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Our Proud History: Remembering Mrs. Pompey

Pompey Park is more than just a name.

Editor’s Note:
I’m posting this blog a few days early because we are off to see Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band in Orlando and I know I will be too tired to post Monday. Seeing Bruce and the band after 7 long years of waiting is an emotional experience for us “Spring-Nuts” so I’m taking Monday off.

It’s Black History Month and I’m thinking about some of the people who made history right here in Delray Beach.

There are so many local giants, special people who led the way and left a legacy of love and service.

But this year, I’m thinking about one woman in particular: H. Ruth Pompey.

The H was for Hattie.

Mrs. Pompey passed away in 2009.

I miss her.

Mrs. Pompey was married to C. Spencer Pompey, a legendary civil rights leader, coach, and educator.

I’ve been reading Mr. Pompey’s book “Many Rivers to Cross” which his wife published after he passed and maybe that’s why I’ve thinking about Mrs. Pompey.

But there’s another reason she’s on my mind; and while I’m at it I’ve also been thinking about these folks too: Alfred “Zack” Straghn, Elizabeth “Libby” Wesley, Nadine Hart, Loretta and Sam McGhee, Joe and Carolyn Gholston,  David and Mary Randolph, Vera Farrington, Lula and Len Butler, Red and Yvonne Odom and Beatrice Tyson.

There are others. So many others. But for now, that list will do.

These were the matriarchs and patriarchs that shaped so many lives in Delray—mine included. We’ve lost many of them, but a few are still around.

We should be grateful for them all.

I’m thinking about them because they possess a common trait: they shared their wisdom with others.

All of them sought out promising up and comers, sat them down, and shared what they had learned. And they were sought out as well.  Smart people called them and asked them to share their thoughts, perspectives, and experiences.

It was an informal system and it worked because you learn from your elders and if you’re smart you take what they have learned, and you leverage that knowledge. You stand on the shoulders of those who came before. You reap the harvest from the seeds they struggled to plant and nurture.

That’s how progress happens, you build on the work of past leaders. You don’t rip things down and you don’t incinerate the hard work of others.

People like Mrs. Pompey were stewards. We need stewards because they understand what’s precious and what’s worth preserving.

It’s easy to rip something down.

It’s a lot harder to build something of value.

And sometimes when you erase things they are gone for good.  It’s like taking a tree and chopping off its limbs. Often, that tree dies and you’ve lost something majestic forever.

I wonder sometimes whether we understand that cruel rule.

I’ve been reading a lot about Tyre Nichols; trying to make sense of his senseless murder in Memphis. I wanted to know more; to feel more before he is lost forever and replaced by the next headline. And there’s always another headline isn’t there?

I learned that Mr. Nichols was a father, a skateboarder and a photographer who loved capturing sunsets. I have a friend who does the same thing. His name is Kerry and he was once a firefighter in Memphis. Yes, the universe connects us in magical ways.

I’ve also been reading about our Governor and the brouhaha over the AP African American History curriculum. I wonder who he’s consulted, who he’s sat with or if he’s consulted with anyone at all.

And I’ve been seeing the rage on social media that exists in our own community about our community and I’m left to wonder.

What would my friend H. Ruth Pompey say about it all?

Are there people like her still around? Do our leaders seek them out?

I did.

I spoke to many, and they carried me through every crisis, real or imagined in my life. There were many. When you step into the arena, crises come with the territory.

When Mrs. Pompey passed, I got a call from her daughter asking me to eulogize her mother. I had spoken at Mr. Pompey’s funeral in 2001. It was a great honor because he was a great man.

I was touched by the request to pay tribute to Mrs. Pompey.

I recently found the eulogy searching through emails that Mrs. Pompey sent me through the years. I wanted to hear her “voice”, I wanted to connect once more.

She didn’t write me often, she preferred phone calls or visits, but her emails were always full of encouragement and wisdom.

Hope too.

She was full of hope. And she had ambition. Dreams for her community, dreams for the world.

So, I wonder what she would make of “all this” …I don’t have a word for what we are going through. But I hope you know what I mean.

A young man died on the streets of Memphis calling for his mother….

In a few days, some of us will mark the 18th year since our community lost 15-year-old Jerrod Miller. But I suspect that most of us don’t know that name. Or remember what happened right here in our town. Please Google his name because it was an important event in our city.

Many of the people I mentioned earlier got us through that tragedy.

Their wisdom and perspective helped us immeasurably.

They are all part of our history; part of our fabric; part of our town’s DNA.

I fear we are losing that thread.

If you care to read, I’ve shared what I said at my friend’s funeral all those years ago.

She was so special.

We were so blessed.

Remembering Mrs. Pompey…

In the Jewish tradition there is a poem that is often read when a great woman passes.

 

The hymn is called “A Woman of Valor” and as soon I heard the news about Mrs. Pompey…my thoughts turned to the sentiments expressed in that beautiful 22-line poem, which was the eulogy that Abraham delivered for his wife Sarah.

 

“A Woman of Valor is worth more than pearls..”

 

Mrs. Pompey was a woman of valor and her beauty, her elegance, her wisdom, her intelligence, and her love has enriched all of our lives and the community that she called home from the age of 3…her beloved Delray Beach.

 

Mrs. Pompey’s life was poetry.

 

Like a poem there was a grace to her that defies my ability to describe…But if you knew her…if you experienced her essence for even a moment..you knew that you were with someone who understood the world…saw its beauty and its pain…and yet radiated hope, love and kindness for all her days.

 

She had a quality that very people that you meet in this life have…it was a light…

 

A light that shined so brightly that it not only illuminated her and her family…but also those of us who were blessed to know her….she lit up Delray Beach and this world for 86 years and while we are all saddened by her passing…we are grateful that her light shined for as long as it did on our lives and on our community…we are forever enriched by her presence…the poem that was her life….

 

I met Mr. and Mrs. Pompey when I was a 22-year-old newspaper reporter…new to Florida…new to my profession…and new to this community.

 

I sought the Pompey’s out because everyone I spoke with in town said that if I wanted to understand Delray…the history that didn’t necessarily show up in traditional texts…I needed to sit with Mr. and Mrs. Pompey.

 

And so I did.

We sat in their parlor, where they took time to educate a stranger so that I may do my job better…Mr. and Mrs. Pompey were great teachers and wonderful storytellers and because of the time they spent with me I fell in love with this community…its stories, its promise…its potential and most of all its people.

 

When I first contemplated public service…I spoke with Mr. and Mrs. Pompey right after I consulted my immediate family. It is fair to say that without their blessing and encouragement I would not have run for office…such was the esteem that I held them in. Their belief in me inspired me…but also instilled in me a huge sense of responsibility.

 

“If you are going to serve, then make your service matter”…that’s a direct quote from Mrs. Pompey.

“ Don’t waste this opportunity,” she told me with a smile. “The sun rises, the sun sets…don’t hold anything back…make your service and your time on this Earth count.”

 

I wrote those words down in my reporter’s notebook and carried it with me in my heart and my mind through seven years of trials and tribulations in public office.

 

I loved Mrs. Pompey and I know she loved me…because she told me so. During some of my darkest moments…the kind of times when you question whether you have the fortitude to go on, I’d sneak over to her house across the street from the park named for her dear husband and she never failed to set me straight. Never…

 

I later learned she performed the same miracles for many others over decades and decades of life and service to others…she made each of us lucky enough to be exposed to her wisdom…..her poetry…feel like we were the most special people in the world. We were certainly the most fortunate…

 

I am a lucky man…because I have had 7 such special forces in my life…Mr. and Mrs. Pompey… Ms. Elizabeth Wesley…my grandfather, my mother, father and my wife…Three of those people are not kin, in the traditional sense anyway….but it didn’t matter …they made me feel like family.

