Here’s To The Best Of The Rest

Chip Conley, a former advisor to AirBNB is now guiding people through mid life.

I listened to a terrific podcast recently.

It was about middle age.

Midlife is interesting, isn’t it?
It’s the only part of life that is often followed by the word ‘crisis’.

But we try to stay somewhat positive in this space so let’s reframe middle age as a time to blossom.

As Dylan sang: “It’s not dark yet.”

No, Bob it is not. But it’s fall and you can see winter just over the horizon.

Still, there are some things we can do if we wish to live to a ripe old age.

You need three things to live to 100 according to Chip Conley, the founder of the Modern Elder Academy which helps middle-aged people find meaning in the second half of life.

Purpose.

Community.

Wellness.

Find those three things, says Conley, and you will add years to your life and life to your years.

Let’s take a closer look.

Purpose—well that’s easy when you’re young. You wake up and you build. You build a career, you raise a family, you find your place in the world. But as you age, things shift. Maybe what you were passionate about at 35 doesn’t float your boat at 55. We must reinvent.

I’ll share what Chip Conley says on this subject. He got this from Carl Jung.

“Imagine that you are standing outside on a sunny day. Think of yourself as a sundial. In the morning, as the sun rises, you cast a long shadow in one direction. As the morning continues, your shadow gets shorter and shorter until, at noon, you cast no shadow at all—with the sun being directly overhead. This implies that by midlife we can lose our sense of identity as we strive to live up to others’ expectations. Yet, there is a profound change in the later stages of our lives.”

Jung continues, “But in the afternoon of life, something new happens. We begin to cast a shadow again.”

As author John Tarnoff infers, “the key difference is that the shadow is lengthening away from us in a new, opposite direction from the one it took during the morning. This metaphor encourages us to redefine ourselves, extending into new territories as we mature, which can be seen as an essential aspect of shaping our legacy.”

That’s a lot to chew on. Hey, it’s Carl Jung!

But basically, what he’s saying is that you can stay young by redefining yourself. You can remain vibrant and purposeful by learning new things. I see a few examples in my life.

My friend Joe in Raleigh, N.C. learned to ride a one-wheel. One wheeling has become Joe’s passion. He races and has found a community with those who share his love of speed (and spills).

My friend Randy learned to play guitar and now he sends his friends videos of songs that actually sound like music. I’m not saying he’s Bruce Springsteen, but he’s good and I don’t have to refinance my house to see him play live.

And of course, there’s my wife who learned Mahjongg, and now basically runs a Mahjongg parlor out of our dining room.

Some people try new businesses, some learn new languages and others travel, volunteer, garden, read, write, or learn how to dance.

It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you have a purpose other than watching TV, which, sadly. is the avocation of so many in middle age.

Community-–I love this one. Find your tribe, Conley advises. Get involved, join Kiwanis, find a group to run/walk 5K’s. It doesn’t matter. Community is essential to long life and happiness.

Wellness—Illness starts with the letter “I”—which is a metaphor for being alone. Wellness starts with the word “we”—which is another way of saying that purpose and community creates well-being.

My friends and I are well into middle-age, which Conley defines as 35 (kind of young if you ask me) to 70 (that’s encouraging).

As close readers know, I have a set of childhood friends that I visit via Zoom every two weeks. I cherish these friendships, our common history, and the fact that we care about each other like brothers.

We started this Zoom “happy hour” during Covid, to reconnect and stay close during a trying time for everyone.

And we’ve kept it going.

We are all turning 60 in 2024, except for one guy who is a year younger but who is an honorary sexagenarian. That’s the honest to goodness word for people between the ages of 60 and 69. I will resist the obvious joke here because this is a serious and G-rated blog.

Pause….

Anyway, we’ve decided to get together IRL (in real life) this year to celebrate. The guys will be coming from New York, New Jersey, California, Wisconsin, Virginia, and North Carolina to spend some quality time with each other.

We have decided what we do not want—and that’s anything that could be considered epic—at least in the traditional sense of the word.

No Burning Man.

No Bungee cords.

No jumping out of planes (a few of us did that; it did not work out well for me) and no places where motorcycle gangs might want to hang out (we did that too and lived to tell stories about the experience so why press our luck).

We just want to be together and laugh, talk, and share.

But even the sharing has been redefined. Back in the day, we roomed together. We used to be able to sleep in cars, on beaches, and one time on a cold hard table in a dorm TV room in Buffalo, N.Y. (Don’t ask).

Happily, those days are gone. They are never to return.

As a result, we are designing this trip around snoring and prostates—-everyone gets his own room and restroom.

This reunion will be driven by conversation, shared memories, and aspirations for the future. That sounds epic to this soon to be sexagenarian.

