Legacy Leadership

Editor’s note: We have a busy week over here at the blog, so we are posting today instead of tomorrow. See you next week, thanks for reading and take time to enjoy the festivities.

I wanted to wait a few days before posting something on the passing of President George H.W. Bush.
So much has been said already so it’s hard to be original.

President Bush had ties to Delray.

A street named after him.

A friend who lived in Gulfstream.

Appearances at the Chris Evert Pro Celebrity Tennis Classic.

I met him once– for about 30 seconds– as part of a brief meet and greet when he visited the Delray Beach Tennis Stadium.
But you never forget seeing a President up close.

As a spectator at our tennis stadium, I saw his sense of humor and how he was self deprecating when an errant shot struck him in the rear. The crowed gasped, but President Bush smiled, made a joke and the crowd roared.

Moments….leaders are defined by moments.

Moments when they show their humanity. Moments when they rise to the occasion. Moments when they are vulnerable and when they summon strength.

President Bush called for a “kinder, gentler nation” and that exhortation is more relevant today than ever. We need to be kinder. We need to be gentler. Right now, we’re neither.

His passing was hailed as the end of an era. The last World War II generation president.

The word civility was used a lot to describe President Bush. So were the words classy, gentleman and statesman.
But the word that grabbed me  the most was prepared.

President Bush was perhaps the best prepared President ever elected with experience as a combat veteran, Congressman, party chair, ambassador, CIA Director and Vice President.
He knew how government worked. He knew the players and was experienced in world affairs.
His expertise was respected and valued.

Today it feels as if experience is an anchor that weighs down candidates. Politicians are often skewered for spending time in office and while I am a late believer in term limits and don’t feel people should spend decades in the same office,  I don’t like how experience is used against people, how expertise is minimized or even ridiculed.

We are demeaning public service then scratching our heads when our best and brightest sit on the sidelines.

Yes, I get it. People don’t see politics as public service and that’s sad. But guess what? The best elected officials are servant leaders. They care about people and about making a difference. The worst serve themselves and or special interests. They grandstand and they preen. They care about “optics” and play to their base. They end up dividing not uniting. Leadership is not about division–it adds and doesn’t subtract.

I never voted for George H.W. Bush but I admired and respected him. He served well. Very well.

As former Senator Alan Simpson said after President Bush’s passing: “Those that travel the high road of humility in Washington are not bothered by heavy traffic.”

How true and also how sad.

The lack of humility ought to give us pause and be a cause for national reflection.

Because therein lies the problem. Stop electing narcissists, egomaniacs, bullies and jerks. On all sides of the divide because no party is immune.

Instead seek out and support problem solving patriots who exhibit empathy, an ability to learn and evolve and put country and community first.

If that sounds like a high bar–well it is. But we need these people at all levels of government now more than ever.

The Next American City

Former OKC Mayor Mick Cornett has written an inspiring book about how smaller cities can punch above their weight.

I’m reading a very interesting book called “The Next American City” by former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.
The book tells the story of OKC and other “second tier” cities that are thriving as a result of enlightened leadership and a fierce determination to succeed.

Often, the journey to success starts with setbacks or in some cases tragedy. Instead of collapsing, these cities dig deep and make good things happen.

OKC’s spirit could have been crushed by the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995 and a failed bid to land a United Airlines facility after voters approved a sales tax to fund the deal. Ouch!

Its confidence could have been forever shattered when OKC’s mayor  pressed United about why they chose Indianapolis and received a harsh answer. United executives visited secretly with their families and nobody wanted to live in Oklahoma City. Double ouch!

But instead of folding, the adversity led to breakthrough thinking and today OKC is bustling. OKC invested in schools, recreation and encouraged entrepreneurs to reinvigorate its downtown. As a result, OKC is now setting an example for other cities across the nation.

Cornett’s book gives several examples of cities that were once overlooked or fell on hard times but refused to succumb to a death spiral.