 

Mrs. Pompey called me cousin Jeff…we were blood she joked…because several years ago I was privileged to donate blood after one of Mrs. Pompey’s surgeries.

 

“It’s official,” she said “We’re cousins.” And truth to be told… I did feel closer to her.

 

My wife reminded me this week of one of her favorite sayings…death does not end a relationship…the love goes on…and that is so true. And to the Pompey family…and all of us gathered here…we will continue to have a relationship with Mrs. Pompey because her lifeforce, her wisdom, the lessons she taught all of us will endure forever.

 

Mrs. Pompey…like her husband… was a visionary. She believed in education. She believed in G-D…she believed in community, service, sisterhood, and the potential of this city to be a beacon for the rest of America…and because she believed …we did too.

 

She worried about today’s young people…and we talked about the young men and women she saw outside her window…she took pride in those who sought knowledge and opportunity.

 

And she worried…really worried– about those left behind to wander the streets.

 

We spoke through the years about Delray’s history, and she told me of her husband’s many crusades…always playing down her role in his remarkable life. But we knew better…There were times—and I experienced a few of them…when she held this community together.

 

Mr. Pompey…he loved her so…they crossed many rivers together and showed us all a better future….

 

When Mr. Pompey passed in 2001, the light in Mrs. Pompey’s eyes dimmed…of course she had enough to light up a football field…but you could see she was not quite the same…Still… she persevered… it was tough though.

 

She missed the love of her life, every moment of her life.

 

Together they crossed so many rivers….integrating the beach right here in Delray…fighting for equal pay for African American teachers…ensuring that black children received the same number of days of instruction as their white neighbors and so much more…she never felt her work was done…my friends…that’s how the great ones think…as much as they achieve…as many accomplishments as they rack up…they see how much work there is left to do…they see the possibilities where others see limitations…they see more rivers to cross, which was the name of Mr. Pompey’s book.

 

And I wonder…as we lay Mrs. Pompey to rest alongside the love of her life…I wonder where we find people to take up the mission she so gladly and so gracefully took on.

She not only lived a good life, but a grand life. She did big things…she was a long-term thinker…she stood for causes larger than herself. There was no agenda…other than making her piece of the world better for others.

 

My hope is that the life she has led…this great woman of valor….is an inspiration for all of us to rise above our own problems and endeavor to make this world, this community a better place…find a river to cross…the rivers are there… all around us…

 

I’ll conclude with a funny anecdote…I hope it brings a smile to your face on this sad day…

 

Near the end of Mr. Pompey’s incredible life…we decided to hire a sculptor to capture the image of this great man in Bronze…sadly shortly after his sitting for the sculpture, Mr. Pompey passed away. But the project continued and the sculptor…inspired by Pompey’s legacy…finished her masterpiece…

 

The finished product was larger than life. Literally.

 

It also didn’t look anything like Mr. Pompey…in fact…truth be told…when we showed it to people, they thought it looked like Zack Straghn….

 

But the artist insisted she captured Mr. Pompey’s spirit, and so we showed the sculpture to Hattie Ruth…now we all know how polite and genteel she was. Her greatest delight was showing her friends pictures of her sororities debutantes…taking great pride in their appearance and their manners…

 

True to form….she looked at the sculpture and not having the best poker face…it was clear that she thought it looked like Mr. Straghn too…but she didn’t want to hurt the artist’s feelings so she said she could…well…live with it.

 

So, the artist left and a day or so passed…a few of us called just to make sure that she was OK with this sculpture…we reminded her that this piece was going to be in City Hall in her hometown forever…and that as much as we loved Mr. Straghn…and you certainly deserve your very own sculpture sir…maybe we ought try again.

 

And so, we did. And the artist…our dear friend George Gadson, got it right. But Mrs. Pompey made sure we didn’t hurt the original artist. That was Mrs. Pompey always concerned about others.

 

Today that sculpture greets all those who come to the heart of power and citizen led government in Delray Beach…it is my wish that we add to that collection and find a way to honor Mrs. Pompey so that generations of people who visit, live, work and study in Delray shall know the impact of this great woman and this great family.

 

Their memory should be a daily and living reminder of sacrifice…service over self…civility….and equal opportunity for all.

 

She once gazed out her window and worried about the youth of this community…we can cross that river in her honor and do our best as a village to heal those whose lack of direction in life troubled her so.

 

Mrs. Pompey loved poetry— her favorite poet was Paul L. Dunbar. I read his works this week as I mourned the loss of my friend…my family member by blood….and I drew comfort from the words of this African American poet who died at 33 in 1905….

 

This is a poem called “The Farmhouse by the River”…When I read this, I want you to picture that small ranch house overlooking Pompey Park….

 

“I know a little country place where still my heart does linger,

And over its fields is every grace lined out by memory’s finger.

 Back from the lane where poplars grew and aspens quake and quiver,

There stands all bath’d in summer’s glow a farm house by the river.

 Its eaves are touched with golden light so sweetly, softly shining,

 And morning glories full and bright about the doors are twining.

And there endowed with every grace That nature’s hand could give her, there lived the angel of the place in the farm house by the river.”

 

Mrs. Pompey crossed many rivers …she was the angel of a place call Delray…and she will live in our hearts forever….

My Friend Was A Hero

Louis “Skip”Brown was 73.

Skip Brown passed away last Tuesday.He was a friend of this city.

Skip touched a lot of hearts. He gave his all, always. Then he retired to a small town in Alabama.Skip served 20 years as a Delray Beach police officer, gaining local fame for his work with the K-9 unit and later as the  department’s volunteer coordinator back in the days when we had over 1,000 volunteers.Skip gained national recognition for some of his programs especially the Homefront Security group he put together after 9/11.He was a bronze star winner for heroism on the battlefields of Vietnam and he came back to Old School Square to accept the medal which was given 45 years after  he served. He chose me to pin it on him.It was an incredible honor and we did our best to create a special ceremony for him. It was a memorable day for a memorable man.It was the last time I saw him.We had dinner with Skip, his lovely wife Cheryl and former Chief Rick Overman and his wife at Boston’s on the Beach and said goodbye.When he left, he grabbed me, pulled me close and said there was no one else he wanted to put that medal on him and no other place he wanted to accept that long overdue honor than in Delray Beach, at Old School Square.This place touched him. And he really touched this place.P.S. Moments after I placed that medal on his chest he took it off and gave it to the children of a friend so that they could have a reminder of sacrifice and patriotism. The lucky kids were the son and a daughter of a retired firefighter and a local reporter. That was how tightnit this town was, there is a special bond between police and fire. Skip wanted retired Fire Chief Kerry Koen in the Crest Theater for the ceremony. Chief Koen was there sitting next to Chief Overman, a man Skip deeply admired.These are the ties that bind, for a lifetime or a season.

The Bronze Star ceremony at the Crest.

