Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Last week, I went out for a beer.

That’s a big accomplishment around here these days considering my recent travails.
I sat outside at Beer Trade with a friend far away from any other patron on a rainy evening.
I figured I deserved a beer after a summer spent battling Covid.
So I poured a cold glass of Salty Crew ale and relished every drop.
My buddy and I  talked about the presidential debate (train wreck, horrific and sad), local politics (sad, depressing and soap operaish), the economy (scary, volatile and uncertain), Covid (scary, depressing and politicized) and dogs (cute, cuddly and happy).

I relished being out and about in this year of Zoom meetings, remote work and a lengthy stay at Bethesda Hospital.

While the streets were empty due to the gloomy night, we saw local architect Jess Sowards walk by.
Jess is a terrific guy, a talented architect and someone who has quietly done a lot for Delray.
He stopped by—staying socially distant— to greet us, inquire about my health and chat.
It was great to see him.
Simple pleasures.
I appreciate these moments all the more now.
And it got me to thinking about all the special people who make up this magical place we call home.
We talked about Jess’ partner Bob Currie who passed a year ago this month. Bob did so much for this town, especially Pineapple Grove and Old School Square.
Around the same time that we lost Bob, we lost Elizabeth Wesley, a mentor of mine and a heroine to so many. Oh, how we miss Mrs. Wesley.
“Libby” was love. It was just that simple.

She touched so many lives in Delray with her Roots Cultural Festival and by being warm, smart and well… by just being Libby.
Earlier in the day, I was able to speak to Perry DonFrancisco, the former longtime proprietor of Boston’s on the Beach.
Perry makes me laugh and right now it hurts to laugh but it’s also good to experience joy and humor.
Perry delivers both.
He’s an amazing man and I love him.
When I met him more than 30 years ago we were both young guys. Perry gave me hard earned life advice and has always had my back.
 When I was on my back in the ICU, he sent me a series of videos—each related to our friendship and every last one of them kept me going when it was very hard to breathe.
Books can be written about what Perry has meant to the people of Delray. He has done more than anyone could ever quantify.
The best description I ever heard of Perry came from Joe Dragon, who used to be our assistant parks director.
Here’s what he said at a City Commission meeting.
“If we didn’t have a Perry in Delray, we would have to invent him.”
What a great quote.
It’s also true.

Because without Perry, we wouldn’t be Delray.
Which reminds me of my friend former Fire Chief Kerry Koen.
Kerry is so special.
A gifted photographer, well-read, so thoughtful.
Honestly, our conversations inspire half of these blogs.
So if you like them, Chief Koen gets the credit. And if I fall short, it’s because I’m not a good enough writer to capture the richness of the ideas we talk about.
Speaking of rich conversation, there’s a happy hour gang at Caffe Luna Rosa that meets every Friday to discuss the world’s events. Those guys are great gentlemen and over glasses of Johnny Walker Black and delicious food they make this town a richer place.
From parking and sea grapes to presidential politics and the latest movies on Netflix these guys really cover the landscape of life.
There’s also a breakfast crew that I know about that consists of some amazing Delray denizens, the super smart Brian Cheslack, the wonderfully talented Joe Gillie and in pre-Covid times our former assistant city manager Bob Barcinski and former mayors Jay Alperin and Tom Carney.
It’s a very accomplished group. Friends, there is no village as we know it without them.
It’s the special people who make our towns so rich and unique. The concept of a village by the sea has always been about people and how we treat and interact with each other.

These days my mornings are enriched by daily texts I get from retired police officer John Evans. There are no words for John. Every morning, he greets me with a saying, psalm or prayer. He is a big part of my healing. And a great contributor to Delray who is still giving back even eight years into retirement.
John recently went to Tallahassee to celebrate a full clemency for a young man he mentored who will now train to become a Delray police officer. If that young man emulates my friend John Evans, this city will be all the safer and richer as a result. John is the best.

