management and supervisory management.
G2’s first duty station, in 1990, was in Deland, and he steadily advanced in the ranks, including stints in Panama City and Port St. Lucie, before moving to Tallahassee as a lieutenant. He rose in the ranks to become a major, which he retired as in 2019.
Following that, he was appointed as director of law enforcement, victim services, and criminal justice programs for Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody. G2 resides in Tallahassee, where his son Blaine also lives.
“I want to congratulate our former director of law enforcement relations and victims services on this new leadership role,” said Moody. “Gary served our agency and Floridians with excellence and integrity, and I look forward to continuing to work with him in his new role as colonel of the Florida Highway Patrol to build a stronger, safer Florida,” she said.
“Colonel Howze re-joins the highway patrol family as someone who has demonstrated commitment, accountability and service to this agency and the state,” said FHP Executive Director Dave Kerner. “With over 30 years of experience, he joins me in leading this agency to new heights. Together, with the nearly 2,500 FHP members, both sworn and non-sworn as our backbone, we will amplify and execute upon the goals of Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet.
“With the continued support and leadership of the governor, the cabinet, and the legislature, we will continue to make Florida safer, with an emphasis on traffic safety and combating crime emanating from the southern border,” Kerner said.
The Florida Highway Patrol, established in 1939, is Florida’s largest state law enforcement agency, and its nearly 2,000 state troopers are known as “Florida’s Finest.”