Skip and I had a complicated relationship. Skip was a complicated man.He was impacted by his experiences in Southeast Asia and by his experiences in Delray Beach which was a different town back in the 80s. Skip worked road patrol when Delray was wracked and wrecked by crack cocaine. He had stories and I listened.I was a newspaper reporter in those days and Skip and his wife Cheryl lived around the block from me with their birds and K-9 German shepherds.He had my daughter’s Brownie troop over to his house so they could meet the pets and he once brought Olk and Rambo to my backyard to show a group of neighborhood children the power and the discipline of a highly trained K-9.We used to meet at the end of Skip’s shift in my driveway where we would talk about life and Delray until the wee hours of the morning.We grew close. He referred to me as a brother. And I had great respect for his vision, commitment and dedication to this community and especially the senior citizens he recruited for his volunteer patrols.Many were World War II veterans, members of the Greatest Generation, and in Skip they found a kindred spirit who understood their service and who appreciated their passion to give back.CNN, documentarians, authors and academics came to Delray to take a closer look at the magic that was happening at our Police Department. President Bush greeted one of Skip’s volunteers at PBIA and Gov. Bush came to Old School Square after 9/11 to honor the work being done.When a volunteer got sick, Skip was there—many times at a hospice bed providing comfort and kindness.He was a gruff man. He was big and strong and tough as they get.  But he had a heart of gold. There was a gentleness beneath the surface that we saw and savored.

When he retired, Skip and Cheryl moved to Alabama and we stayed in touch periodically but we grew apart too. Proximity matters, and we were far away. And the bond that we shared—Delray Beach—had frayed. The town changed, the volunteer program wasn’t quite the same, the Greatest Generation began to leave us.Still, we experienced and shaped  a very special era. Every day I’m reminded of what we had and what we’ve lost.But Skip and I stayed friends, until one day we drifted apart for good.

But before we drifted, when I got sick with Covid, Skip reached out with prayers and support. When I made it through the dark days, he talked to me about PTSD and survivors guilt. He told me I was spared for a reason and he sent me articles to help.But we had our differences too. We had different views on guns and presidential candidates.Still, he called me a brother. And then our relationship stopped —abruptly.I do not know what happened. I am left to wonder. We just drifted apart. I’ve been bothered by our inexplicable estrangement. I think about it a lot.And now he’s gone. Just like that. And I have all these questions and no answers.But I do know this, I never stopped caring about my old friend, the man who taught me so much.Right now, I’m saddened by the loss of this special man. I will miss his guitar videos, his love of stray raccoons, his sense of mission and his sense of duty.I’m sharing this personal reminiscence because I blew it when it came to this man.I let our long period of silence persist and now he’s gone.Don’t let that happen to you.Life is a long and bumpy road and along that road we meet fellow travelers.Skip was with me for many miles before we went our separate ways. And now he’s gone. If only I had  one more night with my friend under the streetlights. We could have talked about what we learned. How it all turned out. What was next for us.That won’t happen now.Skip changed my life and the lives of many others.Don’t let those people go. One more lesson Skip Brown taught me. Rest in peace my brother.

Here’s a link to the WPTV Channel 5 News Story about the Bronze Star: https://www.wptv.com/news/region-s-palm-beach-county/delray-beach/retired-delray-policeman-awarded-bronze-star-45-years-after-vietnam?utm_content=bufferc5c4b&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer&fbclid=IwAR1mToGqoK-CULsySdo9F9NTbIAx02FfYm64tdMAtO-XrlcQR4ALZfOMBGE

 

A Change Is Gonna Come

 

On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And Vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks the question “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.”
Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

“I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”

Breathtaking, just breathtaking.

Don’t those words make your heart sing?

What a gift Martin Luther King Jr. had.

What a legacy he left us. What an inspiring visionary he was.

MLK is one of my all-time heroes. I’m not alone, millions throughout the world admire the preacher from Ebenezer.

And so MLK Day is special.

We read Dr. King’s memorable quotes, watch his famous speeches, and remember a true giant.

On MLK Day 2023— in a world plagued by violence, war, incivility and a lack of empathy; where some of us view our fellow Americans as the enemy, I feel the need to immerse myself in the dream, to know it’s still alive and achievable.

But that raises a question.

Fifty-five years after Dr. King’s murder, are we closer or further away from making the dream a reality?

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

With racism and antisemitism on the rise, we are not there yet. MLK went to the mountaintop and saw the promised land. He didn’t get there– as he eerily predicted a day before his death–but neither did we.

We did not get there either.

A tyrant is on the march in Ukraine, murdering, raping, burning, bombing and trying to break the will of an independent nation.

In China, a dictator threatens Taiwan, bullies Hong Kong, and mistreats Uighurs.

And the list goes on.

Me, I wonder where the lions are (the lionesses too).

I wonder where the next generation of leaders are hiding.

We can sure use their moral leadership right about now. We need courage, vision, political will, intelligence, love, empathy and toughness. Yes, you can have empathy and be tough.

On this MLK Day, I’m thinking about our journey right here in Delray Beach.

A lion, since passed, named C. Spencer Pompey is in my thoughts of late.

Mr. Pompey’s book (a tome really at nearly 800 pages) “Many Rivers to Cross” is beckoning from my bookshelf.  I have picked it up again in search of another one of my heroes who invited me into his living room 36 years ago and told me stories about integrating Delray’s municipal beach and the days when people who looked like him were not welcome east of Swinton, our historic dividing line.

And I’m thinking about Elizabeth “Libby” Wesley, a mentor to so many, the “mother of Delray” who could melt you with her smile and a well-placed word. She spoke of a covenant with the people and the responsibility those in leadership had to serve, not be served. There is a difference and it makes all the difference.

Libby and others taught me that politicians should remember that in the end the people are always heard. You can delay and you can stifle and even stomp on others, but in the end, the people will be heard whether you like it or not. Yes, Ms. Wesley we are here to serve.

Oh, how I miss those local giants; they reside in my heart and I hear their voices still.

Truth be told, we do have some local lions and lionesses and we’re blessed that they are in the trenches doing exceptional work. They give me hope that the dream is alive.

In thinking about this blog, I stumbled across a presentation I made 15 years ago in Bellingham, Washington. I was just termed out as mayor, but an organization called Transforming Local Government invited us to present to a national audience of leaders about our efforts in race relations.

We took on that subject and we did our best. We struggled, but we had some victories too and we left the job undone, just like America remains a work in progress toward a more perfect union.

Here are some notes I found that I thought I would share on this special day. I’m hopeful future leaders will take up where we left off because right now a whole lot of people feel disenfranchised, marginalized and unseen. Until we reach out to all of our neighbors, we won’t be the city we need to be.

Lessons Learned:

 

Dialogue not Diatribe: It is critically important to create a safe place for dialogue in your community. Dialogue allows for people to be heard…it encourages listening…it’s safe and not threatening.

We used Study Circles (small groups of citizens who meet to discuss sensitive issues regarding race in a safe and respectful environment) and we changed the format of our Town Hall meeting to encourage dialogue not diatribe. We held community pot luck dinners to bring diverse neighbors together at the Old School Square fieldhouse.

Big meetings are often nothing more than invitations to grandstand and therefore these meetings lose their meaning and we find that people interested in dialogue stay away or are too intimidated or nervous to get up and speak.

Note: These words were written before the onset of social media where diatribes and echo chambers rule. So much toxicity is dispensed without us ever sitting down as neighbors to talk. It’s a lost opportunity easily remedied if leadership searches for ways to connect us to our neighbors and practice civility. 

