Delray Pie

I’m stealing this opening from a friend.

If he wants credit, I’ll reveal his name next week. If he wants to enter the witness protection program, I’ll try  to help.

But I love the analogy and I thought I’d share. So here goes.

Imagine, if you will, that every time you step forward to help, you get hit in the face with a pie.

That’s what happening to the good folks who have hung in there at Old School Square.

Last week, they went to a Downtown Development Authority (DDA) meeting to discuss the results of a city commission workshop in which it was decided that the DDA should consider working with the non-profit to offer arts classes and to begin to get the Crest Theatre up and running again. I believe it was also decided that an invitation to negotiate will be made available to other organizations. That’s the right and proper thing to do. Let the best ideas win.

Without dredging up the ugliness, they got hit in the face with a pie from a board member who doesn’t have her facts straight.

The details of the latest pie in the face are not important. It’s the same tired, discredited arguments that have been made since Old School Square was terminated “without cause” (how’s that for irony?) in 2021. Still, Old School Square fired back with a letter to the DDA chairman requesting that the facts be read into the public record.

That’s a good and necessary step.

But there’s a deeper issue here and one that we really ought to understand and address.

But let’s digress for a moment.

Books– with lots of chapters and lots of words– have been written about how to build a successful city.

I wrote one of them and I’ve read a lot of them too.

Cities are complicated places; they succeed or fail for a variety of reasons. But if you boil it down, there are two essential ingredients for success. Let’s call them table stakes; the minimal entry requirement for success.

They are?

Drum roll please…

It must be safe to aspire, and it must be safe to volunteer.

That’s it.

The rest is negotiable.

Sure, it helps if you have a pristine beach or a city with what they call “good bones.”

Universities and cultural amenities are cool and good schools are a huge advantage but if volunteering is treacherous, you’re toast. If aspiration is anathema, you’re DOA.

Not only won’t you move forward, but everything that you’ve managed to build is in danger if citizens who aspire feel it’s dangerous, frustrating, or downright impossible to invest or volunteer.

I’m afraid that’s where we’ve been in Delray Beach. We’re digging out, but we have work to do.

It reminds me of that old saying: There’s a reason why we can’t have nice things—just yet anyway.

It’s hard to build community when there are elements who just won’t accept facts.

Of course, we are entitled to our opinions, but you really can’t have your own facts and function properly. The Earth is not flat and nobody at Old School Square took a dime of taxpayer money and stuffed it into their pockets. All public money given the organization was earned after services were rendered. For years, volunteers raised 75-80 percent of the money used to run our cultural arts center and did all the work, now the taxpayer pays 100 percent. That’s a fact.

The volunteers didn’t stick the taxpayers with a bill for the renovation of the Crest Theatre either. That project was funded by a generous donor who had a pie thrown in her face and withdrew her money.

Now the taxpayers must ante up millions for projects that were privately funded through the efforts of Old School Square.

If you’re an arsonist, you shouldn’t be able to burn down a house and then blame others for the destruction you caused.

Old School Square fired back at the latest pie in the face by stating the facts. That was the right thing to do.

But the larger issue is the pie throwing itself;  the larger issue is the sense that if you fall on the wrong side of the political divide, you face peril.

It’s not fun to write that sentence, but building anything of value requires radical candor. Problems don’t magically go away, if left unaddressed, they fester. In our community, we have a bad habit of just trying to plow forward. We skip the healing part, we skip the analysis and we sacrifice the learning and the reconciliation that’s possible if we talk through issues and try and find the lessons in painful moments.

The new composition of the city commission is making strides. We have kind people serving on the city commission. Our city and our world need empathetic leadership at every level.

I am not asking for some kumbaya moment. But I’m thinking we should take advice from Otis Redding and try a little tenderness.

Robust debate is healthy and necessary. If you see something you don’t like, speak out, even if you shake when you do so.

We can disagree. We can even compromise, imagine that?

But we cannot be successful if volunteers don’t feel safe to serve or disagree.

You can say Old School Square made mistakes, but if you are alleging corruption, you better bring the goods.

Margaret Atwood who wrote “The Handmaid’s Tale” is an expert communicator on dystopias and utopias.

She says we have a choice.

“Writing dystopias and utopias is a way of asking the reader the question, “where do you want to live?” she recently said. “And where you end up living is going to depend partly on what you do now.”

Yes indeed. What do we do right now?

We have a choice.

I hope we choose kindness and support those who value building a community where it is safe to dream, volunteer, invest and aspire.

If we don’t, there will be nobody to throw pies at, volunteers and those who aspire will find somewhere else to give their time, talent and treasure. We will lose what took decades to build. We already have when it comes to Old School Square.




Still Dreaming….

Note: Today is a somber day of reflection and remembrance. 9/11 is seared in the minds of those who lived through it, and we honor those who lost loved ones in the attack. Last night “60 Minutes” devoted the entire show to the Fire Department of New York’s experience during and after 9/11. It’s a touching and important piece of journalism and I wish all Americans would watch. In these divided times, we need to be reminded of what unites us as a nation. The heroism shown by the brave men and women of FDNY will never be forgotten. Nor will the 343 firefighters who lost their lives trying to save others on that awful day. One of them was my childhood friend Mike Boyle, who was off that day, but rushed in to help and was never seen again. I think about Mike often. And I think about that day too. We must never forget.

On August 26, thousands flocked to the National Mall to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington.

The same day, 700 miles away, three Black people were killed in Jacksonville for being Black.

Sometimes irony can be painful. Sometimes it can be lethal.

Angela Carr, 52, was shot dead in her car in the parking lot of a Dollar General Store. A.J. Laguerre, 19, who worked at the store, was shot dead trying to get away from the gunman. Jerrald Gallion, 29, was murdered when he walked into the store unaware of what was happening.

You don’t expect to go to a Dollar General Store and run into a white supremacist wearing a tactical vest with a swastika painted on his rifle. Or maybe we should, based on the frequency of violence we’re experiencing these days…and if that’s so what’s going on here? For goodness sakes, what’s going on?