 

 

 

 

 

The Wish

Peace on Earth in 2024…

“I waited patiently for the Lord

He inclined and heard my cry

He lifts me up out of the pit

Out of the miry clay”- U2 from the song “40”

What a beautiful song.

Beauty beyond exaggeration.

The best songs transport you. This song surely does—the Irish rock band U2 is among the best ever.

‘40’ was the last track recorded for the “War” album. Bono called the song “40” because he took the lyrics from Psalm 40, written by King David.

Psalm 40 reminds us that a higher power holds onto us during the good and the bad days. It’s a reminder that G-d isn’t done with us yet. Though things may look grim now, there’s hope for better days to come.

Not to get all spiritual with you, but hey tis the season to do just that.

2023 has been a tough year…war, terrorism, mass shootings, political division, ghastly weather events you get the drift.

It’s easy to get lost in the miry clay, as the song says.

But I don’t want us to get stuck, I don’t want us to get lost. I long for us to build a resilient community, adaptable to change, proactive, not reactive, empathetic not vindictive.

We desperately need some counterprogramming and that’s what I am going to serve up for my last blog of the year.

We live in an increasingly complex world and yet the keys to contentment are simple: good love, good friends, a safe place to lay your head, health, hope and meaningful work/purpose.

May you have all those things and fun too.

I’ve come to believe in the power of traditions—and recently I had a chance to continue one. The best traditions are something you look forward to, they enrich you in ways that cannot be quantified.

Every year, around this time, I meet old friends at Arturo’s, a wonderful restaurant oozing with old world charm.

We are an eclectic bunch, most are retired Delray cops, a former pro baseball player, a legendary local restauranteur, a has-been former mayor (me) and this year— for the first time ever— we invited a retired firefighter to join us.

Why?
“Because everyone loves the firefighters,” according to my police officer friends. That is true.

We tell old stories, catch up on the new stuff in our lives, eat wonderful Italian food, laugh, and generally bask in each other’s presence.

It’s a brotherhood of sorts. The affection is palatable. There is nothing these guys wouldn’t do for each other.

I love listening to the stories—police officers have the best stories. They have seen so much.

As I listen, I secretly wish there was a way to share these tales with everyone who lives in our city. They would hear about how North Federal Highway was once a “den of iniquity” with prostitutes, hourly motels, and an adult bookstore.

They would hear tales of long-ago closed nightclubs rife with violence and stories of how gory crimes were solved. And I can’t help but believe that if my neighbors heard these stories, they would be amazed at what’s transpired in our village. Those who know… well they know. But there are so many newcomers, so many doubters and so many people who just don’t know where we came from.

I think our story is a remarkable one. That’s what drives me to write every week.

I have so much respect and admiration for what the Delray Beach Police Department brings to this town. The Fire department too. There’s a reason why “everyone loves the firefighters.”

It is because they are there when we need them to protect our loved ones and our property. The profession attracts good people—wired for service and able to make sense out of chaos. They save lives every day. It’s extraordinary and wonderful.

At the end of the evening, we gather for a group photo. We’re closing the place.

Every year, we have a little less hair on our heads and the hair that’s left is grayer. But the camaraderie grows stronger every year. So does my appreciation. Friendship deepens with time if we open our hearts.

Yes, traditions are good.

Men are notorious for bottling up our feelings. We don’t say out loud what we feel in our hearts. But as we get older and we lose friends and see others enter the waiting room so to speak, we begin to feel a sense of urgency. We reach out, we speak out, we say words out loud. And it feels good to do so.

We summarize because we don’t know if there will be another year. We hope the tradition continues until the last man is standing, but we don’t know when that time will come, and we are keenly aware of our mortality.

Everyone at the table last week has experienced loss: Loss of a loved one, personal health struggles, loss of a career or an identity, loss of innocence and loss of infinite possibilities. Life is finite and time is precious.

But the best part of aging is that we let our let our guard down. And so, when we meet, we sum up. This year, I was given the gift—unexpected– of some kind words from a group of men I deeply admire. And that’s the kind of gift that makes someone rich.

Maya Angelou said people will forget what you said, but they won’t forget how you made them feel.

If you make people feel good about themselves and about their contributions, you have given them the best gift possible.

I want to thank you for visiting with me every Monday. Extra thanks to those who read to the end. Have a wonderful Christmas and see you in 2024.

 

 

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….

 

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.”

The Power of Waves

 

Sometimes life crashes into you; like a wave.

You can be cooking along on autopilot only to be floored by a bit of news…. or a work of art.

When that happens— when the waves hit—you get snapped out of your rhythm. You’re reminded that you’re human; fragile, vulnerable, at risk.

In some cases, the waves are beautiful. They knock you over in a good way. You shake your head and marvel at all this world has to offer.

But sometimes a wave knocks you over and fills your lungs with dread. You’re left breathless, as if you’ve been punched before having a chance to brace yourself.