By offering quality of life, abundant recreation, cultural opportunities, more affordable housing and vibrant downtowns these cities are attracting and retaining talent which in turn create jobs and opportunities.
One of the fundamental points of the book is that local government plays a role in economic success but it’s a specific one. Here’s what Cornett believes: businesses create jobs; governments and public servants build places.

The cities that thrive fix broken neighborhoods, invest in schools, understand the role of arts and culture in building desirable communities and welcome amenities that build a brand and contribute to quality of life.

They are competitive, aspirational and collaborative.

They ask tough questions, face up to their challenges, roll with the inevitable punches and never give up.

Even after devastating hurricanes (New Orleans), terrorist attacks (NYC and OKC), racial strife, economic losses and the list goes on.
They continue to aspire. And ultimately things get better.

They always get better.

The Next American City is a good primer for elected officials or anyone who cares about the future of their city.

It’s Better (Or Is It The Same) In The Bahamas

Bay Street

 

A few years back, a small contingent of civic leaders from Palm Beach County were invited to Nassau, Bahamas to advise the government on how to revitalize their main drag, Bay Street.

The trip was organized by the U.S. Embassy which was manned back then by Ambassador Ned Siegel, a Boca resident who was appointed to his post by President George W. Bush.

I was invited along with former Mayor Tom Lynch, Boca Chamber President Troy McCllellan and Kelly Smallridge, the President and CEO of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.

The trip was truly a first class adventure and Ambassador Siegel introduced us to top government ministers and prominent business leaders. We later invited many of those people to Palm Beach County where they toured West Palm Beach, Boca Raton and Delray Beach so we could show them how theory met practice when it comes to revitalizing downtowns.

I was reminded of that trip last week when I walked Bay Street with my wife as part of a cruise to The Bahamas.

Nassau is picturesque and enjoys wonderful weather. There are some great old buildings enhanced by vibrant colors and a scale that is reminiscent of Delray.

In fact, there are a lot of historical ties between Delray and The Bahamas. Some of the earliest settlers in our town were from The Bahamas. I was especially intrigued by the Pompey Museum of Slavery.

C. Spencer Pompey and his wife H. Ruth Pompey are dear old friends and local legends. I’m pretty sure there is a connection between the museum and the Pompey’s of Delray. Sadly, Mr. and Mrs. Pompey have passed so I can’t ask them but I plan to delve into the history to satisfy my curiosity.

When we were invited to share ideas and best practices with The Bahamian government about a decade or so ago, Bay Street was struggling with crime issues, vacancy in certain sections, an underutilized waterfront and stiff competition from the Atlantis resort which was sucking tourists off the cruise ships out of the downtown and into the casino and water parks.

Walking around Bay Street last week I saw the same issues—only now there is another mega resort to worry about: Bahia Mar.

Sure the streets were crowded on a warm Sunday but it didn’t appear that many people were shopping. The retail mix is heavy on t-shirts, perfume, duty free alcohol and jewelry—not surprising given the heavy influx of tourists.

Bay Street could use more food options—and while I didn’t feel unsafe (despite warnings from the cruise line about crime) the level and intensity of solicitors was a turn off. You were just assailed from the moment you get off the boat to the moment you get back on. Yuck….

Years ago we recommended that Nassau turn up the Bahamian charm—for example increase security but outfit police in traditional uniforms and activate the waterfront by incentivizing restaurants and cafes to balance the multitude of t-shirt shops. Granted these aren’t “genius” ideas and I can’t remember the rest but the exercise was fun and we made a lot of friends as a result.

That I didn’t see a whole lot of change on Bay Street is indicative of how hard transformation is to achieve.

When I think of Delray’s transformation I feel the same way. It takes a whole lot of hard work, dedication, investment and some gutsy decisions to make change—and a fair amount of good fortune too. It helps to catch a break or two along the way, but by the same token change doesn’t happen by accident. It happens via intention.

