James Larry Durrence was born in Glennville, Georgia and moved to Central Florida with his family when he was 8 years old. The family eventually settled in Lakeland and Durrence graduated from Lakeland High School. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Florida Southern College in Lakeland in 1966 and a Ph.D in American Diplomatic History from the University of Georgia in 1971.
Durrence spent most of his professional career in higher education and/or government. He was a professor of history at his alma mater, Florida Southern College, from 1970-1990, including a stint as Chairperson of the Department of History and Political Science. It was during his tenure at Florida Southern College that Durrence became active in city government. His involvement in historic preservation led to an interest in city politics, which in turn led to a decision to run for the Lakeland City Commission in 1980.
Durrence was elected to the Commission in 1980 and served a total of eight years, including two one year terms as mayor in 1982 and 1986. He focused his attention on economic development, particularly of downtown Lakeland. He viewed downtown redevelopment as part of a broad strategy to create jobs and to revitalize the economy of greater Lakeland. But his interests were eclectic and he spent considerable time and effort initiating efforts to clean up the city's lakes and ensuring that city officials were responsive to citizen concerns. During his time on the City Commission, Durrence also served as the President of the Florida League of Cities where he led efforts to institute growth management and worked with Legislative leaders to prevent the Legislature from burdening cities with unfunded mandates.
Having decided not to run for reelection in 1988, Durrence briefly considered but rejected a run for the state legislature or Florida Secretary of State. Although he eschewed elective office, he remained in government at the state level. He worked in state government in Tallahassee from 1990 to 1998, first as Executive Director of the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission and then as the Intergovernmental Relations Advocate for the Florida Department of Revenue.
In 1998 Durrence returned both to Polk County and his roots in higher education when he was appointed President of Polk Community College (now Polk State College) He served as President for eight years, retiring in 2006.
Since his retirement from Polk Community College Durrence has remained active in both government and higher education, serving as a consultant and as interim president of three community colleges in Kentucky and Texas.