I’ve had four such waves hit me in recent weeks.

Two of the waves may seem silly, but they’re not. A great piece of art can reach deep, where it matters most. Art can take many forms—sculpture, a painting, music, or a TV show that touches you in a profound way and leaves you with a new perspective.

And sometimes, a wave can come via a text from a friend who tells you that something awful has happened.

In one text, we learned of the suicide of a friend’s 20-something daughter and in another we learned of the death of another friend’s 38-year-old daughter felled by a stroke. Both waves hit hard.

When you cherish your friend’s, when you open your heart to a kindred spirit, it’s a wonderful thing: an antidote to America’s crisis of loneliness. But you also become vulnerable to heartbreak. Bad things happen to good people and when they do you ache.

When my mother passed away in 1998 at the age I am now, the pain I felt was unlike anything else I had ever experienced. At the time, I sought solace in the book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Rabbi Harold Kushner who passed away earlier this year.

“Pain is the price we pay for being alive,” he wrote. “Dead cells—our hair, our fingernails—can’t feel pain; they cannot feel anything. When we understand that, our question will change from, “Why do we have to feel pain?” to “What do we do with our pain so that it becomes meaningful and not just pointless empty suffering?”

That’s a question worth thinking about.

Globally, 1 in 100 deaths are by suicide. That’s a stunning figure.

There are no words or deeds we can offer my friend or any other person who has lost a loved one to suicide to make up for that loss, but we sure feel the pain.

And there are no words to soothe our hearts when a young talented woman is lost to a devastating stroke at a young age.  We take some solace that her organs will give life to others, but we grieve. The waves leave a permanent scar.

Still, I come back to Rabbi Kushner’s question which I have been wrestling with since I read his words 25 years ago.

“What do we do with our pain so that it becomes meaningful and not just pointless empty suffering?”

I think the answer is we love others, and we aspire to fulfill our dreams and lead a good life.

And that leads me to the two good waves that hit recently.

I’m a fan of good writing and recently two of the best written TV series of all time ended their runs. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Ted Lasso” wrapped up their decorated runs with final episodes that were pitch perfect. Although I will miss both series immensely, I’m grateful for the artistry and the messages these shows provided during a tumultuous period in our world.

I’ve been studying playwriting recently and one of the main takeaways is that the best works contain a message, a point of view that propels the story forward.

For Mrs. Maisel, the message that drove the series was the importance of pursuing your dreams and never giving up even if the odds are stacked against you. So, despite setback after setback, Mrs. Maisel perseveres. She may wobble at times, but she always keeps her eyes on the prize. It’s a good lesson, because life is not easy and it’s sure not a straight shot to the top.

As for Ted Lasso, well….the message of that sweet show is the magic of love.  Ted Lasso is a show about love, made with love about the power of love.

There is no better message.

Some waves you want to lean into and ride because they’re beautiful and you want to be transported. Other waves knock you off your feet. Our world sure has its ups and downs.

“Upon us all, a little rain must fall,” the Led Zeppelin song says.

Indeed.

The Beatles answer with: “when it rains and shines, it’s just a state of mind.”

So true.

Here’s hoping you catch some good waves. And I hope that when you get hit with a bad one, that you find meaning in the pain and a way forward. Always a way forward.

 

 

Odds and Ends.

Bishop Stokes

A very special man, with Delray ties, retired last week and I can’t let the moment pass without saying thanks to a dear friend.

Chip Stokes, the former pastor of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on South Swinton Avenue, who left us in 2013 to become the 12th Bishop of New Jersey, retired from his post June 4. His last official visitation was at Trinity Cathedral in Trenton, where it all began for my friend and his lovely wife Susan.

Chip and Susan were a blessing to our community and for me, he was an important touchstone. Chip’s door was always open and even though we came from different faiths, I found solace in his advice and inspiration in his passion for community and social justice. He was a trailblazer in race relations, a trusted friend to many and a beloved pastor who is dearly missed.

I often turned to Chip for advice when I was feeling the weight of the world during my tenure as mayor which included the shooting of a young man named Jerrod Miller, numerous hurricanes and my strong desire to bridge the gap between the races in Delray Beach. I could always rely on Chip to listen, give sage advice, and to buoy my spirits. He was more important to me than I think he knew at a time when I really needed someone of his immense sensitivity to care. We shared a desire to improve race relations, a love of baseball, and a belief that the world could be a better place if we could somehow connect with our fellow human beings.

When he was being vetted for the Bishop’s job, a team of church leaders came to Delray Beach to talk to parishioners and community leaders about Chip. I was honored to be among those they interviewed. We met at the historic church on Swinton, a place where I would from time to time, to see my friend and I was asked about his impact on the community.