Recently, I ran into some consultants who worked on our downtown master plan way back in 2001.

The efforts our community made over the years were rewarded with awards which are nice….but not as important as the opportunity and value that were created.

Now I get that not everybody was pleased with the results. And they are entitled to their opinions and we are compelled to respect those views.

Yet, I can’t help but think that sometimes we go overboard with our angst. The consultant mentioned to me that “Delray is so hard on itself” and that statement struck me. It rang true.

Just take a cruise through social media to see for yourself—ugh… all the negativity.

Criticism that isn’t constructive isn’t valuable at all. It doesn’t feel like affection it feels like anger.

Accountability is necessary and important, but it’s best when it’s rooted in love and empathy.

As we head into the holiday season, I hope we see more love and less anger. More constructive guidance and empathy and less vitriol and blame.

Root your community in those values, observe the guardrails and be patient. The magic will happen.

 

 

 

Art Endures

I was in 6th grade at William Sydney Mount Elementary School in Stony Brook, N.Y. when Elton John released the album “Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy.”

I loved Elton and The Beatles, but by 1975 The Beatles had been broken up 5 years and Elton was at the height of his creative powers and still releasing new music. I “missed” The Beatles by being too young to appreciate them when they were active, but Elton…well Elton was cranking out the hits just about the time I was getting heavily into music.

By sixth grade, I was already a failed musician after three years of playing a horrible clarinet in the Setauket School band. Once again, we had moved and I was the new kid in school anxious to make friends and establish my credentials as one of the cool kids in class—or more realistically at least not one of the nerds.

So I brought my Captain Fantastic album to a school party but as soon as I got on the bus, I began to worry about whether my prized possession would make it back home intact. Could I smuggle it in past the bullies on the bus and would it survive the elementary school issued turntable with the needle that hadn’t been changed since A Hard Day’s Night was released in 1964?

Of course, when you’re a sixth grader trying to make an impression on three or four girls in your class, these little details go unnoticed until you are faced with them.

Suffice it to say, Captain Fantastic survived the short bus ride and made it safely into my desk which had a top that lifted up to provide storage.

As for the party, the Captain made it through intact. I explained to the 11 year-old DJ that albums had to be handled by the edges to avoid smudges and the needle had to be placed gently on the opening track which was “Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy.”

My sensitive mission was a hit and I left the holiday party with the phone number of one of the girls in my class. Now, she wasn’t any of the three girls I liked, but it didn’t matter. Elton delivered.

I got the album home and I still have it, much to the chagrin of my significant other who wonders why I can’t part with my vinyl even though I haven’t played a record in years.

Predictably, the relationship that came out of the sixth grade holiday party ended well before Valentine’s Day. But my relationship with Elton John and a generation of 60s, 70s and 80s rock stars endures to this day.

We saw Elton recently on his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour which ran through South Florida with a nearly three hour concert that featured a whole lot of hits and a slew of memories. To Elton’s credit, he could have played another three hours and not performed all of the songs that his fans love. Also to his credit, he still has the chops—as a piano player, singer and performer. He was accompanied by two of his original band mates, drummer Nigel Olsson and guitarist Davey Johnstone who still rock. It was a night to cherish. And we will.

I’m enjoying a rash of farewell concerts by the greats of my youth all of whom are making South Florida stops on their way to retirement. We saw Paul Simon, The Eagles (with Glenn Frey) and in a few weeks we will see Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman of The Byrds (who are not retiring). The Rolling Stones are kicking off a tour in Miami in April, we just saw David Byrne of The Talking Heads and travelled to Broadway to see Bruce Springsteen who better not ever retire.

Even for those who haven’t announced a farewell tour, you get the sense that it could be the last time. After all, as The Stones once sang “time waits for no one.”
Indeed, it doesn’t.

Going to these shows is a mix of joy, melancholy, memories and hope. It’s truly exciting to see the greats up close. Every generation says its music is the best ever, but in our case it truly is. (wink).