 

Be Proactive not Reactive: We identified race relations as an issue…. we didn’t ignore the issue…we didn’t wait for an incident to put a process and an effort in place. Consequently, when we did have an issue (the shooting death in 2005 of 15-year-old Jerrod Miller by a rookie police officer outside a school dance) we had a process in place and had built up a reservoir of good will among people in the community. They knew we were trying….

Note: Is anyone in leadership building that reservoir of goodwill today? I see a lot of vitriol online, blame, innuendo, bullying and conclusions drawn without dialogue. Some of it comes from people who call themselves leaders. I don’t see any official effort to bring the community together. 

Build Trust: Trust is essential for dialogue to take place. People need to feel valued, respected and listened to before they will trust. This is not a process with a beginning, a middle and an end…it is a commitment to doing things differently and changing how business is done.

Note: When the commission I served on launched the race relations initiative, we hoped to pass it on to future commission’s because we knew the task would be something we needed to work on for the foreseeable future, maybe even forever. The notion of stewardship is critically important in a community. We are only here for a finite amount of time, good leaders know how to protect what’s valuable, improve what needs betterment, transform what needs to be eliminated and turn over the job to others having left the community better off than before. 

 Build Relationships: A lot of success can be attributed to showing up. It’s critically important for the leadership of a community to show up…. you need to be visible, accessible and responsive…at all times. But not only do you have to show up: you must stay. You can’t just show up and leave. You can’t just start something and stop. People watch…they can tell whether you’re sincere or opportunistic.

Note: The social justice lawyer Bryan Stevenson talks about “proximity.” Leaders need to be in the trenches not above the fray in order to connect and be effective.

Follow through: Actions Matter. Talking is wonderful. Dialogue is invaluable, process is important, but results are how we’re ultimately measured.

 

Note: Our community mourns the loss of three unique contributors.

Stormet Norem was a long time business leader active in the Delray Chamber and in the Boynton Beach business community for decades.
Stormi– as he was known– was a kind person who ran funeral homes and served on numerous boards. He will be deeply missed.
We also lost Boca Raton philanthropist Yvonne Boice-Zucaro last week.
Yvonne was a kind and generous community servant who touched countless lives through her service to dozens and dozens of good causes.
I recently saw her at the Lynn University Christmas party and she seemed to be happy surrounded by friends and admirers. Her loss will be felt far and wide but her impact will live on.
We also mourn the loss of Roger DeCapito Jr. who lost his life tragically at age 28 in a boat accident on Lake Osborne.
“Rogie” as he was known left a huge mark on so many as evidenced by the huge crowd that  attended his funeral at Ascension Catholic Church in Boca Raton.
It was heartwarming to see such a large crowd surround Roger’s parents and family with love during this painful time. May they find some peace as they mourn this huge loss. 
 

 

 

A Case For Grace

I’ve been thinking about grace lately.

Grace: What a beautiful word.

Sadly, there’s far too little grace in this world. We’d sure be better off if there were more.

We named our golden retriever Gracie because we thought the name was cute. But the name also felt right. Maybe subconsciously we were looking to add a little grace to our lives.

Last week, the Downtown Development Authority held a grand re-opening of the Cornell Museum at Old School Square.

Readers of this blog know how I and some 11,000 others who signed a petition feel about the City Commission’s decision to terminate the lease of the non-profit that created Old School Square and loved the place for 32 years.

The decision and how it was done was the opposite of gracious. It’s been ugly, expensive, and hurtful, in more ways than we can calculate.

The DDA is stepping into the mess created by this town’s toxic politics and while I do not believe government should be running our cultural arts center, we need to be gracious and wish them well.

Personally, I hope they hit it out of the park and then I hope they find a way to create a community organization that will love and give that special place their hearts for years to come. A community non-profit working alongside city government is the secret sauce.

In other words, I hope they can replicate what we’ve lost, which in a word was love.  Love for a place. Love for community.

And so, I think those of us who care about Old School Square should make a statement to that affect. If you love something, you need to root for it to be healthy and successful.

Right now, Old School Square’s campus is not healthy.

The campus seems sad.

The theater will miss yet another season and the classrooms are empty.

Those who love the historic buildings worry about the state of those buildings. Old structures need to be nurtured.  We worry that the buildings are not being tended to. Let’s hope we’re wrong.

But despite what we think of the decision to terminate— by my estimate the worst made by a commission in my 36 years living here—we need to root for the project gifted to us by the efforts of Frances Bourque all those years ago.

We need to cling to the idea of a community gathering place. We need to root for those buildings, that theater, those classrooms, and that museum to come to life and get its soul back.

That doesn’t mean those of us who love Old School Square should give up our fight.

The best way to stand up to a bully is to do what’s right, and in this case, litigating is the only option because our elected “leaders” refuse to meet and talk like we have always done in this town.

Let’s pause for a moment and talk about the lawsuit. OSS Board members have been called “unpatriotic” for suing their own city. As if you should just allow an injustice to happen, pack your bags, thank your bully for allowing you to serve and leave with your tail between your legs as if you are a pledge in the movie “Animal House” being paddled and replying: “thank you sir, may I have another.”

No, thanks.

Capitulating is not patriotism and that’s not loving your city as the board of Old School Square, its patrons, supporters, donors, former employees, and volunteers most surely do. If you love something, you fight for it.

There is no financial upside to this lawsuit for OSS not to mention the stress that accompanies litigation. But there is value in fighting for a cause, even if you lose.

There’s value to standing up against political forces who cut out the public and decide to kill something without a conversation with the community they are supposed to be serving.

But make no mistake about it, lawsuits are terrible.

Lawsuits indicate failure.

Failure to talk.

Failure to compromise.

Failure to use reason and negotiation to come up with a solution to a breach.

In this case, it’s a failure of political leadership that is costing the taxpayers millions of dollars that could have easily been avoided with some—you guessed it: grace.

When OSS offered to settle, a majority of the city commission didn’t even want to hear the details. They refused to consider the offer. They’d rather use your money to pay out of town lawyers than talk with their neighbors.

Every living former Mayor except for Tom Carney (who served for a few weeks) dating to Doak Campbell through Cary Glickstein signed a letter asking simply for the city to meet and talk with their partners of 32 years. Just talk.

Like we’ve always done; like we’ve always been able to do in what we used to call the “Delray Way.”

The OSS Board was not merely a “tenant” or a “management company”, they were the creators of what had been Delray Beach’s signature civic project. These are the people who birthed a community based cultural arts center that created a renaissance for our downtown and for our city. Pre Old School Square, Delray had been suffering from blight, vacancy and neglect before Frances Bourque and others sparked a movement.

That a civic icon has ended up on the “outs” forced to litigate the city she has served passionately says all you need to know about Delray Beach in 2023.

She is joined by a group of wonderful people who have served this town well for decades. Their hearts are broken.

A place striving to be a community would recognize this hurt and do something about it.

As of the writing of this blog, nobody has called Frances Bourque in over a year.

We’re not talking about a call to help fix the breach, discuss the future, or get some tips (which people in this city can surely use because they have sure made a mess of things). But just to say, “thank you”, or “I’m sorry for your pain.”

When the DDA got the job, they didn’t call. They should have.

My peeps call it being a mensch. A mensch, in Yiddish, is a person of integrity, morality and dignity; someone with a sense of what is right. But the term mensch is more than just an old Yiddish adage. It is relevant across the world because we are suffering from the actions of nihilists, narcissists and nincompoops. Just look at Congress.

To be a mensch is to be supportive; to be a friend, to be calm in troubled times and do the right thing.

