GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The death of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Tom Petty on Monday shook the music world and the community here where Petty's musical gifts first took flight.
The 66-year-old Petty, a Gainesville native who once worked as a groundskeeper at the University of Florida as he tried to make it in music, had just completed a 40-year anniversary tour in Los Angeles with three live shows at the Hollywood Bowl.
Petty's death from cardiac arrest spawned tributes on social media, in the music business and in his hometown, including a mural on the Southwest 34th Street wall that has served as a public art canvas for students and local residents since the 1970s when Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers first surfaced on the national radar.
Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe and city officials planned to discuss permanent ways to honor Petty and the Heartbreakers at a city meeting on Thursday. Meanwhile, the University Athletic Association has its own tribute planned Saturday at the Gators-LSU Homecoming game.
At the end of the third quarter, after the UF band plays "We Are the Boys from Old Florida" and fans lock arms and sway as they sing the UF spirit song, Petty's famous tune "I Won't Back Down" will blast across Steve Spurrier/Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to honor a local legend treasured by Gator Nation and far beyond.
"Let's celebrate together what he meant to the world of music and what he meant to this community,'' Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said. "Since we are already singing 'We are the Boys,' let's go right from that into one of his great anthems and make that the way we are going to jointly celebrate Tom Petty and the Gators."
Perhaps a new tradition will be born.
"We encourage fans to sing along as a way to honor a local legend and share a special moment in his music,'' said Alicia Longworth, assistant athletics director of marketing and promotions. "Tom Petty is a beloved figure for so many Gator fans."
The Gators will also have a moment of silence prior to the game for the victims of the tragic events in Las Vegas on Sunday night that cost 58 people their lives, the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. The moment of silence is scheduled between the Pledge of Allegiance and playing of the National Anthem.
Petty played on the UF campus twice in the last 25 years after becoming an international star who sold more than 80 million records during his career, performing in 1993 and 2006 in front of a lot of familiar faces from his days in Gainesville.
His final performance in his hometown was a much-anticipated show at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on Sept. 21, 2006, to commemorate the band's 30-year anniversary.
In the 2007 documentary "Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down a Dream," Petty reflected on life in Gainesville growing up.
"It was a little town in the '50s. It was a very Southern contingent there,'' he said. "There was a kind of farming element and then there's the university, so you had this mix of people. You could run across just about any type of person there. I remember it fondly growing up. It was just big enough that it had two movie theaters, which was great."
Gainesville and UF have changed much over the decades, but Petty's music lives on forever as part of our shared history.