Sure it’s a little bit sad to see your hero’s age and step aside, especially when they still exhibit so much skill and talent. You want to tell the universe to give these folks a pass and keep them around because they are so amazing. But the memories are powerful and everlasting—like the music that was produced.

The songs—oh the songs—they brought us hope, they made us dance, they made us smile, they moved us and continue to do so.

There’s not many things that your 11 year old self would agree with your 54 year old self on—except maybe baseball and rock and roll. That’s the power of art.

It lasts. I think forever.

 

 

 

Things We Loved In November

Frances Bourque is a legend…and we love her.

Things we loved In November
Great to see children’s advocate and all around good guy Jack Levine featured as an “Icon” In November’s Florida Trend.
I got to know Jack thanks to our mutual involvement in Leadership Florida. He’s a frequent visitor to Boca and Delray and we’ve had some memorable dinners on the Avenue.
Jack is a prolific writer and shares his essays via email. He’s the founder of the 4Gen Institute which studies how our society now features four generations: children, parents, grandparents and great grandparents.
Being featured as an Icon is a fitting honor.

Also in Florida Trend, Delray’s own Felicia Hatcher who is featured in an article spotlighting women leaders.
Felicia is the founder of Code Fever, Black Tech Week and is a gifted entrepreneur.

The Boys

Dinner with my sister in law in Delray’s Country Manors. I love Country Manors. Something about it.
I also love my sister in law’s pasta and meatballs from The Boys.

Congratulations to George Elmore the 2018 American Free Enterprise Medalist. The nationally recognized medal is awarded by Palm Beach Atlantic University on American Free Enterprise Day which is Nov. 8.
Well done.

Happy birthday to a special friend

Happy birthday and thank you to Debbie Smith Stackhouse.
We enjoyed attending your party at the lovely Seagate Yacht Club but mostly we love having you in our lives.

The Kominsky Method and The Bodyguard on Netflix make us marvel at the quality of TV these days. BRAVÒ.

Don’t miss Bohemian Rhapsody and make sure to see it on the big screen.
The music is outstanding and the performances are amazing.
We saw it at Frank’s Theatre at the Delray Marketplace and the sound was excellent.

Delray is a tennis town

It was nice to see Delray’s Kevin Anderson playing in the year end ATP World Tour Finals consisting of the world’s best players.
A past Delray Open champ, Anderson held his own with the likes of Federer and Nadal reaching the semifinals. Very cool.
Speaking of the Delray Open connection long time tournament participants Jack Sock and Mike Bryan won the doubles event cementing their claim on being the top doubles duo in the world.

On a sad note, we mark the passing of Linda Lieberman.
Linda was a devoted volunteer and gave a lot to junior tennis in Delray.
I will always remember Linda for her work with the Delray Tennis Patrons and for always being there to greet fans at the Delray Open where she could be found every year selling programs.
She was a bright light who will be missed.

We were happy to welcome back Fran Marincola and Kim Thomas after their 78 day adventure traveling across the United States in an RV.
We missed you guys but loved the daily updates on social media.

Captain Fantastic

Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour was sensational.
Glad we saw the legend at BB&T before he retires from the road.
It’s also cool to see that our young friends (Lyle and Marisa) appreciate the music of the baby boomer generation. It makes us old folks feel good.

Congratulations Frances Bourque

Maybe the best news we received all month was when we got a letter from University of Florida President Kent Fuchs naming our very own Frances Bourque as a winner of the “Distinguished Achievement Award.”
The award is one of the most prestigious given by UF and honors people for exceptional leadership.
We can’t think of anyone more deserving. For those who don’t know, Frances founded Old School Square and is largely responsible for a whole lot of good in Delray.  A group of Frances’ biggest fans wrote letters of recommendation after prompting by Frances’ sister.
It was nice to see the effort pay off.
She will receive her award at a future commencement.
So cool!

