Major Champions

Through their vision and generous support, our major champions are strategic partners in advancing knowledge, policy and practices that make a difference in the lives of young children and their families. We are deeply grateful for their dedication that has helped us to lay a foundation on which to grow.

Anita Zucker

“Every child needs to have every opportunity,” Zucker says. “Healthy communities have to start with our youngest children.”

Anita Zucker

From the time they were UF freshmen, Anita Zucker and her late husband, Jerry, worked side-by-side completing their education, nurturing a family and building a successful life in Charleston, S.C.

The Hebrew phrase, tikkun olam, meaning “repair the world,” was at the heart of everything they did. It led Anita Zucker to become an elementary teacher where she gained an understanding of how the earliest building blocks would ultimately construct strong, vital communities. Jerry Zucker, who became an engineer and businessman, used his entrepreneurial know-how to guide their professional and personal endeavors. It also fueled Anita’s passion to help children.

“Every child needs to have every opportunity,” Zucker says. “Healthy communities have to start with our youngest children.”

Zucker, a staunch advocate of early childhood education, emerged in 2014 as a leader of UF’s initiative focused on optimizing early childhood development and learning experiences with a $5 million gift. Matched by the university, a $10 million investment established the Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies at the UF College of Education.

By partnering with the UF College of Education, her alma mater, Zucker continues to live out the Hebrew creed. She is creating opportunities that benefit everyone, from babies and their families, to those who are teaching and working with young people. She is making it possible for early childhood experts to educate parents and caregivers about the critical developmental years before age 5. These experts are also training tomorrow’s researchers and educators, who will continue to prepare and enrich children for generations to come.

Zucker earned a bachelor’s degree in education at UF in 1972, received a master’s degree in educational administration and supervision at the University of North Florida, and taught English and social studies in elementary schools in Florida and South Carolina for 11 years. Following the death in 2008 of her husband Jerry, she became the first female CEO of the Hudson Bay Company and head of the Charleston, S.C.-based manufacturing conglomerate, the InterTech Group.

David Lawrence Jr.

“I came to understand fully that if you could ever get the early years right, you’d probably have children and then adults with momentum all their lives.”

David Lawrence Jr.

When David Lawrence, the former publisher of The Miami Herald, decided to devote his energies to public service full time, early childhood education emerged as an area of pressing need — and vast potential to change lives.

“I simply came to believe that the whole future of the United States depended on getting folks more educated,” he says. “I came to understand fully that if you could ever get the early years right, you’d probably have children and then adults with momentum all their lives.”

When a child succeeds in school, the benefits extend far beyond that family. From safer communities to a better workforce, early childhood education can touch each of our lives, Lawrence says.

The David Lawrence Jr. Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Studies, established by UF in 2006 through private gifts and the state’s matching grant, is held by Patricia Snyder, Ph.D., a professor and director of the Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies. Some 80 individuals and children’s advocacy groups donated more than $1 million in 2006 to create the Lawrence endowed professorship at UF, with the state contributing another $500,000 under Florida’s matching gifts program.

Lawrence, an active UF alumnus and the namesake of the professorship, retired in 1999 as publisher of the Miami Herald. He now is president of the Early Childhood Initiative Foundation in Miami and joined the UF faculty in 2001 as the University Scholar for Early Childhood Development and Readiness. Through his work in the successful 2008 campaign for The Children’s Trust in Miami-Dade County, Lawrence has emerged as a national leader of the Children’s Movement, a non-partisan grassroots organization.