There are no words that can adequately describe this kind of horror; thoughts and prayers—while welcome—are not enough.

The hate driven murders in Jacksonville—on a day when Americans should have been celebrating MLK’s landmark “I Have A Dream Speech”—brings into stark relief the challenges we face as a nation.

The latest murders are not an aberration.

It comes after 10 Black shoppers were murdered in a Buffalo supermarket in 2022. It follows the 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery who was killed for the ‘crime’ of jogging through a neighborhood that three assailants believed he had no business being in.

In 2015, 9 Black worshipers were viciously slaughtered at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. And it comes after 11 Jewish worshipers were executed in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Yes, we’ve made progress toward MLK’s dream. We have much to be proud of, but we still have a long way to go. A very, very long way to go.

I believe that we will not get to the promised land unless and until we acknowledge and confront our history and our present.

But in Florida— with culture wars raging over curriculum and what can and cannot be taught—we’re not doing that.

We are not alone. America itself seems stuck in a cycle of recrimination and denial.

We have just experienced the hottest July and the hottest August in history. Every other week, we seem to have a cataclysmic natural disaster that costs lives and billions in damages, yet we argue over whether climate change exists and whether we ought to do something about it.

We argue over whether we have too much regulation or too little but because we have underinvested in just about everything, we are scrambling to catch up and tech bro’s such as Elon Musk begin acting like nation states not entrepreneurs.

Did you know that Musk’s Starlink internet technology is assisting Ukrainian troops in their uphill battle against a murderous dictator who has decided to wipe out a nation? That part is good, but according to an investigative piece in The New Yorker, Musk may or may not be communicating with Vladimir Putin (he denies it, others claim he has told them differently). Regardless, one man can decide with the flick of a switch to change the course of a war. We have ceded this kind of power to private players because we have underinvested in technology, infrastructure, semiconductors, public health, and a whole range of other things.

I’m all for entrepreneurship, capitalism, the free market, and private industry, but because we have willfully neglected the public sphere, we better be prepared that some of these actors may not have the best interests of “we the people” in mind.

“There is only one thing worse than a government monopoly. And that is a private monopoly that the government is dependent on,” says Jim Bridenstine, a former Republican Congressman and former NASA Administrator who is concerned that his former agency is too dependent on SpaceX, the Musk company that has commercialized Starlink.

Like most challenges, the solutions boil down to leadership and whether people commit to a better future.

So, let’s come back to that Dollar General store in Jacksonville and the images of those lost souls who sadly, will soon be forgotten by all but their loved ones.

I do not know what it means to be a Black person in America. But I do have decades of experience as a Jewish person. I have seen and experienced antisemitism and frankly I fear it. Just this past weekend, I watched video of Neo-Nazis chanting vile slogans in front of Disney World. The video made me nauseous.

I understand that hatred—whether racial, religious, cultural, or based on sexual preference or gender—diminishes us. Hatred is violent. It’s dangerous. It threatens our communities, nation, and world.

The task of addressing this level of malevolence is daunting, but we must try. But it’s the subtler forms of prejudice that hurt too. I still remember a young woman who wouldn’t go out with me because her mother did not want her daughter dating a Jew: (we were 14). And I remember being warned by certain “pillars” in my town to stop stirring the pot when I pursued a race relations initiative in Delray back in the day. I got over the girl and we pushed forward with race relations– which was the right thing to do— even if it was a modest effort and didn’t last as we intended….

Obviously, my experiences pale in comparison to being gunned down by a white supremacist. I wrestled with whether I should even share it because there is no equivalency. I can drive anywhere I wish without being stopped or reported. I go through my day blending in. Or at least I think I do. Those images from Orlando give me pause. Still,  I have friends who can never just… be.

The Dream that Dr. King spoke about 60 years ago was of a color-blind society.

“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.”

In the aftermath of tragedies like Jacksonville and Buffalo, we must make some sober assessments about where we are as a society.

There’s a sense of foreboding in America these days; a feeling that at any moment something awful can be triggered.

How did we get to this place?

This place where everything from sports and music to elections and science have become so polarized.

How do we find our way toward a more perfect union?

In my admittedly idealistic, somewhat limited view, we must figure out a way to work together again. We cannot solve the challenges of our time, nor seize the opportunities either, unless we work together. We have to empower and elevate voices who understand that even though we have different stories, experiences and world views we do hold some common aspirations, namely a better future for our children and grandchildren.

We must elevate and celebrate decency and we must confront those who seek to divide, destroy and demolish.

And we need to raise up a better caliber of leader.

Recently, Adam Grant, a renowned business school professor at Wharton, put forth an idea to hold a lottery to select our Congress. The article was provocative, and it was borne out of frustration with a body that does little but bicker, bully and brutalize each other. As I write this, the fools on the hill are threatening once again to default on the debt and crash the world economy. It’s shameful. We stand for what we tolerate.

The title of Professor Grant’s guest essay in the New York Times was “The Worst People Run for Office. It’s Time for a Better Way.”

Indeed. It’s past time.

Hatred is not winning. It’s not.

There is still more love in this world than hate. But hate is putting points on the board, it’s gaining ground and bearing down on us.

We need to demand more of our leaders and more of each other.


Odds & Ends

There’s something awfully special about Delray’s Coco Gauff. She has that “it” factor, this feeling that she’s destined for greatness.

Coco took a giant step toward that destiny with a magical U.S. Open which culminated with her first Grand Slam title at the age of 19.

All you can say is wow.

Coco’s game is impressive, she moves beautifully and hits the ball with authority from both wings. But that’s not what’s unusual about her. There are many players who hit hard and can cover the court. What distinguishes Coco is her ability to dig deep at key points in matches. She plays better under pressure and doesn’t seem to be rattled by expectations, crowds, and the weight of playing big matches under the grind of high expectations. She’s poised, charismatic, cool and determined, a champion.