See you next month! Thanks for reading and enjoy the holiday season.

Amazon & Main Street

Is Amazon gunning for Main Street?

So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about Amazon.com.

The e-commerce giant has been all over the news lately finally naming two winners to share the spoils of its H2 Headquarters quest and dominating Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.

I’ve long wondered about the pros and cons of incentives but my reading about the deal and Amazon’s business model led me to wonder and worry.

What are we doing?
Is Amazon growing too big for our own good?

Has Jeff Bezos created a monster that taxpayers in Virginia and New York are subsidizing?

What does this mean for Main Street?

Then I read an interview with Starwood Group CEO Barry Sternlicht on Bisnow Media and my gravest concerns were verified.

Here’s a quote that ought to make us think.

“I was super disappointed in the cities they chose. Neither city needed them. And the fact that New York is in an opportunity zone and they got $5.5B of credits for the $5B of investment. I’m not a fan of the gifts. I mean, really? Amazon, a $1 trillion company doesn’t have the resources to build a plant? They need inducements? A $1 trillion company. And by the way, Amazon’s job these days is to put most everyone else out of business. So you’re facilitating that. Mom and dad can’t get a $5B tax break to expand their dry cleaners.

 

If you’re Amazon and you want to be a responsible corporate citizen just say, ‘No. We can do this on our own. We’re big boys. We’re worth $1 trillion. We’ll build these plants on our own.’ Why not go to a city like Atlanta or Miami, and why pick some place that doesn’t really need you? And those are congested cities, particularly New York, and the fact that it’s in an opportunity zone so they’ll never pay taxes on the building and land. I find it abhorrent. I think it’s just awful. It’s like a free headquarters. Why doesn’t somebody give me a free headquarters?”

Here’s another one that ought to give you pause or maybe hives.

“Amazon was fine when they helped little businesses survive, now they’re actually going after little businesses. And that’s not healthy for this country. You’re creating a monster. Now you’re funding the monster to destroy mom and dad’s businesses. That ain’t a good deal.”

The coup d’grace was Sternlicht’s next set of sentences:

“The endgame for Amazon is to wipe out the main streets of America. Maybe if the consumer is so busy he’s OK with that. But I can assure you they don’t know the consequences of what they’re doing. Those commercial businesses along main street pay the real estate taxes that fund schools and if they go away, and most assuredly they are going away, then taxes on individual homes will have to go up to pay for the support system.

 

I don’t think the average person spends a lot of time thinking about that. It’s really convenient to have them deliver a bicycle pump to your house that costs $20 for free in an hour. By the way, that’s predatory pricing. In the industrial commodity complex if you sell aluminum below the cost of consumption of aluminum, it’s called dumping and it’s illegal. They’ve been allowed to get away with that forever. They’ve lost more money in shipping than they made in the margins on the goods that they were selling. That’s predatory pricing and they were never called out on it. In my view, what they’re doing is illegal, and it crushed mom and dad. How can you compete with that?

 

The endgame where the consumer will get really crushed is when my little store that I used to go to buy my pump is out of business and Amazon will charge me $80 for a pump and $200 to have it delivered. The government put restrictions on the sale of vaping for teens. That’s the government looking to the future and saying it’s not good for teenagers. The government could look to the future and say, ‘You’re going to destroy America as we know it today, and we can’t let that happen.’”

Wow….

In the interest of full disclosure, I buy frequently from Amazon. Like everyone else, I enjoy the convenience, the vast selection and the ability to shop prices. Companies that I work with do lots of business on the Amazon platform and it has added to their bottom lines and our ability to access consumers throughout America.

But I do worry about what all of this is doing to Main Street. In Delray, we have an interesting dynamic, high real estate values which lead to high rents and a shifting landscape which makes it hard for independent retailers to survive. These conditions lead to vacancy, which isn’t good for a Main Street.

But I also don’t think it makes any sense to long for the good old days or wish that technology is going to retreat. It’s not.