Which brings me full circle—back to the socially distant table at Beer Trade on Fourth Avenue —where I sit talking about all things under the sun with my friend Scott Porten.
He says I never mention him in my writing. Well this is a test to see if he reads to the end.
Will he pass?
I sure hope so, because dear readers Scott is an exceptional guy and a wonderful friend.
Does he make fun of my taste in beer? Of course, he does. So I like beer that tastes like grapefruit? Is that a sin?
And yes, he chafes when I insist on sitting on the left hand side of the table, because I happen to be left handed and don’t want to bother my neighbor with a stray elbow. I think it’s called being courteous.
Does he wince when someone notices a certain someone’s eyelashes? Why, yes he does.
But I’m sure he understands that glaucoma drops can lead to magnificent lashes. After all, he’s  an understanding guy. And very complimentary too. Recently, he called me “the LeBron James of communicable disease.”
In all seriousness, when you face adversity in life—such as fighting a vicious virus—you find out who your friends are.
I learned, happily, that I have many in this town and beyond.
I’m so grateful to write that sentence. I’m so thankful to be alive to write about those friends and share with you how great they are.
I’m proud of them and all they have accomplished.
Running cities, protecting and serving us, giving to charities, volunteering their time to civic endeavors, raising children, adopting dogs, enriching our culture, making sure kids have holiday gifts, designing buildings, running businesses and creating jobs and on and on it goes in a very interesting village on the southeast coast of Florida we call home.

7 Traits of Extraordinary Leaders

Leader

“If you are a leader, you should never forget that everyone needs encouragement. And everyone who receives it – young or old, successful or less-than-successful, unknown or famous – is changed by it.”

 John C. Maxwell

 

We long for leadership in our society.

We look for it everywhere; in business, in politics, in education, health care and in the non-profit world.

We thirst for it, search for it and complain about it when we don’t see or experience it.

But it remains elusive and at times it seems like a mirage, sometimes you come close and it disappears into the vapor.

But when it shows up, progress happens. And the progress can be lasting and exponential, that’s how powerful leadership can be.

I’ve noticed that in well led communities and businesses, people seem happier even when bad things happen as they often do.

It’s somehow easier to deal with life’s travails and inevitable setbacks when you have faith and confidence in leadership.

I’ve spent my entire adult life studying leadership—I seek wisdom in biographies of leaders I admire, analyze people that I think are effective and often times begin my day searching for quotes that inspire.

I know it can be a little hokey, but I’m a believer.

The best leadership inspires progress, frames reality and is authentic. It’s also consistent; it shows up when it’s needed– not just for photo ops.

The best leaders I know are servant leaders; less concerned with “optics” (what a despicable word) and focused on seeking the truth and positive outcomes, even if speaking the truth or following your conscience may sting—at least initially.

I have been fortunate to seek and find leadership in some pretty interesting places over the years.

I found it at home watching my grandparents and parents live honorable lives; doing right by people over and over again.

My grandfather and father were quiet leaders—they never held “positions” of power but smart people sought them out for advice and were never turned away or disappointed.

I watched my mother and my sister in law battle cancer with dignity and lead their loved ones through a dark journey with courage and grace.

As a young reporter, I worked for a volatile but very lovable editor named Tom Sawyer (his real name) and a gentle editor named Debbie Stern. They were different types of leaders: Tom was the crusty but ‘heart of gold’ kind of editor straight out of central casting.

He took me to lunch at Tom Sawyer’s in Boca on my first day of work and told me they named the place after him. I almost believed him. He would chase us out of the newsroom back in the day telling us that no news ever happened in the office; we had to go out and beat the streets.

And we did.

Happily.

When we wrote a bad story, we heard about it. But if we wrote a good story, we also heard about it and we beamed from ear to ear because we knew Tom was tough but fair and that he believed in us and wanted us to be better. I knew in my bones that he was rooting for me and I wanted to earn his praise.

Debbie was a nurturer. She led with humor, smarts and insights. She also believed in her reporters and we worked hard to get her attention too. She doesn’t know it, but she influenced me deeply.

We’re having lunch today (we meet quarterly, she’s very organized) because even after all these years, she’s a touchstone for me. She was a leader.

I’ve also seen and experienced leadership in my business and entrepreneurial endeavors—the best leaders I’ve seen in business are generous, willing to take risks, share credit, accept honest mistakes, learn and move on whether they win or lose. They don’t dwell, they learn.

In education, I watched Dr. Kathy Weigel lead at Atlantic High School through controversy and all sorts of challenges.  And the recently retired Bill Fay led with humor, warmth and passion for kids and teachers.

At Old School Square, Joe Gillie led Delray Beach to two All America City Awards while working closely with another extraordinary leader Frances Bourque to build a cultural arts center that jumpstarted a downtown and saved a city from blight, crime and disinvestment.