Something happened to me when I began to answer. It has never happened before and it hasn’t happened since. But as I described my friend and the love he had shown for our town, I found that tears were welling up in my eyes. I was surprised and a little embarrassed at the time, but the interviewers were kind and understanding. I knew in my heart that Chip would get the job; he was too gifted not too and I could tell by the questions that the interviewers were smart people. They would surely see what I saw in Chip, that he was a man with extraordinary leadership qualities. I would miss Chip, Delray would miss Chip, but we wanted him to get the job.

He did and he knocked it out of the park.

Reflecting on his Chip’s influence in Delray last week, I kept coming back to the words love and passion. The best leaders are full of love and passion for people. They have compassion as well.

And as I ache for my divided country and also my divided city, I realize that Chip’s example still teaches me; leadership cannot happen without love, passion and compassion. Fomenting hate and division is not leadership, it is the opposite.

I thank Bishop Stokes for his example. We haven’t seen each other in a long time, but we’ve remained in touch and his impact still resonates around these parts.

We wish Susan, Chip and his New York Mets nothing but health and happiness.

 

The Teachers In Our Midst

The chiefs who left a legacy: Kerry Koen and Rick Overman attending the Bronze Star ceremony at Old School Square for retired Officer Skip Brown.

If you’re lucky, teachers show up in your life long after you’ve tossed your last mortar board in the air.

I’m lucky.

I’ve been blessed with the best teachers imaginable.

They’ve taught me lessons large and small. They’ve taught me things I didn’t know, and they have reminded me of things I may have forgotten but shouldn’t have.

The best teachers may not even know that they’re educators, they just share their hard-earned wisdom in doses you can absorb and at times when you need to hear what they have to say.

This piece is dedicated to my good friend Kerry Koen. To call Kerry a teacher is an understatement. He’s more like a professor and I’ve hung on to every word of his eloquent lectures for a long time now.

If the name Kerry Koen rings a bell, it’s because he’s a revered retired fire chief who served both Delray Beach and Boca Raton with distinction.

Chief Koen is universally respected, and that’s a rare thing these days.

Let’s face it; we’re a cynical lot, aren’t we? Not the good readers of this blog of course, but society as a whole.

We’ve become snarky and insensitive. We don’t give weight to expertise, service, integrity, intelligence, and kindness.

Institutions we once had faith in, we no longer trust.

But I still believe.

I believe in the good people I’ve met and grown to love and respect.

In the top tier of that list is my friend and teacher Kerry.

We became friends through my involvement in Delray—first as a reporter, later as a city commissioner and finally as a mayor and now way beyond that blip in my life.

Kerry had left Delray before I got elected and served Boca with distinction before being lured back by City Manager David Harden.

We had a solid relationship during my commission tenure; Kerry taught me a lot about the fire service and the challenges of serving a city as complex as Delray Beach.

Our downtown had come to life on his watch and while that was good, it presents challenges as well, especially if you are in the public safety business. Large crowds, lots of traffic, special events, tourists, alcohol. It’s a lot.

Then 9/11 happened and our world and our little city changed. Now when we rode with firefighters on the bright red engines and handed out treats on Halloween, we would receive calls from panicked parents concerned that the sugar spilled on the kitchen table from their kid’s candy buckets might be anthrax. We found out that several of the 9/11 plotters were living in our city—going to our library, filling prescriptions at our downtown pharmacy, attending our local gyms.

It was the end of the innocence. Our world was forever changed.

In dangerous times, we look for extraordinary leadership. Our little city had that with Chief Koen and Chief Rick Overman, who ran our police department.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that Mayor David Schmidt never lost sleep about doings at City Hall because he had faith in city staff. I’ve been thinking about that statement, and it was true for me as well.

I lost sleep over my ability to handle a racially charged shooting, hurricanes, and other controversies but I never lost sleep over whether our fire or police departments could protect and serve us.

I had faith in the men and women who served, and that faith continues today. And in my opinion, Kerry played a big role in building a magnificent Fire Department that continues to serve us long after his retirement.

We can trust that when we dial 911 that we will receive top-notch services. We can trust that if we face an emergency—manmade or Mother Nature- that we are in good hands.

Kerry’s superpower —so to speak— is to always see the big picture. He has an analytical mind and draws connections to the past and the future. He “sees” where we are headed and generously shares his thoughts which are prescient, deeply felt and ultimately hopeful.

He sees trends and is steeped in history.

But he’s also current and forward-thinking, which is of great help to those of us who cherish his friendship.

Still, I find myself thinking of his time as chief and how deeply I admired his approach to the job.

We are a diverse community and Kerry got out of his office at the main station on West Atlantic to engage with civic leaders. He grew close to people like Alfred “Zack” Straghn, a local civil rights icon, and he cultivated strong relationships with the people of Highland Beach. His department served Highland Beach and he took that mission to heart.