Retail—at least as we knew it– is over or at the very least highly challenged.

Sure there will be stores, but successful retailers will have to carve out a very distinct niche, learn to be “experiential,” employ a digital strategy and or exist in high traffic areas. It’s possible to succeed, just not easy or obvious anymore. And frankly—as the son of a retailer—it never was easy.

Still, while it seems counterproductive to wish away the likes of Amazon, there are some big issues that we need to talk about as a society.

If retail fails or shrinks considerably (and that’s what’s happening), it will have an impact on sales and property taxes which fuel local government.

Real estate on and off Main Street will have to be rethought and reinvented.

There’s peril and opportunity in change, the challenge for leaders and communities is to make you maximize opportunity and hedge against peril.

P.S. the next article I read on Bisnow was an interview with Jorge Perez, CEO of Related Companies. It was on sea level rise and included this quote: “Sea level rise is something that is going to hit us all.”

Yes it is…and that’s a thought for another day. We sure do live in interesting times.

 

 

Thanksgiving

“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” – Zig Ziglar
It’s Thanksgiving week and we are grateful.
Yes, the news can be depressing.
Mass shootings—307 in 311 days, fractured politics, wildfires, hurricanes and starving people in Yemen are very real and searingly painful and yet…
And yet, there’s so much beauty in our world if only we would slow down just a tad, look up from our devices and soak it all in.
There’s great music, beautiful skies, a wondrous ocean and incredible art all around us.
There’s good people too.
Lot of really good people.
Right here in good old Delray Beach and Boca Raton.
I’m thankful for them all.
The volunteers, the dedicated teachers, the amazing men and women who serve in our police departments and fire service, the dedicated health care workers who are there for us when we need them most. And the list goes on and on.
On this Thanksgiving I want to say thanks to friends who are always there, family that gives me a reason for being, work that excites me, pets that fill my heart and a wife that patiently listens to my stories, feeble attempts at humor and occasional tales of woe.
So yes the news affects us all.
Important stuff is happening on so many levels.
So stay engaged, speak out, vote, protest if you feel like it and advocate for what you believe in. Never let anyone tell you your voice doesn’t matter or even worse: that you should keep your thoughts and ideas to yourself. Share. Engage. Try and help others—there are so many needy in our world and right here at home.
But give thanks too—if you can. It makes a huge difference.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts with me. See you next week in this space.

Keep Your Amazon Headquarters; Build Your Own Ecosystem

NY is paying $61,000 per job and Virginia is shelling out $796mm in tax incentives to land Amazon’s second headquarters.

I saw an article in the Tampa Bay Business Journal recently that caught my eye.

The headline was a show stopper for those of us who care about economic development and the use of public dollars: “Incentives are becoming less important than workforce.”

Which is another way of saying that today—maybe more than ever—talent rules. And the cities and regions that develop, nurture and attract talent will be the cities that win.

The Business Journal’s headline may sound funny in the midst of perhaps the biggest incentive gusher ever which was the pursuit of Amazon’s H2 headquarters and its promise of 50,000 jobs and billions in economic impact. Congratulations to our friends in Crystal City and Long Island City: the two winners of the Amazon sweepstakes who will split the prize.

But even amidst the gaggle of mayors who threw incentives Amazon’s way, the smart guess was that Amazon would choose a headquarters where executives believe they can hire from a deep pool of talent. Northern Virginia and New York City are both regions rich in tech talent.

But also playing into the decision was Amazon’s desire to be in a city or region where today’s and tomorrow’s workers will want to live.

I’m a passionate student of economic development and it’s endlessly fascinating to me how cities and regions work or don’t work.

I think the most successful places practice economic “gardening” which is an effort to grow your own companies rather than throw money chasing corporations that oftentimes take advantage of cities by threatening to leave if you don’t ante up.

If you grow your own and create an environment where companies would be foolish to leave, you won’t to have worry that someone else will steal your jobs by waving checks at CEOs.