While much has been written about the influence of her excellent new coach Brad Gilbert, don’t underestimate the importance of Coco’s family. Her grandparents Eddie and Yvonne are local heroes. Her parents are terrific too.

While she’s destined for tennis greatness, she’s positive influence off the court. Coco is a leader in a world that craves leadership. She will transcend the game. What a proud moment for Delray Beach and America.

Mardi Gras

We send heartfelt congratulations to Nancy Stewart-Franczak and our friends at Festival Management Group for being chosen to produce downtown West Palm Beach’s inaugural Mardi Gras event set for Feb. 17.

The Mardi Gras will feature a myriad of activities, including live performances and culinary delights inspired by the sounds and flavors of New Orleans. Attendees can expect to immerse themselves in the enchanting world of Mardi Gras, complete with flamboyant costumes, lively music, and an electric atmosphere that will ignite the streets of West Palm Beach.

And FMG is the group that can pull this all off. This is the same amazing group that produces Garlic Fest, Delray Affair, Lagoon Fest and more.

I’m a huge fan of Nancy and it has been a joy to watch her grow and thrive in a tough, tough industry. Through it all, Nancy has been a champ. She’s tough, tender, kind and passionate about building community. In other words, my kinda gal! Here’s to many more years of producing fun.



Some of it’s Magic

Jimmy Buffett played Delray’s Old School Square lifting spirits during the pandemic. He was known to frequent Atlantic Avenue night spots over the years. 

I didnt want to sit with this one.

Jimmy Buffett’s death hits hard and hits deep.
For many of us, Jimmy Buffett symbolized all that was right and romantic about Florida and his loss makes you think of all that’s been lost or threatened.
The same day Jimmy Buffett passed, the Wall Street Journal ran a story about how hurricanes are threatening “old Florida” towns. Idalia pummeled Cedar Key and other storms have wiped away wooden bungalows, quirky shops and working class culture in towns along the coast.
For me and I’m sure millions, Jimmy Buffett embodied the old Florida of shorts, sand, sun and roadside kitsch.
Many of the obituaries mentioned that Mr. Buffett created a 50 year career out of one hit “Margaritaville.”
It’s a good line but not true. Buffett’s catalog was extraordinary with a trunk full of timeless songs.
When I got a text from my brother in law with the news I immediately started playing “Songs You Know By Heart” a 1985 compilation that features most of the classics.
Jimmy’s music instantly creates a mood. And so within minutes I found myself smiling to “Changes in Latitudes” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise”. But there’s more to Buffett’s music than “kosher pickles and French fried potatoes ” or “flip flops” and blenders, there’s depth and pathos too.
“A pirate looks at 40” and “Come Monday” are incredible songs. “He went to Paris” and “Son of a Son of a Sailor” are masterpieces—cinematic in scope and atmosphere.
Yes Jimmy was a great writer.
He wrote books too, best sellers that inspired plays. He was a world class performer and a wildly successful entrepreneur.
And he embodied a relaxed, fun, festive and tropical Florida lifestyle.
We seem far from relaxed and fun these days.
But Buffett’s style  provides a road map back to a better place.  Perhaps if we choose to set aside our anger and differences we can get that change in attitude that Jimmy joyfully sang about.
We live in paradise. It does not have to be lost.
‘ some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic

But I had a good life all the way.’

Thanks Jimmy.  You sure did

Making Sense Of Place

Beautiful Cape Elizabeth….

I’m seeing another state.

We’re in the early stages of a relationship, but I can see myself getting serious about Maine.

This summer marked 36 years of living in South Florida, with most of that time spent in Delray Beach.

I’ve spent just about my entire adult life in Florida and the Sunshine State has been very good to me.

I’ve made the greatest friends here; have experienced so much and have learned a lot since leaving New York in July 1987 in a rickety 1978 Toyota Corolla.

Little did I know what was in store for me.

We seldom do.

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

I thought I’d be a newspaper lifer.  I felt it was my calling and I dreamed one day of owning my own paper.

When I sat in the back row in Commission Chambers reporting on Mayors Doak Campbell, Tom Lynch and Jay Alperin, I never dreamt I would do that job.

In fact, I used to joke around with former Boca News reporter Darcie Lunsford that she would be mayor one day. I volunteered to be her campaign manager. (P.S. Darcie would have made a fine mayor.)

But life is strange in so many ways. It’s the twists and turns that add flavor. The twists and turns….

I turned 59 Saturday. The same age my mother was when she passed.

That number has weighed on me since she died in 1998.

She was young when we lost her; but now that I’ve gotten to this age it feels odd. The truth is at 59 you feel old and young all at once—hard to explain, but if you know, you know.

By this time in life, you’ve travelled a lot of miles, seen many things, and learned and re-learned a bunch of lessons. Life could look completely different in three years, three months, or even three days. That’s the terrifying and beautiful thing about being human.

Yes, perhaps the most profound lesson is how fast life can change. Three years ago, I felt a little tired. I took a Covid test at Bethesda and that night I was in a fight for my life that would last 39 days.

Who knew from bats, Wuhan and pandemics?

Three weeks ago, we lost Carl DeSantis, a wonderful soul who changed the lives of so many people; me included.

And so, I am reminded about the role that serendipity plays in our lives. I had no idea that someone whose vitamins my dad sold in his pharmacy would play such a large role in my life.

When I gassed up that old Toyota in Binghamton, N.Y. I had no idea what awaited me. I just wanted sunshine, palm trees and to live near my best friend. I got that and more.

I tasted local politics, helped run a beverage company, worked in public relations, was founding editor of a local magazine, did a whole lot of consulting and even co-owned a local newspaper for a while.

I’ve loved it all.

Along the way, I took a deep dive into the community. I got involved with a capital I.

Education, economic development, business, the arts, and health care—I learned a little bit about a whole lot.

And I fell in love with this place. I fell hard.