It means showing grace.

A call doesn’t cost us anything, but it’s meaningful.

It doesn’t compromise a lawsuit and it doesn’t take hours of your day, but it would mean something if it was a sincere acknowledgement, not just a check the box gesture

Grace and gratitude matter.

Accountability also matters.

OSS has tried to own its mistakes. It has never made a representation that it was perfect. Contrary to what you’ve been told, documents that were asked for were produced (of course, the authorities kept moving the bar) and audits, while late (during a pandemic when the auditor quit), were clean.

Instead of sitting down and airing issues, like over 11,000 petitioners asked this city to do, we chose to do the opposite.

And that’s costly for us as taxpayers. That’s why you should care. That’s why you should vote.

For the folks saying move on, well tell that to the taxpayers footing the bill for all this dysfunction.

For all the money given to OSS over the years, the return on investment was many, many times greater. In fact, the money given to OSS were grants, awarded after services asked for were rendered.

OSS paid 75-80 percent of the costs and did all the work year after year.

Now, we the taxpayer, are on the hook for 100 percent of the costs. This includes millions to finish renovations that were already paid for by a generous donor who pulled her money mid-construction when the organization she supported was kicked to the curb without public input or even an agenda item. How many other generous donors who may have given to our library, Arts Garage or other non-profits looked at what happened and decided to keep their checkbook on the sidelines? Is it safe to donate to a local non-profit that works with city government?

So how do we hold people to account?

Sometimes in court and always at the ballot box and word has it that there’s an election in March.

Either venue doesn’t guarantee justice or accountability. Our system is far from perfect and bad actors sometimes get rewarded. But the long arc of history has a way of bending toward justice. Karma also plays a role.

Still, we can’t forget about graciousness.

The DDA is a capable organization, but building a community is a people business and someone from that organization should call and thank Frances Bourque, long time president Joe Gillie and  other key contributors who gave us the gift that is Old School Square. They should also call Margaret Blume, the generous donor whose gift of $1.6 million enabled the renovation of the Cornell Museum. It seems like the plaque honoring that donation was removed by someone before the re-opening of the museum.

Maybe it will be put back. It should be.

As I write this, I got a text saying that the DDA will be updating the history of OSS and will acknowledge donors. New wording should be up next week. That’s good news. But I hope the phone rings at Frances’ house because without her input I don’t know how that history could be complete or accurate.

It would have been nice to acknowledge these key players opening night. That’s when the crowds show up, the speeches are made, and the Instagram videos are posted. Alas, that opportunity came and  went. Like so many opportunities we keep missing to heal, to build community.

Absent the most recent opportunity, we can always place a call.

Again, it has nothing to do with a lawsuit and everything to do with being gracious. It has everything to do with showing empathy and respect for people who have done a lot for this town.

The hardworking team at the DDA deserves our support. We all have a rooting interest in their success as they take on this important mission.

We show grace by our well wishes.

We help to heal a community if that graciousness is reciprocated.

A Wish For A New Year


The Avalon Preserve in Stony Brook.

“So this is ChristmasAnd what have you doneAnother year overAnd a new one just begun” – John Lennon from the song “Happy Christmas (War is Over).

Well here we are, the end of another year.
Can you believe we are on the cusp of 2023?
We are almost a quarter of a way through another century and I don’t know about you but time sure feels different these days.
In the 20th century, the decades had personalities. When we think of the 50s we instantly think of the hairstyles, Elvis, Eisenhower and some great American cars.
The 60s were monumental and the 70s had its own distinct flavor too.
But these days, we don’t seem to be talking much about the personalities of decades. We are in the 20s I suppose, but nobody is talking about it and there’s no distinct cultural markers that seem to embrace the moment we are in.
Time just seems to fly by.
As a result, it feels like we are adrift. After all, children of the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s identity strongly with the decade of their youth.
I’m a 70s kid, and the music of that era still resonates for me 50 years later. Many of my friends feel the same way.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t listen to new music, we do, but that 70s sound…well…it feels like home.
And so I wonder if that anchor of nostalgia applies to places as well.
Do we prefer the towns of our youth to what they are today?
Maybe. I’m not sure.
Last year I went back to Long Island for a reunion with a group of childhood friends. We grew up in and around Stony Brook in the 70s and early 80s. We’ve been gone a long time although a few of the guys still live in the area.
I loved the Stony Brook of my youth. The “three villages” as the area is known, was and is an idyllic place to grow up. It felt safe, there were beaches galore and downtown Port Jeff was a fun place to hang out.
It wasn’t the most exciting place, but “the city” was a short train ride away and we took the Long Island Railroad to Penn Station fairly often to see shows, visit museums, attend games and see the big acts who played the Garden. Sometimes we just went and wandered around, visiting record  stores and experimenting with food in Chinatown.
It was magical but the city itself was a mess. Times Square was not exactly family friendly, the city’s finances were a basket case and the subways were dirty and a tad forbidding.
So maybe what we liked and missed about that time was the fact that we were young, life was ahead of us and every experience was a new one.
But when I went back home last year, I saw my hometown through different eyes. There were tons of changes to the physical landscape, but enough stayed the same that it still felt familiar.
It still felt like home.
And I really liked what I saw. Eastern Long Island is beautiful and the public spaces that I took for granted as a child, stopped me in my tracks. The old grist mill is still there and now part of Avalon, a new preserve  that is just  breathtaking in its ambition.
The village green in Stony Brook retained its charm, which is considerable. It all looked and felt good.
I know you can never go home again, but I could sure see  spending some time in that zip code.
The other important place in my life is Delray Beach, which has been home for almost 35 years now, just about my entire adult life.
I came here in the 80s and it was love at first sight.
Delray was a different place in those days. Not much going on, especially compared to today. But the potential for improvement was always there. The city had good bones; a grid system and a Main Street that led directly to the ocean.
The 90s was when the seeds that were planted in the late 80s began to bloom. I got swept up in the Delray story. This town wanted to improve and something about the city’s aspiration touched me.
At first, I wanted to tell that story (and I did as a reporter) and then I wanted to help write it (as an elected official).
This place became very special to me and to my friends; I met remarkable people who did remarkable work. Love at first sight turned into something more; a life here. I felt immense pride in this special town that strived to be a good place for all to live, work and play.
As we near 2023, I see Delray Beach at a crossroads.
We’ve had success, and we’ve had problems, but do we still aspire?
Of the many questions I have, that’s the most important one in my mind.
Do we want to take things to the next level or will we rest on our laurels or worse continue to look backwards instead of forward?
I have always felt our city had limitless potential; we have so many assets: a beautiful downtown, a pristine beach, historic neighborhoods, the ability to add workforce housing and industry to the Congress Avenue corridor.  And there’s more.
A downtown tennis stadium, excellent cultural facilities, diversity and a geographic location that puts us square in the middle of the action in a dynamic region.
It’s all there for us, if we want it.
As we celebrate the season and look toward a near year, my wish is that we will embrace our potential and move forward with ambition and resolve.
Change is inevitable. The best cities shape that change.
Wishing you the best now and in the new year. Thank you for reading.

A Leader’s Legacy

“Remember always, for you and me, to serve is to live.” Frances Hesselbein 1915-2022

One of my heroines died last week.

She was 107 years old so you can’t say she wasn’t given enough time. But her loss is a profound one, nonetheless.

Frances Hesselbein may the most accomplished person that most people don’t know.