So how do you create an environment conducive to economic gardening and how do you keep the garden healthy and sustainable?

I like the analogy of threads—you have to knit a fabric and build a community by adding to– not tearing at –the fabric of your city.

Threads include: good schools, a good support network for parents, strong and safe neighborhoods, a clean environment, great parks, recreational opportunities, a range of housing options, good transportation networks, strong and ethical governance, business friendly regulations, a people friendly or tolerant atmosphere, abundant art and culture, a sense of place, efficient and competent local government, great health care and the list goes on.

If you build a strong fabric and create a place that is brimming with opportunities– both economic and social—over time you will create a dynamic and sustainable environment that generates jobs by keeping and attracting talent.

Consequently, if you tear at the fabric by pulling threads, chasing away investment, making it hard to get established and hard to get rooted you will send a message to go elsewhere. In those types of places we send a clear message. We are essentially telling our children that ‘yes we raised you here, but there’s nothing for you here so go elsewhere as soon as you can.’

And we will tell outsiders that their investments are better spent elsewhere.

Growth and change are hot topics around these parts. Recently, the South Florida Business Journal reported that there was $950 million of projects underway in downtown Delray Beach. That’s both a source of angst and pride and I can understand both feelings.

Growth and change can be hard to swallow, especially if it swallows up what we like best about our towns. But growth and change are also inevitable. The best communities find a way to shape and manage growth and change.

The best cities also focus on the opportunities that growth and change can provide: they maximize benefits hopefully for as many people as possible, while minimizing impacts.

They talk through the tough issues, raise the level of discourse and do their best to build for the future.

In many ways, we are all stewards. We are here to leave a better place for those who come next. If we adopt a mindset that we need to be concerned about not only our quality of life but also that of others, we have a chance to create something good. But if we have an “I’m in the boat, pull up the ladder” mentality we ensure that the future either drowns or heads elsewhere and that the boat we’re in will sink.

It’s better to swim than it is to sink.

 

Thinking About Lasts & Firsts

“The past beats inside me like a second heart.” Author John Banville

In life, we tend to celebrate “firsts”.
First birthdays, first steps, first words, our first car, first job, first home.
I’ve been thinking about “lasts” lately.
Recently, I got my last haircut from Karyn Premock at Rex’s Hair Salon.
I’ve been going to Karyn for probably 15 years or more. Every five weeks for a decade and a half and last week marked the last cut.

After “retiring” three years ago with a great party at 5th Avenue Grill, Karyn hung around until she sold her house in Lake Ida and built a new one in Tennessee.
She’s famous around these parts, with a client list of well known locals. She held on to a few of us after she “retired” and I was lucky to be one of the fortunate few. But now it’s over. Karyn is moving on.

I remember my first haircut at Rex’s which was located just off Atlantic Avenue in those days.
I was on the City Commission and I kept hearing all of these rumors about goings on at the city. When I asked people where they were hearing such things a great many said Rex’s. So I figured I’d go there out of self defense and also to learn what people in town were talking about.

Then and now, Rex’s was like a community water cooler and if you wanted to get a pulse on the town you had to go there.
My wife Diane was already a client and she recommended Karyn. I’ve been there ever since.

I’m going to stay too, even now that Karyn is gone. I’m going to move over to Rex’s chair. I’ve grown to love the place and I don’t want to go anywhere else.
A guy needs some continuity in these fast paced times.

But I have to say I was emotional when I hugged Karyn after the last hair cut. We didn’t say goodbye, we said ‘see you soon’.

I’m sure we will see her again but it was emotional nonetheless.
We have shared a lot over the years. Our talks  included gossip, politics, news, stories about our families, movies we’ve seen, people we know and life in general.
So you grow close. You become friends. And then one day, you get your last cut and things change forever. Isn’t that life?