Most of my activities were in Delray, but I’ve also been involved in Boca, Boynton, Palm Beach County, Broward County and in statewide organizations such as Leadership Florida and the Florida Redevelopment Association.

I list these things to encourage you to get involved in the community. It’s your community and we all need to pay our civic rent.

My experiences through the years have been rewarding in ways that I could never adequately quantify. I’ve met just about all my Florida friends by getting involved. So if you aren’t involved in something, you may want to consider volunteering. It makes the world a lot less lonely and infinitely richer.

That said, I find myself needing and seeking both more and less.

Let me explain.

I want more time with loved ones.

I want more time working on fewer projects that have deeper meaning.

And I want less quantity and more quality.

I also want to experience other places— namely Maine.

I’m seeing Maine—for bits and pieces of time—the greater Portland area to be specific, and I find myself falling in love with a place all over again.

Oh, I still have fidelity to the sunshine. I still love the Florida sky, the beautiful sunsets and walks with our dogs along Lake Ida on mornings when it’s not scorching hot outside.

I take great pride in the evolution of Delray Beach and the role my friends and civic heroes played in our city’s success.

Despite the stifling heat, rising cost of living and ridiculous politics you find in Florida, I still feel the good outweighs the bad. Those palm trees and mild winter temperatures will always thrill this native New Yorker.

But I want to see other cities too.

About two years ago, we bought a cozy little townhouse in a wooded section of Portland not far from Old Port. It was a post Covid promise we made to ourselves. Sort of a “tomorrow is here” recognition of life’s frailty.

I recently spent a few blissful weeks there enjoying cool breezes, lighthouses, the rugged coastline and squirrels the size of big cats. These are precious days spent with the love of my life, family and friends.

I love the small villages of Biddeford, Saco, Bath and the Kennebunks which ooze charm and character.

I like getting lost in the huge cemetery up the street that has gravestones dating to the Revolutionary War.

And frankly, I like not knowing anyone other than a few neighbors and the kind strangers you bump into along the way.

I still can’t look at a lobster or eat a steamer, but I sure love Allagash beer.

It feels good to explore a new part of the world. To learn the stories, read the history and wonder about the visionaries who made this place all that it is.

I have no desire to get involved here. But I do want to explore.

I want to experience this place. Then maybe, just maybe, I’ll pay some civic rent.

I’m not talking about starting a “Save Portland” Facebook page, but maybe I’ll change my status to “in a relationship with Delray and Portland.”

Wherever you are, I hope you fall in love.

Thanks for reading.

Bill Fay Jr.

Note: Delray lost another local treasure with the passing last week of Bill Fay, the retired principal of Banyan Creek Elementary School. I adored Bill. His humor, his love of children and his passion for education. He was a good man—despite his admiration for the Boston Red Sox (only kidding). As a New Yorker and a Yankee fan, you would have thought that his affinity for Boston sports would have been a deal breaker for the two of us.  But Bill proved that oil and water can mix. He gave me the business when his Sox were riding high, and I loved him for it.

When Bill retired in 2015, I wrote the following blog

If you don’t want to click through, I’ll leave you with this thought from the blog: “Every now and again in this world you run into a larger-than-life figure.

Someone whose spirit lights up the room and whose humor, intelligence and warmth make you feel like you’ve known him forever.

Bill Fay is that kind of guy. In fact, he’s the epitome of that kind of man.”

At the time, I wished Mr. Fay decades of life to enjoy his family and legion of friends. Alas, he got less than a decade. I wish he had more time. I adored that man. He made a difference for generations of children. Rest in Peace my friend.

Art Endures…

Robbie Robertson’s music and influence will live on.

My heroes are dying.One by one. Drip by drip, they drop from this world into the next.Tina Turner, Randy Meisner and Robbie Robertson are just the latest.Before that, we said goodbye to Tom Petty, Glenn Frey, Prince, David Crosby, Burt Bacharach and David Bowie—and the list goes on.

If those names are familiar, you probably grew up in the 60s,70s or 80s. You probably loved music and the songs of these icons became a part of your DNA, a big part of your soul.Randy Meisner was the Nebraska native whose sweet voice turned “Take it to the Limit” into a song that inspired millions.Robbie Robertson was the genius who led The Band and virtually created “Americana” music.

I remember going to see “The Last Waltz” at the Smithhaven Mall  with my friends Scott and Howie. We were 14. We loved music, but our tastes were not quite sophisticated, not quite fully formed. We adored The Beatles and that’s why we probably went to see “The Last Waltz”, because Ringo was in the film —for a few minutes anyway.I came away loving The Band.

I remember being swept up by Robbie’s cool and Levon Helm’s soulful singing. But it would be years until I fully appreciated the genius of The Band, the greatness of their work and the power of that amazing film, in my mind the best “rock movie” ever made. The best concert movie ever.And at the center of it all was Robbie Robertson, the epitome of hip, the wise soul, road weary and weathered but full of wisdom and great songs.Now he’s gone, but the music lives on. And will live on, I’m sure of it.Why?Because here we are in 2023, and we are still listening to music from the 70s. If we did the same thing in the 70s, we would have been listening to music from the 20s. I don’t think we did too much of that in those days.

I remember, a number of years ago, going to Old School Square’s Crest Theater to see local musicians reenact The Last Waltz. People were dancing in the aisles. I can’t imagine a better time.

A few years after that, we went to The Arts Garage to see Rusty Young of Poco perform. He sang like an angel. And shortly after he passed too. That beautiful voice and dobro silenced.We’ve been making it a point to see the legends when they pass through South Florida. Many of the shows were farewell tours and all of them were awesome: Paul Simon, Elton John, David Byrne, Colin Hay, Roger McGuinn (at the Crest) Steve Forbert (Arts Garage) Queen (without Freddie Mercury), The Eagles right before we lost Glenn Frey and of course, Bruce Springsteenand the E Street Band.I’m sorry I missed Jackson Browne who just played Fort Lauderdale. What a songwriter he is, what a voice too.My goodness, these people are special.