She was a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, former CEO of the Girls Scouts of America and one of the most highly respected experts in the field of leadership development.

Ms. Hesselbein served as editor in chief of “Leader to Leader” magazine for over 25 years and her name adorns the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Forum run by the Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership at the University of Pittsburgh. She was a giant in a field that is essential for society to advance.

But while leadership is essential, we don’t spend a lot of time cultivating good leaders. We do a spend a lot of time complaining about poor leadership and trying to fix the problems of people who have no business serving in leadership positions.

Narcissists, egomaniacs, bullies, and frauds want to run things. And they are pretty good at climbing the ladder. They are good at seizing power but horrible at wielding it.

Frances Hesselbein believed in a better form of leadership.

In her obituary on the Pitt website https://www.pitt.edu/pittwire/features-articles/frances-hesselbein-obituary she was described as a “leader of leaders” and a “skilled and sensitive visionary.”

I love that description.

Ms. Hesselbein believed that “to serve is to live.” She understood that leadership is a deeply personal act of love that allows us to serve others.

Great leaders make us feel safe. They take of others. They inspire, motivate and serve.

How many people in positions of power and authority can we say that about?

In my opinion, not enough. And that is the root cause of what ails society and the solution as well. Want to suffer; keep hiring and electing malevolent players. Want to see progress; hire servant leaders. It’s just that simple.

I’ve been a leadership junkie for as long as I can remember. It is my sincere belief that leadership provides the answers to the challenges plaguing our world.
There’s not a field, not an endeavor, not a pursuit that good leadership can’t impact. Not every problem has a solution, but nearly every problem can be made better with good leadership.

Look at any business, non-profit, government, school, or relationship and if you see problems that persist, chances are the root cause is a lack of leadership.

I know, that’s a big statement. Let me explain.

We often fixate on symptoms:

Your workplace lacks a clearly defined mission.

A beloved non-profit is adrift.

Your city government can’t seem to get things done.

Everyone one of those examples would see improvement with good leadership.

I’ve been lucky to witness several examples of good leadership in my life, but I’ve also seen many more examples of toxic leadership (is that an oxymoron?).

For every benevolent CEO profiled in Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” there seems to be 10 loons like crypto creep Sam Bankman-Fried, Theranos fraud Elizabeth Holmes, Uber bro Travis Kalanick and egomaniac WeWork Founder Adam Neumann.

Sadly, Elon Musk seems to be flinging himself in the trash, trolling Covid victims on his new toy Twitter calling them the “Branch Covidians.” Not sure that pithy phrase will get a laugh from the loved ones of the 6.5 million people who died in the pandemic or the millions more who suffer from Long Covid. He must think they aren’t potential Tesla buyers. I thought one day I might want a Tesla, not anymore.

There are so many political train wrecks to write about I can’t even begin to list them, but all failed pols have the same thing in common: they forgot they are there to serve their country, their state, their county or their city not their party, their ego or their echo chamber.

Frances Hesselbein knew all this and over her long life influenced thousands of good leaders. She made a difference, but we need more help.

Every day, the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Forum, sends a “Leadership Tip of the Day” via email to thousands. I have found the tips to be invaluable and I urge you to subscribe. Just google Leadership Tip of the Day and you’ll be able to subscribe. It’s free, but the value is priceless.

I’ll leave you with a story about Sam Bankman-Fried that I found particularly telling and especially nauseating.

Apparently, when he was pitching a major Venture Capital firm for millions in funding, he was playing a video game while outlining his vision for his cryptocurrency exchange. Rather than considering that rude behavior, the esteemed VC’s thought it was quirky, charming and showed that Bankman-Fried was a different kind of thinker. A disruptor. VC’s love disruptors.

Oh, he was disruptor alright. He raised $1.8 billion from a ‘who’s who’of investors: BlackRock, Sequoia Capital and the poor Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.

He got the value of his company up to $32 billion. Today, that money and those of his investors (large and small) is gone.

Maybe, he should have been focused on ethics instead of video games.

Poor leadership disrupts and destroys.

We can do better.

Ms. Hesselbein should have the last word:

“Leadership flows from inner character and integrity of ambition, which inspires others to lend themselves to your organization’s mission.”

Amen.


Frances Hesselbein

Where Everybody Knows Your Name…

Delray Lakes has been home for more than 20 years.

Our neighbors moved recently.

Whenever friends leave it’s a mixed bag; you’re happy for their new start but you’re sad to see them go. The special people in our lives make all the difference.

The special places also play a significant role in our happiness.

We live in a special place called Delray Lakes.

We’re blessed with a terrific location—close to so much but tucked away and quiet too.

If I can get across Lake Ida Road and make a left, I can be downtown in five minutes. My street has a tree canopy that is beautiful, the homes and lawns are well-kept and if you don’t pressure wash your driveway…well let’s just say you’ll hear about it from the management company.

But the true strength of our neighborhood are the neighbors themselves. We live alongside very nice people.

In a world that often feels crazy, there’s no underestimating the value of having good neighbors who care for each other. In short, we are lucky, and we know it.

When I was a kid, we moved around a little bit.

I went to four elementary schools and looking back it did me a world of good. As the perennial new kid in school, I learned to make friends and that has served me well. But I also think it has unconsciously made me want to be more rooted and truth be told, I’m sensitive to change.

We lived in suburbia— suburban Long Island to be precise, in tract housing built by Levitt Homes, the inventor of the burbs.

Suburbia takes a beating in some of the circles where I spend time– namely new urbanists and city lovers— many who think that the burbs are boring. Now, I love my urban oriented friends and share their passion for cities. But when it comes to suburbia a few of them are misguided.

While I embrace the concepts espoused by the new urbanists and am a fan of walkability, density done right and beautifully designed streets, I must admit that I had a great time in the suburban neighborhoods I’ve lived in.

Intellectually, I understand that the neighborhoods of my childhood weren’t the most efficient use of land. I recognize that subdivisions can be isolating and that they force you into a car for just about everything, but when I was a kid we spent our lives outdoors, we knew our neighbors well and every time I stepped out my door I could find a pickup game of basketball, baseball or football.

We were hardly ever lonely and hardly ever bored. And the Levitt Homes I lived in: Strathmore Village in what is now South Setauket and the “M” section (where every street started with the letter M) in Stony Brook were full of friendly neighbors who looked out for each other.

And we had plenty of interesting characters everywhere we roamed. The house just beyond my backyard was occupied briefly by the writer Sloan Wilson, who wrote “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” and “A Summer Place.” Both were made into movies. I knew his daughter well, but I don’t ever recall seeing the man himself, which made it even more romantic for me—a budding writer. Over in the “S” section, where my best friends lived (and where the streets all started with…you guessed it…the letter S) the future comedian Kevin James was a year behind us in school. He played football and was a good Little League pitcher. In fact, he once hit me with a pitch so hard that I was hurting for weeks.

There were others too…stickball legends, a kid who had a beard in the 6th grade and plenty of bushes where we used to stash warm cases of Tuborg beer that we somehow got our hands on.

We stayed outside late on summer evenings talking under the streetlights, shooting hoops in our friend’s driveways, and talking endlessly about girls, cars, sports, music and the future.

I wish I could go back to that sweet and innocent time for just a bit. To quote Andy Bernard from The Office: “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”

Our home in the M Section. Buyers used to be able to purchase a Levitt home for $500 down. Today, these homes are over $600,000 and over 50 years old.