In my new book, “Adventures in Local Politics” (shameless plug) I found myself writing a lot about former Police Chief Rick Overman and former Fire Chief Kerry Koen, who had different leadership styles but much in common: a devotion to their troops and the community, an ability to see the big picture and how their department’s fit in to the larger vision and a willingness to speak truth to power when those in power needed a dose of reality.

I also wrote a lot about Mayors Tom Lynch and David Schmidt, two distinctly different leaders, who also had more in common once you got beyond obvious style differences. Mayor Lynch was a big thinker and a transformational type of leader whose calm demeanor, toughness when needed and business acumen really moved the needle at a time when we needed it. Mayor Schmidt was a quiet leader, confident enough in his own skin to let others shine but also extremely tough when pushed and able to do what he believed was right even if it would have been more expedient to punt on issues ranging from moving Atlantic High School to voting for Worthing Place.

I can go on. (And let’s because it’s fun).

Nancy Hurd was an extraordinary leader at the Achievement Center for decades and mentored a wonderful young leader in Stephanie Seibel so that the center’s mission could continue unabated when Nancy retired. Ken Ellingsworth, Bill Wood and now Karen Granger have been solid leaders at our 90 year old chamber of commerce; each leading with warmth and genuine love for the community.

And there are more but the point is simple. Leadership matters. You can’t succeed without it—in business or in cities.

I think we need to spend more time talking about what good leadership looks like and feels like. I think we need to discuss what we expect from those who seek leadership positions in our communities.

Here’s a list of seven traits that I look for in leaders: integrity, vision, passion, emotional intelligence, empathy, courage and judgment.

I’ve seen people who have all seven and I’ve seen those who are 0-7.

A recent study that looked at the successes and failures of 11 American Presidents showed that emotional intelligence (EI) was the key quality for success.

Presidents high in EI (Lincoln, FDR) chose their battles wisely, behave assertively when necessary and display the courage needed to confront sticky situations with confidence.

They are able to recognize and understand their own moods, emotions and drives as well as their effect on others. They have the ability to align people, bringing them together to work toward a common goal.

They are able to understand the emotional makeup of other people and the skills it takes to treat people according to their emotional reactions.

Leaders with high EI energize people and eliminate disagreements and conflicts through excellent communication.

A high bar?

Perhaps, but it’s possible. In fact, we can’t thrive or progress without it. Of that, I am certain.

 

 

Thanks Joe

Mr. Debonair

Mr. Debonair

Editor’s Note: Joe Gillie officially retired this week as President and CEO of Old School Square. A celebration of his legacy will be held Nov. 7 at Old School Square. To get tickets visit http://delraycenterforthearts.org/

 

I remember the first time I met Joe Gillie.

It was 25 years ago and he was a board member at Old School Square, which at the time was a fledgling experiment in a town trying desperately to change its narrative.

It was 1990 and Delray Beach was a very different place. In March, the city held a landmark election and elected a slate of candidates who promised to reform government, bring stability to City Hall and implement what was being called a “Decade of Excellence.”

The 80s had been a rough decade for Delray, also known as “Dullray” back then. The city had serious crime issues, the downtown had major vacancies and the crack cocaine epidemic had engulfed entire neighborhoods. But there were signs of hope all around. Visions 2000 brought people together, there were plans to reform schools, a new CRA was doing good things, historic districts were being established and the Decade of Excellence Bond passed with huge voter support, promising over $20 million in needed improvements and beautification.

A year later a visionary police chief was hired and a new chamber president too. It was a time of hope and promise and Old School Square was at the forefront of civic endeavors charged with being a catalyst for downtown revitalization.

Two years after I met Joe, he became President of Old School Square. By 1993, he was in charge of our first bid for an All America City Award and when I say he was in charge, he was in charge.

Joe managed every detail using his theatre background to craft a presentation that literally blew the judges in Tampa away. I recently found archival footage of that event and it was remarkable to see our diversity and spirit in action—and it was remarkable to see Joe’s leadership at its most impactful.

He incorporated young and old, black and white, east and west into a team. In baseball they call it clubhouse chemistry; that intangible that makes champions. Joe was the architect of that chemistry and the vehicle was the All America City Competition.

When you view the footage from that event, you see a young Mayor Tom Lynch, civic giants like C. Spencer Pompey, dedicated city staff like Lula Butler and Dorothy Ellington, residents like John Tallentire and Sandra Almy and you just marvel at the energy, spirit, humor and camaraderie. There was trust among neighbors, people loved their city and trusted their local government enough to go millions of dollars in debt in order to achieve a vision.