And so I wonder why this music penetrates my mind and never leaves my heart. Why do these songs mean so much?They’ve gotten me through sadness and propelled me when I felt joy.

I think we’re all searching; for answers, for a way to express ourselves. I find my answers in music and I express myself by writing.Last week, I was sitting around the house thinking about a friend I just lost. My mind wandered to music.  And I began to wonder what it is about a great song that moves us.

Then magically— as if on cue–an old friend called. We talked about a whole bunch of things. And she said something profound. She said something that I can’t let go of.

Our heroes give us ladders, she said.  It could be a song, a painting or an essay that touches something deep down. They hit on a truth and give us a ladder to climb so we can get to another level of understanding. And we climb, carefully, so as not to fall. We climb to see what’s at the top.If we’re kind and generous, when we get to the top, we gaze a few rungs down and extend a hand.That’s what my heroes do for me. And that’s what I aspire to do for others, even though I often doubt I can do what they do. I try anyway. I will keep trying.

We forget all but the greatest statesmen and all but the most amazing sports heroes.We come.

We go.

But the music lives on. Always and forever.  The heroes live on.They leave behind ladders if we care to look and if we care to climb them.

Our Carl…

Carl DeSantis (1939-2023)

Note: My mentor, friend, partner, employer, teacher, confidante and all-around inspiration Carl DeSantis passed away August 10. He was 84. And even though I knew it was coming and thought I was prepared, I found myself devastated when I got the news while traveling in Maine. Carl was a bright light in so many lives. And as word got out, I began to receive a slew of calls, texts and emails sharing stories from people whose lives had been changed by this wonderful, generous, and kind man.

Everyone processes grief in their own way, and my way is to write out my thoughts. I stayed up late the night I heard the news and the following words poured out.

I want to share my thoughts with you as a tribute to a man who taught me so much and in the hopes that his life provides lessons for us all: to be kind to everyone, to be generous (his favorite saying was “good begets good”) to dream big and never be afraid to go after those dreams. My friend Carl lived a big life, he had big dreams, big appetites, and the biggest heart of anyone I have ever met. But he was also very simple too: he was proud of his family, loved his friends and lived to bring a smile to the faces of all who crossed his path. And so it was…he was a gift to so many.


What can you say about a man who changed your life?

A man who changed so many lives.

So many lives….

Great people change the world’s they inhabit and even when they leave this world, their impact, their care, concern, work, ideas, love, and friendship remain. They continue to brighten our lives for having lived so well.

Carl DeSantis was an amazing man. Just an amazing man. We throw that word around frequently, but Carl was truly wondrous. He believed in miracles and made them happen. He believed that anything was possible and if he was involved that was true.

He made a dent in this world and all I can say is look out heaven because your newest resident is one of a kind.

Our Carl always found a way to beat the odds; again and again with a smile and a style all his own. He made us feel good about life…and he modeled generosity, kindness, and love. Oh, there was mischief too…but always in a good and gentle manner. He was a good and gentle man.

But he was also a force of nature. A whirlwind of energy and ideas.

Great people make things happen; even the seemingly impossible.

They blow away the status quo and transform people, industries, and communities.

My friend Carl DeSantis did all those things and more. “And more”…he said those words often.

“Celsius does this and that” we would tell him. And he would say “and more” and those words went on the can for a while…..we had a lot of different cans and a lot of different words on those cans. Because Carl always wanted more. G-d bless him.


He saw further, he dreamed bigger, he took huge risks and he always wanted more for everyone in his universe. Carl was always climbing mountains. Always looking for worlds to conquer, new problems to solve.

When I speak to people who know and love Carl—and to know Carl is to love Carl—the first word they often use to describe him is “generous.”

Carl was always looking for ways to help people. All people, literally everyone he came across.

He sat with titans of industry, and he treated them the same as the person who bussed his table or cut his grass. He loved people. And they adored him because he was respectful, and kind and he stood out from the masses because of those wonderful traits.

If you told Carl that someone was ill or hurt, he would often well up with tears. He had the biggest heart.

If you were lucky enough to be in his orbit, you would quickly describe your life in the following way: Pre-Carl and Post-Carl.

If Mr. D saw something in you, he would change your life. It was just that simple and just that wonderful.

Great men like Carl make a lasting splash and the ripples of that splash go beyond anything that even someone with his infinite vision could have conceived of.

So yes, those of us in his “inner circle” were the most fortunate, but his vision, his investments, his entrepreneurial spirit changed entire industries and impacted the world.

He made his first fortune by transforming the vitamin industry with Rexall Sundown and then he revolutionized the energy drink category with Celsius. His vision, his resilience, his belief and his old-fashioned moxie benefited thousands of employees, vendors, retailers, suppliers, shareholders and partners. And millions of consumers….

My friend was a game changer.

And his vision will continue to transform our world as the next generation of Carl’s ideas and investments grow and succeed. Tabanero hot sauce, hatched after a visit to Mexico (“let’s take on Tabasco!” he said and here we are), real estate, restaurants, office buildings and more. And more. Always more.

There’s no doubt, Carl was a world-class entrepreneur…and others will chronicle his many successes in the coming months and years. But I want to talk about the man.

I met Carl over 20 years ago at a charitable function in Palm Beach. Someone pointed him out to me and said it would be a good idea to walk over and introduce myself. So, I did. I had known of Carl, but I had never met him.

We spoke at that event for a few moments—moments, not minutes— and despite owning property in Delray we never interacted when I was an elected official. But my phone rang when I was term limited and so my adventure with Carl began.

He saw something in me. And that’s how he works. At Rexall Sundown, he hired an ex-narcotics detective to run sales because he saw something in that man—and he was right. He hired his driver and good buddy Jimmy because he had a good feeling about him. Many of us at CDS International Holdings were brought into his world because he saw something in us, that maybe we didn’t even see or know about ourselves.

Carl and I had many heart to heart conversations over the years. He believed that G-d had blessed him with what he called “an innate” gift…he knew what products would work and what would fail and he knew people.