Delray Lakes reminds me of those neighborhoods. The neighbors play Mah Jong together, take walks, know each other’s dogs, play pickleball, go to the pool and look out for each other.

We watch the local kids grow like weeds, we kvetch about neighborhood maintenance issues, and we wave to each other and sit at the end of our driveways at Halloween greeting the little ones.

The place just feels good.

In a world that often feels like it’s gone off its axis, you can’t put a price on feeling good.

So, when neighbors move it’s a big deal. And right now, there’s a mini transition occurring.

As time passes, our needs change. Some move to more affordable locations (South Florida has become an expensive place to live and our location east of 95 means ridiculously high property insurance rates). Others move because the kids are grown, or they need to be closer to family.

It all adds up to change and transitions, which while necessary and unavoidable, are almost always bittersweet.

I will miss my neighbors who moved and a few others whose homes are for sale. We will stay in touch with some, lose touch with others and we will embrace the new neighbors who move in, but it won’t be quite the same.

When I lived in Strathmore Village, I knew everyone on at least three streets near my house. I knew every kid, every dog, every basketball backboard. We knew each other’s parents and they knew us too.

This was my experience, and it was a good one. The experience I had shaped my life.

I was six when we moved to Redwood Lane in Strathmore Village, and one day a little boy named David rode his bike to my street and saw me outside.

Dave had baseball cards to trade and that was all it took. We’ve been talking ever since that day, 52 years and counting. Through all those elementary schools, through the awkward junior high “wonder years”, through our rollicking high school years, through college, first jobs, marriage, kids and many more moves. Dave to Wisconsin, me to Delray Beach.

Through cancer and Covid, the death of parents and grandparents we know the ups and downs of each other’s lives.

We kept talking. (And I occasionally get a word in).

And it all started as neighbors in Strathmore Village.

When we moved to Stony Brook, that same neighborhood experience happened.

I’m afraid that the concept of neighborhood and neighbors that I knew and cherished may be heading to the dustbin of history.

Both the Financial Times and the New York Times had stories just last week about more and more people living alone.

Young people in their 20s and 30s who live by themselves and often work remotely, (my kids among them) and folks over 50 who have never married or are widowed or divorced.

Apparently, this takes a toll on our mental and physical health.

We are social creatures, not meant to be alone.

One town in the U.K. is experimenting with trained conversationalists. They have set up tables in cafes and designated park benches where if you sit down a trained “talker” will be there to engage you.

Apparently, it’s working. People who participate seem to respond.

But while that’s good news, I can’t help but feel a little sad that it has come to this.

But not in my neighborhood.

I’m not home a lot and when I am, I relish my couch time. But just outside my door, are neighbors I know, like and trust. They are living their lives too, but I’m pretty sure they know that what we have is  special and so when one of us leaves the Lakes…well…it’s a big deal.

As it should be…

Grace & Leadership Under Pressure

Did you see the press conference with U. S. Soccer Team Captain Tyler Adams?

The one where he was goaded by a member of the Iranian press?

If you haven’t here’s a link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1fCbczD3UU

In 60 seconds, Mr. Adams shows class, confidence, maturity and intelligence. In short, it’s a minute long master class in leadership.

Rather than take the bait and fire back at the disrespectful “reporter,” Adams kept his cool and calmly answered. He even deftly turned the tables on his questioner by apologizing for mispronouncing Iran and making a case that in the United States we are working on our flaws and making progress every day.

It would have been easier and perhaps more satisfying to have pointed out to the Iranian interviewer that a country that is murdering and imprisoning its citizens for speaking out, has no business questioning other countries.

But Mr. Adams, only 23 but apparently packed full of wisdom, chose the more difficult and more interesting path. He talked about being raised by white parents and having to assimilate into different cultures. He mentioned his African American heritage and talked about the American experiment and the notion that we are all working toward a more perfect union.

I can see why this young man is the team captain and it’s easy to predict that he will do some extraordinary things on and off the pitch.

Being respectful when attacked or goaded, keeping one’s cool under pressure, and talking lovingly about your country despite its imperfections is the hallmark of leadership.

These days, we tend to shout past one another. We tend to play “gotcha” politics instead of slowing down long enough to take a breath, lean in and listen.

Tyler Adams leaned in and listened. I’m sure it wasn’t lost on him that the reporter was trying to trap him.

How could he stand with the Iranian people when America has discrimination issues?

Well, it’s easy said Mr. Adams. My country is hard at work. We’re making progress, sometimes it’s two steps forward and one back, but we are always striving.

We have the freedom to talk about our concerns and that is not true in places like Iran and too many other places in our world.

He also noted that overcoming differences is a process. “I think as long as you see progress, that’s the most important thing.”

Indeed, it is.

Progress and effort make a difference.

The late Stanford professor John Gardner used to talk about ”tough-minded optimists.’

Don’t you just love that term?

“The future is rarely shaped by people who don’t believe in the future,” Gardner said. “It is created by highly motivated people, by enthusiasts, by men and women who want something very much and believe very much.”

And that sums it up.

Do we have a perfect union? Not by a long shot.

Are we working on it?

You betcha.

Tyler Adams reminded many of that simple, but profound and maybe uniquely American concept during that press conference.

Bravo!

Yes, we’ll remember it’s “eer-ran” not “eye-ran.”

But we’ll also remember the grace and the strength of an extraordinary young American.

The Last Newspaper

Ken Tingley has written a love letter to the local newspaper.

A few weeks back, I wrote about cleaning out a junk drawer and finding an old Delray Times newspaper from 1995.

I worked for that paper for about a decade from 1987 to 1996 when I left to start my own education newspaper.

I’ve been blessed with a lot of interesting and great jobs/roles in my life, but none better than being a reporter for the old South Florida Newspaper Network.

It wasn’t the pay (we made very little money).

It wasn’t the perks. (There were none unless you count free parking).

It was the people and the job itself.

Newsrooms attract funny, smart, talented, creative, and idealistic souls.  It was a joy to work with them in a wide-open office where every day was an adventure.

You get to hear about the interesting stories your colleagues are working on, the colorful characters they are chasing and the “you can’t make this stuff up” things you see when it’s your job to report what’s going on in town.

I know it’s fashionable to bash the press these days. “Fake news” is the latest adorable saying meant to undercut the credibility of the only industry protected by our Constitution. It is protected because a free press is essential to a Democracy.

I’ve been on both sides of the pen so to speak. I spent years as a journalist covering people making news and I’ve been written about, which is far less fun.

I’ve seen amazing reporters and I’ve seen some bad ones, but there’s no doubt in my mind that a free press keeps us a free people.

I’ve been thinking about the role of local newspapers a lot these days.

When I moved to South Florida in 1987, Delray Beach was covered by four newspapers: The Sun-Sentinel, The Palm Beach Post, The Boca Raton News and the Monday-Thursday Papers (my alma mater and the precursor to the South Florida Newspaper Network). On big stories, the Miami Herald came to town.

You had to work hard not to know what was going on in Boca and Delray.

And the level of coverage spurred civic engagement. More people voted. More people attended Commission meetings (they weren’t at 4 p.m. when anyone who works can’t attend) and more people volunteered because they knew what was going on and when you know what’s happening, you’re more likely to want to be involved.

Everyone knew their city commissioners, county commissioners, school board members and state legislators. They attended charettes and visioning conferences, they showed up to protest or support projects and they relied on the local papers for information. In other words, there was a community  ‘water cooler’ and local reporters competed fiercely for readers, so you saw a lot of “enterprise” reporting not just dry meeting coverage.