I felt the same way a few months back when I traveled home to Stony Brook, N.Y. and visited all of my personal landmarks.
I remember moving day when we settled into 22 Moss Hill Place, but I honestly don’t remember the last time I left that house. I’m pretty sure I didn’t realize it would be the last time.
Because if I had, I would have savored the experience instead of bounding into my car and driving off.
Isn’t that life too?

Rushing from place to place, marking firsts, a few key anniversaries and special occasions but rarely recognizing transitions or endings.

Recently, after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, I decided to donate to HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), the Jewish organization that so offended the shooter because they help refugees coming to America.
I mentioned the organization to my dad and he told me that HIAS had helped my grandfather when he immigrated from Russia in 1920.
I didn’t know that and I felt a surge of emotion at the news. I absolutely adored my grandfather, he was my first hero, and the connection moved me.

And I was reminded that I didn’t realize at the time that when I went away to college it would be the last time I would ever see my grandfather.

He passed while I was in school in Oswego, N.Y.
There’s obvious lessons here. To be conscious and aware and present and appreciative and “woke” as they say these days.
And it’s all true. It’s good to be all of these things.
It’s also important to understand that life is change. Life is transitions. And life should be appreciated and savored.

When I walked into Rex’s for the first time all those years ago, much younger, idealistic, full of excitement for my city and in the middle of the action in town, I didn’t realize I would make a friend, that I would enjoy years of conversation and laughs in a great barber shop and that I would see friends enjoy the same experience.

Cut after cut, year after year, until the last snip.

A Woman of Grace

Deborah Dowd at the Women of Grace luncheon.

Every now and then, you meet someone who exudes goodness. 
My friend Deborah Dowd is such a person. 
I’ve known Deborah for many years now.  She’s inspiring, kind and dedicated and earlier this week she was recognized by the Bethesda Hospital Foundation during their “Women of Grace” luncheon. 

 
The event—celebrated before a huge crowd at the Delray Beach Marriott—honors women who devote their lives to making a lasting difference as volunteers in our community. 
Past winners include luminaries such as Frances Bourque, Barbara Backer and Sister Mary Clare Fennell.


It’s hard to imagine our community without these incredible women. They have shaped, molded and inspired so many. 
Deborah Dowd is in good company and she’s a deserving honoree. 


While she was cited for her incredible work on behalf of the Achievement Center for Children and Families, she’s also been dedicated to Old School Square and has served on a slew of important city advisory boards. 
Deborah was also an amazing teacher enjoying a stellar career distinguishing herself as a reading specialist. She touched generations of kids and she seems to remember them all. 
Just as important—they remember her.

She told the story of running into a former student at a local Walmart recently. She taught the young man in 1976. He remembered her. How cool is that?
Great teachers touch lives. I’m still in touch with a few of mine—including my favorite of all time Mr. Romanelli. He was my fourth grade teacher. I hope you’re still in touch with a few of your favorites.
Knowing Deborah it’s easy to imagine her as being the favorite of scores of students. 


Her local volunteering efforts also indicate her wonderful taste in nonprofits. The Achievement Center is a model organization transforming the lives of so many children and families in Delray. 
Deborah describes the center as her “happy place.”  That description resonates. It’s perfect. If you haven’t visited the Achievement Center, make it a point; I promise you won’t be disappointed. You will be uplifted. It’s that good. 


Old School Square is another cause near and dear to Deborah’s big heart. She’s a super board member and volunteer for this important Delray Beach institution. 
And let me assure you, she’s appreciated. Deeply appreciated. 
Kudos to Bethesda Hospital for recognizing these amazing women:

Debralyn Belletieri– American Association of Caregiving Youth

Gail Oliver– Gift of Life Marrow Registry

Beth Schatman– Alzheimer’s Community Care

Patricia Tormey– Forgotten Soldiers Outreach


It’s important to say thank you to special people. It’s important to show gratitude and it’s important to volunteer as Deborah and so many demonstrate each and every day. 
Women of Grace one and all. Role models for us all.