He didn’t believe in pedigree, he believed in his gut instincts. So when he met Nick the police detective, he didn’t worry about whether he had a background in sales….he just knew that Nick would get the job done. And I guess when he met me, he knew he wanted me involved in his various adventures. And so I became a very lucky man and my story is not unique because so many can tell the same story.

Being in Carl’s universe is a magical experience….He didn’t think like anyone else, he saw the world differently… he was not afraid to dream big. He was a man of action and a man of endless courage and resilience.

From the outside, it may seem like Mr. D lived in a charm life and there is no doubt that he was blessed. But he endured so much…physical pain, injuries and setbacks that would have leveled a lesser man. But he met every challenge with strength and grace. We can learn a lot from his example.

A few years back, I had a near death experience with a terrible case of covid and violent pneumonia that ravaged my lungs. Many people came to my aid and saved me, and one of them was Carl. Because I learned from his example—I tried to summon his resilience.

During my time of need, Carl told me that he knew in his heart that I would make it…and I hung onto that intuition because I had seen that intuition work wonders. Carl believed in Celsius, when every expert would have said give up. Carl fought every health scare, when doctors would have told him that it’s not possible…he somehow made it through to live, laugh and love another day.

This last season of Mr. D’s remarkable life was not easy….but we witnessed his boundless courage, rock solid faith, remarkable strength and endless generosity even as we saw him slip away.

We saw these magnificent traits manifest themselves through his belief in G-d and Carl’s legendary capacity to fight through adversity. We saw it in his love for his family, friends and his angel Judy. And we saw it in his decision to set up a foundation so that we may help people for decades to come.

Today, those who love Carl have a hole in our hearts.

You see the special people in our lives fill our hearts to the brim, they enrich us in so many ways, and we feel their loss immensely. Losing Carl is like losing the rain…he’s been that fundamental to our lives.

Still, despite our sadness, we can take comfort that Carl is in heaven… we can rejoice that we crossed paths with this wonderful man, and we can resolve to learn from his example by continuing to do work that would make him proud and by treating people with kindness and dignity.

He will live forever in our hearts and deeds….


The Heat Is On

Reminiscent of our politics. Locked in combat, where all “sides” lose.

Congratulations you have just experienced and survived the warmest month in the history of the world.

 Yep. It’s in hot out there.

The ocean temperatures off the coast of Florida have reached hot tub levels.
We are using phrases like “ heat dome”, a description I had never heard before this year but now you can’t turn on the news without hearing those words.
I don’t know about you, but I find the situation daunting.
I’m writing this from the comforts of Southern Maine, where this morning the temperature was 58 degrees.
I’m here for a few weeks in large part to escape the heat. After 36 years living in South Florida, the heat and humidity have officially gotten to me. I don’t like it.
I’m fortunate to be here, and I certainly don’t mean to rub it in, but I am beginning to believe that all of us in our own way will be doing what we can to avoid the heat.
I think we will look back on the summer of 2023 as the year where climate change became real for a majority of people who are experiencing what it means and how it will impact our lives.
I’m hearing reports of local businesses altering hours because of strained A/C systems and watching the comments from friends on social media about their frustration with day after day of 100 plus degree days if you consider the “heat index” the final word, and I do.
Yes, 2023 is the year we will look back on.
But what will we do about it?
That’s always the question isn’t it?
Here in Maine, there is a big push to install heat pumps to get homeowners off heating oil.
They are talking about an influx of residents from warm weather states, climate refugees moving here to avoid the heat.
There is worry about the  heat here as well, with Portland recently setting a few records.
Maine may grow in popularity as a result of the changes we are seeing.
But for places like Florida and Arizona, the heat poses a threat to future economic growth.
Futurist David Houle recently caused a stir with a series of predictions about Florida’s future which used words like environmental collapse, and mass migration out of the state.
Houle himself is moving from Sarasota to Chicagoland, in part to escape the heat and what he sees as a toxic political environment with leadership putting their own agendas above the state’s welfare.
While Houle is a highly respected futurist, I think some of his predictions may be a bit overblown. But only a bit.
Our climate is a challenge.
I’m a great believer in innovation and in humankind’s ability to adapt.
 But the first step toward solving a problem is acknowledging you have one. The second step is working together to find a solution.
Right now, we are doing neither.
In Freeport, Maine LL Bean has a flagship store with a rather sad but fascinating display. The exhibit is called “The Final Charge” and it features two bull moose whose antlers became entangled. Sadly, the moose died and now these majestic creatures are preserved by taxidermy for shoppers to gawk at.
Honestly, I find it sad and emblematic of what happens when opponents fail to compromise. Both sides starve. And both sides die.
And that’s where we seem to be these days on so many issues large and small, including climate change which I believe is the biggest issue of all.
But maybe just maybe we will find a way to work together to save our planet.
 The heat of 2023 may just be the tipping point that spurs action  and innovation. This record setting summer—still burning on- is just the beginning.
We’ve been warned and warmed. It’s time to do what we can to save the only home we will ever have.

[Read more…]

Here’s To The Civic Entrepreneurs

Civic entrepreneurs have joined together on a vision for The Set neighborhood.

Last week’s column on entrepreneurship seemed to strike a chord.