In hindsight, it was a golden age. Not only for newspapers but for civic engagement. We never thought it could end.

But it did.

Not with a big crash, but with a slow-motion agonizing fade that saw newspapers shrivel up, or in the case of the Boca News—die. Even the vaunted Monday-Thursday Papers went away.

My friends in community journalism found other careers in public relations, marketing, advertising and sometimes in fields that had nothing to do with writing or communications. One former senior newsroom guy that I knew, ended up living in his car in a Boca Raton parking lot. The last time I saw him, he had his arm broken by someone who tried to rob him while he slept. We met and he was offering to sell me memorabilia from his career. It was a sad and terrible end to what had been a good run.

But as much as the people in the field suffered and were forced to reinvent themselves, the communities they covered suffered as well and continue to pay the price.

Today, there is no water cooler.

We have Facebook which often spreads misinformation, one monthly newspaper that has an odd bent (in my opinion), a few lifestyle magazines, a few newsletters (one is anonymous which undercuts its credibility) and a podcast or two with limited audiences.

We are poorer because our newspapers have gone away. The Sun Sentinel and Palm Beach Post are sad shells of their past versions, and the few reporters around don’t seem to have any history in our community. We lose something real and valuable when institutional memory becomes forgotten history. Coverage suffers without context; it’s like coming into a movie that’s half over and pretending to know the plot.

I recently finished a wonderful book called “The Last American Newspaper” by Ken Tingley. It’s a poignant book that tells the sad story of The Post-Star, an award winning newspaper in Glens Falls, N.Y.

The paper was a local powerhouse and even won a Pulitzer Prize for its editorials, an almost unheard-of victory for a small newspaper.

But the Post-Star was ambitious and committed to the community it served for over a century. The newsroom—led by Mr. Tingley— reported the news fairly and accurately, surfacing important issues from teenage drinking and domestic violence to homelessness and the financial troubles of the local hospital, which also happened to be a major advertiser.

Because the Post-Star did its job so well, the paper sparked important conversations that often led to meaningful change.

But over time, as the Internet came to dominate, the Post-Star lost revenue and no longer had the resources to produce the in-depth journalism that communities need to thrive.

The diminishment of local journalism is an important issue that needs to be addressed by every community in America. But especially here, in fast moving complicated South Florida.

I’ve long believed that it is easier to find out what is going on in Kabul, than it is to find out what’s happening at City Hall. That’s not good if you value community and if you care about your tax dollars.

Rogues thrive in the darkness where brave reporters once shined a light.

I don’t have any answers. In my opinion, nobody does.

I keep tabs on my old profession and see a few promising seeds: local newsletters that sell subscriptions, online newspapers, city-oriented podcasts etc. But there’s nothing like a newspaper. The magic of opening something you can touch and discovering something interesting and noteworthy.

We will lose a lot when the last newspaper vanishes. We already have.

 

 

The Ties That Happily Bind

Rex’s Hairstyling has been a community institution and a source of community for close to 40 years.

I miss the movies.

I miss newspapers.

I miss magazines.

I miss bookstores.

I miss albums (and getting lost in a great record store).

I miss civility.

I miss the America I knew in the 70s and 80s. But I’m still filled to the brim with patriotism.

I miss sleep.

I miss endless summers.

I miss boring hurricane seasons.

I miss Blood’s Groves.

I miss Ken and Hazel’s.

I miss seeing my buddy Perry at Boston’s on the Beach.

I miss 32 East.

I miss Chip Stokes at St. Paul’s.

I miss listening to stories in Mr. and Mrs. Pompey’s living room.

I miss Joe and Carolyn Gholston.

I miss visits with Libby Wesley.

I miss Sister Mary Clare’s brogue.

I miss roasts. (And when this town had a sense of humor).

I miss charrettes.

I miss optimism.

I miss the sense that anything was possible.

Because it was.

 

Celebrating A Friend

A few months back, I wrote a tribute to Karyn Premock who died tragically in an accident in Tennessee. http://yourdelrayboca.com/remembering-our-friend/

Karyn, who used to work at Rex’s Hairstyling, is beloved in Delray Beach. She touched so many lives.

I had the honor of speaking at her “celebration of life” at The Dunes over the weekend. The place was packed, and it could have been filled four times with the number of people who wanted a chance to mourn and celebrate.

Karyn is missed. I find myself thinking about her often, especially when I pass her old house in Lake Ida on the way to the park near the Delray Playhouse.

The celebration was closure for many of us, but it’s still difficult to reconcile that she’s gone. One minute you’re here…the next your gone. It’s sobering but also clarifying because it’s important to cherish the people who enrich our lives and communities.

We live in coarse times.  And you have to ask why?

Why?

Karyn was a bright light. She made us smile. You can’t put a price on what that’s worth. Her warmth, her energy, her caring made a real and lasting difference.

Earlier in the week, we learned that Rex’s will be closing Dec. 30.

Another Delray institution passing into the history books and memory banks.

Words cannot express how special a place Rex’s has been. How important it has been to this community. The scene of countless first haircuts, endless conversation, loud laughs and love. Lots and lots and lots of love.

When you walk through the doors you got more than a haircut, you got community.

The special people who work there adore each other and their customers. In today’s often toxic world, you can’t put a price on that.

Karyn created a family in that shop. She leaves behind a legacy of love and warmth.

So does Rex’s Hairstyling.

We need more of these great places….

Untimely Loss

Speaking of untimely loss, we were stunned to hear the news of Anthony “Rumble” Johnson’s death over the weekend.

The MMA legend was a neighbor for a few years and always kind and friendly to everyone, especially the children in our neighborhood who loved his big truck. He died after an illness at 38.

Rest In Peace.

 

I’m glad the Election is over.

What a waste of money…what an exercise in (fill in the blank).

I don’t care what side of the divide you’re on, all of us were inundated with an endless barrage of mud that did not offer a single thoughtful solution or a way forward, only reasons why should we fear/hate each other.

Let’s hope the upcoming municipal elections in March will offer us more substance.

There are real issues to discuss; the Delray bond issue, water issues, what do with Old School Square, where to site a new fire station now that we are losing our long term (and mutually beneficial arrangement with Highland Beach), issues at City Hall, workforce housing, dispirited non-profits because of attitudes at City Hall and the CRA’s politicization and implementation of draconian terms to accept grants.

As for the election results, it was a monumentally consequential election for Palm Beach County.

A political earthquake.

Reliably blue Palm Beach County turned red. Not only did Gov. Ron DeSantis beat Charlie Crist but two prominent Democrats lost County Commission races.

County Mayor Bob Weinroth lost his seat to newcomer Mari Woodward and longtime civic leader Michelle McGovern lost her bid for a commission seat as well.

While both races surprised me, the Weinroth loss was a stunner.

Bob was a hardworking and highly visible elected official with lots of experience in city and county government.

I went to his opponent’s website to learn more, and she seemed to be a one-issue candidate with lots of words about Covid lockdowns. It will be interesting to see how she performs.

But it’s clear to me, that experience matters less than the team you’re on. You are either a D or an R. And neither side will consider voting for the candidates outside their tribe.

In those kinds of races, money (Weinroth had a bunch) matters less than turning out your team.

Personally, I don’t understand why the County Commission is a partisan body.

And love him or loathe him, Governor DeSantis had some serious coattails.