Old School Square itself was a big risk, and you can see in founder Frances Bourque’s eyes her trust and belief in a young Joe Gillie to pull off a vision that if successful would mark a huge turning point in the city’s rich history.

In hindsight, winning that first All America City Award was the propellant we needed as a community to tell the world that things in Delray were changing and we were serious about lifting up all parts of our community.

Joe Gillie was at the forefront of those efforts. He, along with many many others, helped to win two All America City Awards and we became the first city in Florida to do so.

But Joe was our captain. In Joe, we trusted. He kept this city focused, laughing and moving forward through good times and challenging times.

Joe was a different kind of leader. He wasn’t walled off in some office, he could be found in the trenches, usually with a broom in those early days, but always with a larger than life personality that greeted patrons, promoted shows, programs and classes and always talked up the larger goal which was building community through culture.

We hear, often, how people are replaceable. How no one person is larger than the mission or more important than the enterprise. Part of that old saw is true, except that people are not replaceable.

There will be people who serve as President of what is now called the Delray Center for the Arts and hopefully they will do a great job in the role. But there will never be another Joe Gillie. He’s an original; a Delray original by way of Virginia.

In August, I attended a surprise party for Joe at Smoke. It’s not easy to surprise Joe, but it happened. Many of his friends were there and it was a wonderful night, full of memories and laughs, but with Joe in the room there is always talk about the future.

Joe is departing from his role, but he’s not retiring. He’s a creative force and creative beings don’t stop inventing and innovating. He will act. He will sing. He will write. He will paint and he will continue to be a vibrant and positive force in our community.

During the party a loop of old photos ran on the wall in back of Smoke. Joe looking dapper in a tux. Joe with hair. Joe and me and Gary Eliopoulos dressed as rappers (Joe is the only guy who could get me to do that or to get Diane, my wife to sing Rodgers and Hammerstein songs with localized lyrics at a roast in front of 450 people). Joe made us believe. His time here was magical—pure magic. How lucky we have been.

 

 

Delray Center for the Arts Names New CEO

Rob Steele

Rob Steele

Bill Branning, Chairman of the Board of the Delray Beach Center for the Arts, today announced the appointment of Rob Steele as President and Chief Executive Officer of the nonprofit visual and performing arts center that is the anchor of the city’s dynamic cultural community. He succeeds longtime CEO Joe Gillie, whose last day is September 30.

In making the announcement, Branning stated, “Joe took the reins of this organization in its infancy, and under his leadership, developed a cultural center that provides a total arts experience for the community and at the same time, generates continuous economic activity for our downtown. Our nationwide search for his successor aimed to identify a proven leader with the ability build on these successes and raise the Center to even greater heights.  Out of almost 100 applicants, Mr. Steele stood out as the right person with the right skills, talent, experience and energy.  He has a unique background that includes a master’s degree in business administration as well as a successful track record of developing strong non-profit organizations through strategic planning, collaboration, and community engagement.  We’re confident Rob will continue to move the Center forward, and welcome him to the Delray Beach Center for the Arts.”
Steele comes to Delray Beach from Pennsylvania, where he spent the last 10-years as executive director of the Williamsport Community Arts Center, a 2,100-seat, state-of-the-art performing arts center that bills itself as “one of the top venues on the Eastern Seaboard.”
Under Steele’s leadership, the Community Arts Center implemented event analysis and fee negotiation practices, marketing strategies and guest service enhancements that effectively doubled ticket sales in only two years; initiated a community outreach that increased the number of local and regional partners from 10 to more than 200; facilitated a systematic upgrade of all technical systems and protocols; and successfully devised an endowment campaign in 2010 that generated more than $5 million in gifts and bequests.
William J. Martin, Board Chairman for the Williamsport Community Art Center, told the local newspaper that Steele has done an extraordinary job in making it a more “community-minded facility … There’s something going on at the arts center about 250 days a year. It’s a very busy place and I attribute that level of activity to Rob’s initiative and his ability to engage people in the community.”