I heard from readers who shared their youthful entrepreneurial adventures and others who either built, are building or thinking of starting a business.
Thanks for the feedback, it’s always fun and helpful to hear from you.
Writing about the energy drink business also got me thinking about the concept of civic entrepreneurship and my strong belief that you can bring the entrepreneurial mindset to government.
In fact, I’d argue that every one of our societal challenges would benefit from a little ingenuity, the kind that our best entrepreneurs bring to the job every day.
And I’d also argue that our discontent over problems going unsolved is because often government (on all levels) play defense instead of offense.
This is understandable given the public nature of the roles. When Mayors and city managers fail—they do so publicly with all the ramifications that entails—bad press, social media trolls hammering away at your reputation and the prospect of losing the next election or being publicly fired.
Private sector entrepreneurs struggle and fail privately—unless they are high profile people to start with.
But in the public sector, there is no hiding.
I made plenty of mistakes during my seven years as an elected official. I was told by a mentor that the best you can do is vote your conscience with the information you have at the time they call the roll.
Oftentimes, hindsight is 20/20 but hopefully you learn and don’t repeat mistakes.
When I served as mayor, I told our excellent staff to think of themselves as civic entrepreneurs—I wanted them to share their ideas and expertise. We made our own decisions, but we needed and respected the staff’s input before the vote. I think that’s why staff exists; to share their knowledge of urban planning, municipal finance, engineering, public safety and redevelopment.
If input is neither sought nor desired, staff becomes paper pushers and we end up with the type of bureaucracy we loathe—soulless, devoid of passion, a slave to the way it’s always been done.
Because it’s safe.
In the private sector if you don’t make decisions you miss opportunities. I’ve learned (the hard way) that time is not your friend. But in government, sadly, kicking the can down the road is often the way to keep your job.
In order to foster an environment of civic entrepreneurship, leaders need to convey a clear vision and then empower their teammates to move that vision forward. It’s counter intuitive, but you must be free to make mistakes so that you can learn as an organization.
We used to tell staff, it’s Ok to try something. We aren’t on the dais signing death warrants, most mistakes are not fatal, and we might learn something even if things don’t work out as planned.
Scared bureaucracies seize up, empowered bureaucracies innovate.
And my friends we need innovation-at all levels.
It starts with leaders and a society willing to stop playing “gotcha” and start rewarding those willing to try some new approaches to the challenges and opportunities facing us.
The cities that become special are entrepreneurial. They empower and support civic entrepreneurs.
When I think of Delray, I can’t help but appreciate the various civic entrepreneurs who have impacted our landscape and the quality of our lives.
Frances Bourque changed the game when she dreamt up Old School Square infusing culture and a sense of community into a town that was struggling at the time.
A few blocks west, Vera Farrington conceived of the S.D. Spady Museum and now we have a museum that tells the story of African Americans in our city. It’s a rich history and now it’s preserved.
I am also pleased to see the creation of The Set, which is a strong brand and sense of identity for the neighborhood west of Swinton that extends to I-95. That brand was created by civic entrepreneurs.  You can feel the pride of place when those engaged citizens talk about The Set. That kind of pride and passion can move mountains.
Nancy Stewart-Franczak is another special civic entrepreneur who brought events to Delray Beach that helped build our community’s reputation while growing the economy.
Nancy is creative, hard working and passionate about Delray. She has made a lasting contribution.
I can go on, but let’s just say that civic entrepreneurs build communities. They invest, they create and they build.
When they arrive in your town, embrace them, encourage them, work with them.
If you’re a leader, they will make you look good. The formula for political success is easy; work with the doers and the dreamers. Support and nurture them. Dream alongside them.
Don’t chase them away. Help them shine and watch your city thrive.

Here’s to the Entrepreneurs

A friend of mine launched an energy drink last week.

His goal: nothing short of building the biggest beverage company on the planet.

Of course, the odds of that happening are long. Probably better than winning the recent Powerball (you have a 1 in 292.2 million chance of landing the massive prize) but long,nonetheless.

But daunting odds don’t dissuade entrepreneurs. In fact, the more people scoff at their dreams the more motivated they become to prove everyone wrong.

I respect  that mindset, it’s that kind of thinking that changes the world.

And that’s why I love entrepreneurs. I admire them too.

I appreciate the energy, grit, belief, and passion they bring to their endeavors.

My friend is confident in his vision. Some might say he’s cocky,but I know better.

It’s not ego or overconfidence that drives people like my friend. It’s not even the outsize rewards that come if you succeed.

Sure, the money has meaning. I suppose it’s a way of keeping score, but riches are not the only motivation.

Nope, the entrepreneurs I’ve seen up close are after something more. Something deeper and more meaningful.

They want to prove something.

They look at the world differently; they are opportunity scouts seeking to solve problems or fill a void.

Entrepreneurs want to create something special: a hit product, a resonant brand, a movement.

It’s not easy to do any of those things. The world is a crowded place, it’s hard to get noticed over the din, and it’s darn near impossible to break through and make a dent in the marketplace.

Building a successful company is a complicated endeavor with hundreds of tasks and moving parts to navigate. There are potholes galore, lots of hard work and sleepless nights worrying about all sorts of things.

But people like my friend do it anyway.

They have no choice. It’s who they are. They are driven to act. Driven to try.

I’ve been involved in the energy drink business for 15 years—years spent on the inside and now years on the periphery.

The name of the company I know a little about is Celsius.

Celsius started in a small office/warehouse on 4th Avenue in Delray Beach and has grown from the humblest beginnings to a publicly traded international company with a market cap of over $11 billion.

Pepsi took a stake in the company recently and the stock has become a Wall Street darling. Here’s some stats: year to date the stock has a return of about 44 percent, far outpacing the S & P 500. The one-year return is about 91 percent, the three-year return has been 1,059 percent (not a typo) and the five-year return has been 3,215 percent (also not a typo).

Yes, the past few years have been amazing to witness. The team at Celsius has done extraordinary things; sometimes life exceeds your wildest dreams. And this has happened—somewhat quietly—right here in Delray Beach and now in bigger digs in Boca.

But the road to success was years and years long and full of land mines.

The company went from the pink sheets to Nasdaq only to get delisted before getting back on the exchange.

The little company that dreamed big got on the shelves of the nation’s top retailers only to lose distribution when the product didn’t move. Then the team of believers got those shelves back and now the product is flying—likely to $1 billion in annual sales.

It’s been a remarkable story. Ups and downs, amazing characters who came and went and wildly talented people who ultimately made it stick.

I think it would make a great Netflix series.

The story of the little company that kept chipping away until something magical happened. It’s a uniquely American  saga.