The relationship between Delray and Highland Beach was win-win and now that’s gone. Losing that contract is a loss for both municipalities—a mistake that I would wager would not have happened if Kerry could have helped it.

After my 7 years of service, Kerry vowed to stay in touch. And he did. He made the effort. We began to meet for lunch and conversation. There were phone calls and emails too. Every interaction is memorable. He taught and I listened and learned.

He sent me interesting pieces to read, suggested subjects for this blog, shared wonderful photos of his travels and coached me through my ups and downs.

He showed me things—passages from books, meaningful quotes, historical tidbits and invited me into his home to show me a fire bell display he had built over time.

He has such unique insights. He sees the things I miss. He changes how I view issues and how I see the world itself.

And remarkably, I am not alone. There is a large cohort of us who benefit from Kerry’s generous intellect. He has “groups” in Boca and Delray—connections in Chicago, Memphis and Illinois that he tends too lovingly.

Some of us know each other and we marvel at his capacity to build and sustain relationships.

When I think of the richness of this world, how much there is to know, experience and learn, I get overcome with gratitude.

The experts say there is an epidemic of loneliness in this world. Last week, loneliness was labeled a public health issue.

There is no vaccine for loneliness, but there is a remedy: connection.

These days my community involvement is much smaller than it used to be. Some of it is cultural, (Delray is a different place but a new day has dawned!), some of it is where I am in life and in my career, but I’ve tried to keep up as best I can with the special people. We may not see each other much, but the connection is there.

The ties that happily bind us all.

With Kerry Koen it’s easy, because he makes the effort, checks in and because he cares so much.

He’s remarkable. A gift—- to so many lives. And for that I am  forever grateful.

 

 

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 Birthday To Savor

Scott Porten enjoying a past birthday and a cake made by Diane.

A good friend of mine sent me a nice text after last week’s blog.

It’s nice to hear from people who take the time out of their busy lives to spend a few minutes reading what you have to say.

My friend asked whether I write the blog in advance or the night before and the truth is I do both—it all depends on when and where the muse (or the news) strikes me.

He also said that he found inspiration in some of the tributes I have written to special people who have passed. All of this is good, and I am very thankful that my friend likes what I write, especially because he happens to be among the most well-read and curious people I’ve ever met. And I have met some curious and well- read people!

But it also struck me that I should write more about people before they pass on. We should show our admiration for those who enrich us while they are still here to appreciate us. In other words, if someone makes you happy tell them.

Which is a long-winded way of saying happy birthday to my friend Scott Porten.

I won’t say how old Scott is, but this birthday is a big one and it’s starts with an s. Hint: he’s not 70.

Inspired by our mutual friend Randy, I’m going to tell you about a very special person my family has come to know and love.

I met Scott 20 plus years ago when he was a young developer in a still redeveloping Delray Beach. Scott and his company did some landmark projects: The Estuary near Palm Trail and City Walk in Pineapple Grove are among the most memorable.

I admired both projects, not only for their quality and design but for the vision he exhibited.

Back in those days, Delray was not the no-brainer “sure thing” it would soon become, but a city trying to revitalize itself in the shadow of a successful neighbor—Boca Raton.

Scott’s two signature Delray projects showed faith in the future. The Estuary was in a part of town nobody wanted to touch in those days and City Walk was on a secondary street that was trying to forge an identity separate and distinct from Atlantic Avenue.

City Walk gave us Brule’ and Joseph’s and later Yama three excellent restaurants and several cool boutiques as well. The project featured beautiful residential units and replaced a coin-operated car wash in a part of Delray crying out for investment.

The building had a distinctive design and I think still looks good all these years later. I remember someone commenting at the time that the building didn’t have a pool or other traditional amenities and Scott saying that the street itself would be an amenity. That was a bold statement. But he was right.

I think Pineapple Grove may be my favorite street in all of Delray Beach—it seems to be a perfect blend of vibrant without being overwhelming, which come to think of it, describes my friend Scott.

Over the years, Scott and I have grown very close. He’s the kind of friend I’d call in the middle of the night not only because you can take his advice to the bank but also because he’s a night owl and he’ll take my call.

Scott is honest, intense (but in a good way), a devoted husband and father, a proud son and an all-around good guy. He has a terrific sense of humor, is scary smart and is fun to talk to about a wide array of subjects. And I mean a wide array: from politics and prostates to real estate and relationships, Scott can hold his own with just about anyone including our mutual friend Randy who is such a whirlwind of activity, learning and adventures that I would get tired typing up his itinerary for a given month. (If it’s Tuesday he must be mastering the guitar or sailing the Greek Isles).

They say you are a product of the five people you hang out with the most and if that’s true, I have a decent shot at a good life because Scott is easily in the top five.