 

Prior to moving to Pennsylvania, Steele spent five years as executive director of the 576-seat civic auditorium in Tecumseh, Michigan, and had previously been both a successful restaurateur and an executive vice president of a Michigan-based national bank & trust.
“Joe Gillie has been the champion in establishing the Delray Beach Center for the Arts as a premiere arts institution in South Florida,” says Mr. Steele. “My goal is to honor, preserve, and extend the rich traditions he has established.”
“Community outreach and coordinating broad-based collaborations with local organizations has become one of the hallmarks of my career,” he adds. “It is my expressed desire to reach into every corner of the market served by the Delray Beach Center for the Arts to engage new audiences, create lasting partnerships and serve the cultural needs of this vibrant and diverse community.”
“The arts are without question an economic engine, and Delray Beach stands as a magnificent example of this reality,” says Steele. “That is why I am committed to keeping a constant eye on the relationship between what we do on the Old School Square campus and how it can help stimulate the local economy.”

1993

The All America City Award is the oldest and many consider the most prestigious civic award.

The All America City Award is the oldest and many consider the most prestigious civic award.

My wife discovered a gem recently.
While attending a fundraising party she met someone who converted old videos to DVD’s.
Searching through her archive of videos, she discovered footage from Delray’s first All America City bid in 1993.
About 140 residents made the trip to Tampa after qualifying for the finals in a hotly contested competition sponsored by the National Civic League.
In ’93, the All America City competition attracted a record 150 plus applicants, cities ranging in size from Pittsburgh to small towns in Tennessee.
Delray was chosen one of 30 finalists and ended up bringing home the award. In 2001, the city would take its second All America City title in Atlanta, becoming the first Florida city to win the award twice.
I was a reporter during the ’93 awards and remember being disappointed when my newspaper denied my request to travel to Tampa to witness the event. I had to cover it remotely, calling officials during and after the competition. By 2001, I was on the City Commission and we brought another large contingent to Atlanta to showcase our cities progress.
Viewing the footage, I was reminded how amazing the All America City awards were and hopefully still are.
Yes, there is a performance piece of the process that some may find hokey, but there was also some serious grilling from a panel of grizzled civic veterans who ask in-depth questions of participating cities.
It’s a heated competition between cities that are really serious about solving problems and working together.
The All America City award doesn’t mean you’re perfect, but it does mean that you are hard at work finding innovative solutions to difficult problems.
In 1993, Delray had some very hard problems to work on: poverty, poor schools, drug abuse, crime.
The Decade of Excellence was being implemented and so were ideas from Visions 2000 and the earlier Atlantic Avenue Task Force.
There were some green shoots happening downtown, but we were far from the thriving central business district that we see today.
Still, in viewing the official and raw footage from the event, mostly shot by my wife Diane–then assistant planning director, you could see the camaraderie, unity, confidence and excitement among a cross section of the community.
The 140 member contingent that travelled to Tampa was a large party compared to other cities and also very diverse. Black and white, young and old, east and west, business leaders and neighborhood activists and a city staff that oozed confidence and excitement.
It was fun for me to see faces that I haven’t seen in awhile, our transformative police chief Rick Overman, our former volunteer coordinator Mike Wright, the chair of the effort the wonderful Sandra Almy, Frank McKinney, Chuck Ridley, Lula Butler, Elizabeth Butler Burrows (who was a little girl) Bob Currie, Bill Wood, Frances Bourque, Chris Brown, Mike Weiner, Kevin Egan, Debra Dowd, Cory Cassidy, David Kovacs and on and on.
It was very poignant to see some departed Delray Beachers who were so important to our community: Mr. and Mrs. Pompey, Ken Ellingsworth, Helen Coopersmith and the wonderfully kind John Tallentire.
The Mayor at the time, my friend Tom Lynch was there as well; with his children who were little back then but now grown and running businesses.
The footage showed a really young and very energetic Joe Gillie leading the large group through the performance part of the competition. Joe is retiring in a few months. What a run, he has had. What a run.
My favorite part of the footage was the behind the scene shots, the breakfast footage, where neighbors relaxed and laughed with each other. The scenes of the booth, where people posed for photos and picked up literature about this beautiful town on the ocean in South Florida were also great.
Of course, hearing the former Governor of Hawaii call Delray’s name as a winner was also fun to watch. The yells of joy, the relief, the celebration.
Sandra Almy was on the verge of tears when she thanked the jurors and recognized the large group who made the journey and gave of their time and talent to move their hometown forward.
1993 was at the beginning, when it was exciting and the possibilities were enormous. They still are. At least I believe so.
I came to Delray in 1987, it was a vastly different place back in those days.
Times change, towns change, people move on. Many are still here, some move away and some pass.
But spending some time with those old videos reminded me of why I fell in love with this place.
You could feel the spirit, you could sense the warmth and you could see a community coming together to forge a future together.
It was magic. Pure magic.