Through it all, there was an entrepreneur who believed.

His name is Carl DeSantis and he never stopped believing even when conventional wisdom would have said: “hey, enough is enough. You gave it a go.”

But my friend Carl never stopped believing. Every setback meant he was one step closer to success.

Entrepreneurs fail forward.

It’s something to behold. Truly something to behold.

My friend—with the new company— knows all this.

He’s built a company before, from scratch. That experience will help.

He understands resilience. He’s still hungry.

In that way, he reminds me of Carl who also built a business before Celsius. The success of Rexall Sundown would have enabled Carl to sail off into the sunset. But entrepreneurs can’t turn it off. They are what they are. They want to solve problems, they want to create, they want to disrupt. They want to win.

As Steve Jobs said: ““Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Honoring A Special Friendship By Seeding The Future

Carl DeSantis and Jerry Kay in NYC circa 2018.

Longtime friendships are magical.

They feed our souls and enrich our lives. And sometimes, when they are really special, they enrich the lives of others.

When I see old friends, my mind instantly scans the years. I can still picture my buddies as young men, with everything in front of them. Of course, we are now 40 and 50 years older, so the “boys” are well into middle age or dare I say it: old age.  As my friend Scott reminds us: how many 116 year-olds do you know?

He’s right, but we aren’t old—yet. Hopefully, we will get there. Together.

Regardless, as we age, I can still see the boy in every face. I know their laughs; I know their voices and their expressions. I still see the 8-year-old and the 18-year-old when I talk to the 58-year-old.

It’s oddly comforting.

Once again, old friends are top of mind.

Recently, the foundation I’m involved with—the Carl Angus DeSantis Foundation—honored a special friendship between our namesake and his best friend Jerry Kay, who passed away suddenly in March.

Below is the story.

It’s a good one and I wanted to share it because friendship is one of life’s biggest blessings.

Many of us at CDS International Holdings—where I work—got to witness the chemistry between Carl and Jerry. We relished hearing the stories of long-ago adventures and we happily tagged along as these two gentlemen—who are gentle men—made new memories.

Please enjoy, and if you are so inclined, call an old friend. We never know how long we have left.


Entrepreneur Carl DeSantis’s gift pays tribute to the legacy of his lifelong friend and business partner E. Gerald “Jerry” Kay.


By Debbie Meyers


Carl DeSantis began his entrepreneurial journey in the 1970s by running his home-based, mail order vitamin and herbal supplement company out of his garage in Florida. Meanwhile, up in New Jersey, after years of working with his father in the nutrition industry, E. Gerald “Jerry” Kay became the sole owner of Manhattan Drug Company.


When DeSantis and Kay met, they had an immediate connection. DeSantis’s spark and drive moved Kay to invest in him. DeSantis’s business flourished to become Rexall Sundown, one of the world’s largest vitamin manufacturers, which DeSantis sold in 2000. Kay’s enterprise also experienced growth as he founded Integrated BioPharma, a company which manufactures, distributes, and sells vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal products.


Kay died in March 2023, weeks before his 87th birthday. To honor his lifelong friend and supporter’s memory, DeSantis’s foundation has given $1.25 million to establish an endowed scholarship in Kay’s name for students enrolled in a Rutgers nutrition program.


“Since Mr. Kay was a pioneer in the nutritional field, we thought it made sense to support the next generation of leaders in that space,” says Jeff Perlman, a director of the Carl Angus DeSantis Foundation. “We researched several programs and were deeply impressed by Rutgers. Since Mr. Kay lived and worked in New Jersey, choosing Rutgers felt right. It’s a wonderful university.”


Laura Lawson, executive dean of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, says the scholarship will benefit students in the school’s Department of Nutritional Sciences, which is ranked tenth nationally for undergraduate and master’s programs in nutrition. “We are honored that the Carl Angus DeSantis Foundation has chosen to memorialize Mr. Kay’s memory through the E. Gerald Kay Scholarship in support of nutritional sciences students,” Lawson says. “This scholarship will help to ease our students’ financial burdens and allow them to develop careers that will support the common good, improving health locally and globally.”


In addition to undergraduate students majoring in the nutritional sciences program, of which there are 150, any undergraduate studying nutrition at Rutgers will be eligible for the scholarship. This includes students in the School of Public Health and the School of Health Professions.


Perlman says the DeSantis Foundation created this scholarship as homage to Kay, someone who gave DeSantis years of joy and friendship. Their friendship took them on travels and adventures all over the world. Their professional relationship endured, and they were advisers to each other’s businesses for decades.


“The common thread for both men was entrepreneurship—they were always discussing ideas for new businesses, new products, new packaging, and exciting marketing campaigns,” Perlman says. “As much success as they had, they never stopped dreaming. For them, it was less about financial success and more about the process and whether they could create something consumers would benefit from. It’s inspiring to be around that kind of passion because it is so rare.”


They ultimately were passionate about supporting good health. “Health and nutrition are inextricably linked—you can’t have one without the other,” Perlman says. “Since health is so important to a good life, the advancement of nutrition is essentially an investment in people. We’re hoping that the next generation can be as innovative as Carl and Jerry have been so that we can improve the health and quality of life for people all over the world.”


Kay’s daughters, Christina Kay and Riva Sheppard, continue to follow the family’s vocation as executive officers of both Manhattan Drug Company and Integrated BioPharma, which are based in Hillside, New Jersey. “My dad was a dedicated family man,” Christina Kay says. “Family also included the staff present and past at the company and great friends he met during his 60-plus years in the business. He loved life and went to the office every day, even if just to say hello to Riva, me, and his work family.”


Sheppard adds, “Our family is honored, especially our mother and his wife, Heidi Kay, that his name will be remembered for years to come through the E. Gerald Kay Scholarship. Our father—a man who believed that a balanced lifestyle is key to longevity—would have been thrilled that many will be given the opportunity to pursue their interest in the industry that he dedicated his life to along with his best friend Carl.”