They also say that you make the strongest friendships in childhood when you have the time and space to hang out. Many of you know that I still enjoy the friends I made as a kid growing up in Long Island. But I’ve been truly blessed to make such good friends in middle age. Scott is at the top of that list.

I enjoy people who care about things deeply…who are passionate about what they are passionate about.

Scott and I share a love for business, real estate, Delray Beach, local organizations, sports, and music. We also love restaurants that have great bars where you can sit and debate the day’s events.

We enjoy and practice the art of conversation and like to talk about our lives, children, past adventures and future hopes and aspirations. Dare I say it, but we also like to talk about how we feel about things. The old stereotype is men don’t like to “emote” or share. But guess what? Real men do—within reason of course— because we are not above calling each other out or poking fun at our weaknesses. Friends are also adept at making sure we keep our feet on the ground. Scott is good at keeping our circle anchored.

I admire so much about him but especially his desire to take care of people. He’s sincere, caring and consistently goes the extra mile. He does so many things so well.
He’s also a convener and has lunch clubs, happy hour groups and breakfast clubs that serve to keep disparate groups of friends together.

About the best thing I can say is that Scott Porten is a mensch, which is the highest compliment you can pay someone. A mensch is a person of integrity and honor. According to the great American humorist Leo Rosten, a mensch is “someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character.”

That’s my friend to a T.

Happy birthday Scott and a tip of the hat to the legendary Randy Smith for the inspiration to write about our buddy.

Remembering Bob….

Bob with Lori Levinson, Diane Colonna, Mr. and Mrs. Bobby Musco, Jon Levinson and Ron Hoggard during a conference out west.

On paper, Bob Costin and I shouldn’t have been friends.

He was tall. I’m short.

He loved the Red Sox, I love the Yankees.

He was a Republican, I’m a Democrat.

He wasn’t keen on Chinese food and loved lobster. I live for orange chicken and can’t even look at a lobster.

Bob Costin was 30 years older than me when we lost him last week. He lived a long and very good life, but losing him sure does hurt.

He’s family.

Diane and I love Bob and his lovely wife Sonya.

We are not alone.

Everyone who knew Bob —and there were many —loved him.

He was warm, funny, optimistic, smart, sensitive, caring, open-minded and lived one heck of a life.

Bob when he was president of FTD at the White House with Betty Ford. This image is in the Ford Presidential Library.

Bob and Sonya owned Costin’s florist in downtown Delray for decades and Bob became president of FTD, rising to the top of his profession. He travelled the world for FTD and was famously in Iran when the Shah was overthrown. He and his contingent had to run through the airport to escape when the country fell to the Ayatollah.

He told stories with gusto and wit and we hung on every word. I will miss those stories.

And I’ll miss the calls when we discussed the news of the day. We were different people from different generations but we always found common ground.

Diane grew close to Bob when he served as a CRA commissioner. He was a really good CRA commissioner and very supportive of staff and his fellow commissioners.

He would later run for and serve a term on the City Commission. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Bob on the dais. We called him the “high commissioner” in deference to his 6’5” height.

I relied on Bob. I truly did.

I valued his experience and his common sense wisdom.

He was the opposite of me in terms of temperament, and I needed his quiet mentoring.

He was calm, I was high strung. He had decades of perspective; I was still a young man in my 30s.

You can see Bob’s nameplate in this shot. He was a calming influence on the dais.

Having Bob on the commission gave us confidence and I knew he had my back. He had a sparkle in his eye when he looked at you that put you at ease even during the tensest of moments.

I knew he believed in what we were doing and that gave me comfort. He had a gentle way of framing issues and injecting humor and common sense into the conversations we were having with each other and with the community.

We were change agents. We were moving things forward, making noise, pushing ideas and driving hard and fast. But we were also having fun—largely because of Bob.

He set the tone.

And he calmed the waters too.

Bob would amble over to The Green Owl every morning where there used to be a table of civic fathers (all men, no women) who sat and held court.

I liked all the men who sat at the table—Ernie Simon, Mayor Leon Weekes, Charlie Gwynn, Ken Ellingsworth, Bob Miller, and a few others. All civic giants; all long-term players.

I think most were OK with me, but I wasn’t a peer. I wasn’t one of them. Bob was.

And if they had a beef with a decision we made, Bob explained the rationale behind the vote and smoothed the waters.

He knew how to lead with grace. Even when he disagreed with you; he was affable. He showed respect for others and he was respected by all as a result.

Bob Costin was old school.

A flip phone. No email.

When we would comment on the large volume of emails we were getting on a hot issue, Bob would smile.

“I didn’t get any,” he would say. “My modem must be down.”

And then he would laugh, that big, garrulous, wonderful and warm laugh.

