Gaetz's partners in VITAS Innovative Hospice Care were the Rev. Hugh Westbrook, a Democratic activist, and Esther Colliflower, a nurse. Starting with an $1,800 investment, they turned VITAS into the largest company of its kind before selling it for millions. That's made Gaetz one of the Legislature's wealthiest members with a net worth of about $25 million.
The family then moved to Okaloosa County in the Panhandle where Vicky grew up. She's partially paralyzed due to spinal bleeding that occurred while she was pregnant with Erin.
Gaetz became incensed when Matt told him his school bus was picking up children from neighboring Walton County. School officials denied it, but Gaetz followed buses to prove them wrong. He wrote columns about it in a weekly newspaper and then ran for the school board, easily winning election.
He then helped lead efforts to pass a penny-per-dollar local option sales tax to build classrooms, libraries and other school facilities. Okaloosa voters passed it in 1995.
When anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist years later asked Gaetz to sign his no-taxes pledge, the senator told him he couldn't "because I gave my home county the biggest tax increase at the time that it had ever had."
As a board member, Gaetz drew national media attention, death threats and opposition from television evangelist Pat Robertson when he sought the removal of an assistant principal who was using his position to convert staffers and students to his conservative Christian religious views.
Gaetz subsequently was elected as Okaloosa's school superintendent and enthusiastically adopted then-Gov. Jeb Bush's school accountability agenda to improve student test scores.
He's earned a reputation as a no-holds-barred debater since his election to the Senate in 2006. While chairing a committee meeting, Gaetz once told the then-State University System chancellor he was "dismissed" after the educator spoke against legislation Gaetz supported.
As Senate president, though, Gaetz can't debate, serve on committees or file bills.
"He's sort of wandering around the capitol looking for things to do," son Matt said.
Gaetz admitted to some frustration, but noted he'll be debating again for the last half of his four-year Senate term when his two-year presidency is over.
With few exceptions, Gaetz makes no apologies for his rough-and-tumble debating style.
"Hard-hitting debate sands the rough edges off public policy," Gaetz said. "I don't believe in false civility. I believe in sharp, lively passionate debate, but I believe you leave it on the floor."