Larry Lucas, the official teacher of ballroom dancing, cooking and flower arranging for the Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center, has quite a few stories to tell from his former life as a famed Atlanta florist and traveling cruise ship dancer.
Born in small-town Illinois, Lucas discovered his natural knack for elaborate flower displays in the 1960s while working for florist shops in Tampa and Palmetto. The owner of Stern’s, an Atlanta florist, spotted his talent and plucked him from the area. Lucas left Florida, flowers in tow, with eventual plans of going solo.
“I got a loan for $75,000 from the bank and bought my own store, ‘Larry Lucas Limited,’” Lucas said. “Basically, I put Stern’s out of business.”
It was the beginning of an era: Lucas wrote his recipe book, “Fun with Food and Flowers Cookbook” and became the official florist for former U.S President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn. The relationship bloomed after Lucas met Rosalynn at an Atlanta benefit for blindness in the ‘70s.
“Midway through the program, I brought her two dozen roses,” Lucas recalls. “They are such a kind couple, so giving. I still get a Christmas and birthday card from them every year.”
Then, Carter was the Governor of Georgia, and when he left for Washington DC after eight years of working with Lucas, the governor and his wife invited Lucas to move up north.
“I didn’t. I wanted to stay home,” Lucas said. “The Busbees’ [Former Georgian Governor George Busbee] sort of adopted me.”
He didn’t stay home for long. Until 2017, Lucas spent 31 days of the year for 16 years on various cruise ships, teaching ballroom dance.
“I saw an ad posting a need for lobsters, ranchers and ballroom dancers,” Lucas said. “I went with ballroom dancing.”
With little training aside from dancing with his female family members as a pre-teen in Illinois, Lucas enlisted in the instructor program and dove right in, traveling to 60 countries in his 16 years.
“In 31 days you become friends with the passengers,” Lucas said. “The cruise ships were alright, but I really did it for the people and for the adventure.”
The florist’s cruise ship days are over, but he’s not done dancing yet. Lucas teaches ballroom dancing once a week and chair volleyball twice weekly for the Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center. He’s hosted many of the center’s online cooking shows and still does the occasinal floral seminar in St. Petersburg.
And don’t forget the 32 desserts a week he bakes for his students.
“Gulfport feels like home,” Lucas said. “I am extremely blessed to have my life here.”
Meet the legend (and learn to dance or cook) at mygulfport.us/recreation/senior-center.