I wish I had a dollar for every time he used the “modem” line which was always followed by that laugh.

I liked so much about Bob, but I loved three things the most.

First, his hunger for knowledge and his ability to keep an open mind.

Sometimes people of a certain vintage get a reputation of being closed off to change. Not Bob. He was willing to try things. Willing to take a leap.

“We have to keep up with the times,” he’d say. “People will understand.”

Bob and Diane in front of the Costin’s rock star RV.

I also loved how much he was devoted to Sonya, a teacher who ended up working alongside Bob at the florist. They were quite a pair, married for 65 years.

They did so much together. Travel, RV adventures, a dream lake house in Georgia and an occasional Red Sox game. Ugh, those Red Sox.

Bob would call me if the Sox beat the Yankees and rub it in.

I was not above giving it back to him.

When we invited Bucky Dent to get a proclamation on the 25th anniversary of his epic home run to beat the Sox at Fenway in 1978, Bob whipped out a Red Sox cap as Bucky came to the mic.

It was an epic moment. And everyone, including Bucky, laughed.

They traded some good natured barbs and a special moment was made immortal.

Bob used to joke that he lived on Federal Highway before living on Federal Highway was cool.

The Costin’s had a cottage on U.S. 1 where Putt N Around now sits. He lived there before the townhomes made the neighborhood fashionable.

His cottage was moved and is now an office in the Old School Square Historic Arts District.

I drive by it frequently and last week when I passed by, I got a lump in my throat.

I remember Bob calling from Georgia and asking about his house after a hurricane. Would I go by and check on it?

Sure, Bob.

Of course, I would tell him that it was gone, trying my best to sell that story, but all I heard was that laugh.

“You know Jeff,” he would say. “I would’ve emailed you, but my modem is down.”

Bob served two years on the commission, opening a seat for Rita Ellis to secure. Rita would follow me as mayor.

We continued to stay in touch, often going to dinner—but never Chinese.

“Next time, Jeff,” he would say.

So, we kept going to Longhorn and a few times to Il Girasole.

We talked Delray. We talked national news. We met up at a wedding in Italy. We met Bob and Sonya’s  RV friends and we avoided Chinese food and email. And we talked about my kids.

And that’s my third favorite thing about Bob. He was genuinely concerned for your kids and family. He adored Commissioner Jon Levinson and his wife and their three daughters and attended many a dinner at their home, including holidays.

When I got Covid, Bob, who finally got a smart phone, texted me encouraging words. Every single day.

Don’t give up. He wrote.

You’ll be ok. He texted.

And I didn’t. And I was. Eventually.

Lately, Bob was sick.

Diane and I went to see him. He smiled. He looked different but still had that wonderful voice. His last words to us was “I love you guys.”

We said it back.

And now that he’s gone, I realize something. Bob’s modem was never down.

A modem is a device that that is used to transmit and receive information.

That was our Bob.

He brought us information from a place of goodness, kindness and love.

Love for people, love for community, love for Delray Beach.

We will miss this man. He was the high commissioner, a wonderful man and a friend to so so many.

We love you Bob.

The Costin’s in Georgia with Chuck and Pam Halberg.

The Ties That Happily Bind

Retired Delray Beach Police Officer Chuck Jeroloman.

Every year, around Christmastime, I get a text from a retired Delray Beach detective.

“It’s time to meet for dinner at Arturo’s Restaurant in Boca Raton.”

And every year, 5 to 7 of us, retired cops, a retired businessman and one washed-up politician (me) get together to catch up. They even let one retired firefighter attend. That’s a big concession for a police officer to make, but in the spirit of the season the invite is issued and usually accepted.

I look forward to this dinner.

In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, this event stands out for its warmth, its meaning and just the genuine feeling of camaraderie you get when you sit with old friends.

Even though we don’t see each other much, time just melts away when you are with certain people and you fall right back into the comfort of a good friendship.

I really admire and in some ways, I am envious of police officers and firefighters. They share a bond that unites them in a very special way.

To be sure, I’ve been blessed with some really special work and office friendships too. But there’s something different about cops and firefighters. It’s a next level connection.

Working in a newsroom, alongside talented writers, editors and photographers was a gift that I will always miss and remember fondly. My current office culture is special too. I’ve worked with incredible people and I am deeply appreciative of that experience and worry about what others who work remotely are missing.

Yes, I know it’s safer and convenient to work from home. It’s liberating as well because you can live anywhere that has an internet connection. But….

But you don’t get the closeness and the magic of what it’s like to see and interact with people every day.

But as special as my work environments have been—the richness and the bonds between police officers and firefighters is something else entirely. They refer to each other as brothers and sisters and they mean it.

When they lose a brother and a sister, they feel it deep in their souls because they shared so many adventures and stories.

As an old crime reporter, I know not all is bliss. There are cliques, divisions, politics and jealousies in police and fire departments. Combined with the stressful nature of the job, the dangers, the responsibility for life and property etc., you can see why many of the retirees are happy to be doing other things after long careers working long shifts. But…

They do miss it.

And oh, the stories they can tell.

I got to be very close with a generation of police officers and firefighters in Delray Beach. These men and women are remarkable.

Some of the newcomers to our community may not know that Delray was a rough place in the 80s and into the 90s too. Some neighborhoods were open air drug markets and there was a lot of drugs, guns and violence.

Remarkably, I was given carte balance to ride along with detectives, fugitive task forces, field training officers and the well-known and much respected “jump out” crews who tackled street level drug sales day and night.

I was a reporter in those days, and I kept crazy hours—riding in the back seat of police cruisers all night and ending with breakfast at a long gone IHOP on North Federal Highway before rushing back to the newsroom to write it all down before I forgot what happened. Over time, the officers I rode with began to trust me.

I strived to be accurate in my reporting. I tried to convey to readers what was happening on the streets of Delray through the eyes of the men and women tasked with serving and protecting us.

When fights broke out—and they did often—the always outnumbered cops waded into the fray. When someone got hurt, the paramedics were called in and were often pummeled with rocks too.

Delray was a long way from the posh, hip and trendy location it has become today. Commissioners didn’t have the luxury of arguing over sea grapes back then. In those days, it was about whether the city would ever turn it around.

I credit our public safety departments with making Delray safe for investment. They are the unsung heroes of Delray’s revitalization because if you don’t feel safe you can’t build community, you can’t attract residents, businesses, and tourists. You have nothing without public safety. Nothing.

So when I see gadflies whining about the costs of these departments I shrug. They just don’t know. Providing top-notch police and fire services is expensive. But it’s more expensive not to do so.

When I was elected to the City Commission in 2000, that was the one subject I felt very secure of  in terms of my knowledge. These officers, detectives, firefighters and paramedics took me to school, and I knew that my job as an elected official was to support their efforts which were bearing fruit. Crime rates went down. The relationship between officers and the community improved; trust was built through a deep and sincere commitment to community-oriented policing. On the fire side, insurance rates went down and we heard story after story of lives being saved because of the efforts of our paramedics.

During this era, Delray Police and Fire  built a robust volunteer network with citizens rolling up their sleeves to make our community safer.

It worked.

It all worked.

Along the way, I became friendly with that detective who organizes the annual Christmas dinner. His name is Chuck Jeroloman. We had New York roots and a mutual passion for baseball in common and we became quick friends.

I first met Chuck when he was on that jump out crew, known officially as the Tact Team. He was a big, strong, charismatic guy—kind of larger than life. But his biggest strength was his relationship skills. He knew how to connect with people.

He became a detective, an expert in Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, a union leader and later a very knowledgeable and effective member of the Police and Fire Pension Board. He also served on the SWAT team and  was involved in the department’s anti-terrorism efforts post 9/11. He spent 28 years in law enforcement, 23 of those years serving our city.

Chuck loved Delray and he was always quick to share what he had learned at a conference or through hard won experience.  He also has a great sense of humor in a job where that comes in handy.

When he retired, he moved to Alabama but got a job with a law firm that advises police and fire pension funds. He has been doing that job for a long time now building relationships throughout the country with clients.

He’s going to retire from that position in the New Year to spend time with family. That makes me happy. Despite his latest transition, we are resolved to keeping this dinner an annual tradition.

This year, Chuck brought his son, Brian, to the dinner. And a new generation was introduced to the great stories and warehouse of knowledge that exists when you sit with men like Tom Judge (Delray PD retired) and Perry Don Francisco (former owner of Boston’s on the Beach and co-founder of Delray Citizens for Delray Police.)

Brian is a former UF baseball star who played 11 seasons of professional baseball for the likes of the Nationals, Blue Jays and Pirates. He currently scouts for the Yankees. He has some amazing stories himself and so the circle continues.

The next morning, still flying high from our great dinner conversation, I got a text from another Delray retiree.

“Hey,” I wrote back. “I had dinner with Chuck and TJ last night.”

“Oh man, I love those guys,” my friend wrote back. “Chuck’s wife delivered all of my children (she’s a nurse).”

That’s a link I didn’t know about. Another tie that bonds these people together.

In the history of Delray, there are a lot of men and women who have worked for our city that have quietly done an amazing job to advance this community in ways large and small.

They don’t get a whole lot of recognition, but they are all vitally important.

They are all a big part of the tapestry that makes this a place we can call home.

Many of these people move on after serving—but their hearts remain here alongside their life’s work.

I feel such a debt to these people. I treasure them.

They are invaluable.

They are cherished by those of  us who know what it takes to build something special.