Resumes versus Legacies

legacyEditor’s Note: We will see you after the holidays. Have a safe, happy and joyous holiday season! Thanks for reading and sharing!

Resumes versus legacies.
Which would you rather have?
I’ve been thinking about this lately.
I have this app called “Time Hop” and every day it gives you a look back at 7 years of social media memories.
It’s really kind of cool.
Well 7 years ago this month , we lost a local icon named H. Ruth Pompey and the app let me know. I’m glad it did. Because the memory of Mrs. Pompey brought back a smile. I adored her. So did everybody who knew her and many knew her because she and her amazing husband C. Spencer Pompey were integral parts of Delray and Palm Beach County for decades.
They influenced generations of young people and touched many lives very deeply.
Educators, historians, coaches, mentors, founders and leaders, the Pompey’s amassed remarkable resumes but more importantly they left lasting legacies.
Delray has been blessed with many wonderful people who have left legacies of kindness, achievement, voluntarism and dedication. Remembering them is important–because even though many are gone now they are still very much a part of us and ingrained in the DNA of our town.
So remembering Mrs. Pompey also inspired me to remember a slew of other very special people.
Such as…Ken Ellingsworth, a founder of the Delray Affair, a longtime chamber president and former City Commissioner who welcomed generations of young business people to town and helped them get involved. Those were the days when the first stop you made if you opened a business or a professional practice was the Chamber of Commerce.
At the chamber, mentors like Ken and later the terrific Bill Wood got you plugged in so to speak. The mission was two-fold, get involved to grow your business and grow the business community to help others succeed. I think Karen Granger and her team at today’s chamber are following in this tradition; with the chamber serving as a hub of activity, connection and community.
I thought also of my friend  Barbara D. Smith who also left a lasting legacy. I pass a building named after her every morning at the Achievement Center on Lake Ida Road and I still remember Barbara’s kindness and concern for our city’s most vulnerable children.

She served briefly on the city commission but she had decades of achievement under her belt before she even thought of running.
That’s how it was in those days. People tended to volunteer for years before seeking public office. We knew who they were and they knew us.
Think of how advantageous that is: we know if they show up and do their homework, we know if they can work well with others, whether they are capable of compromise or of evolving. We know whether they listen and learn or just keep their own counsel or if they are merely puppets controlled by others.
We knew them through years of service.
It was a whole lot better tradition if you ask me.
I also thought of Carolyn Gholston and her husband Joe,  two leaders in our southwest neighborhood who worked closely with the city and police department on a vision for creating a safer neighborhood for all.
About a dozen years ago, voters passed a bond issue to build a new splash park at the Catherine Strong Center named after our first female mayor who also served as a city clerk. Mr. and Mrs. Gholston worked hard to muster votes for the bond because they wanted to see the first ever park in that part of our city.  It wasn’t about them, it was about their neighborhood and about the future.
As we exit 2016, an interesting year, I can’t help but remember friends we  have lost.
As I rode in the holiday parade for the first time in a decade, we passed by what we on the City Commission used to call “Garito” corner. Every year, the large and boisterous extended family would stake out real estate on a corner that once housed the venerable Green Owl. And every year when mayor’s and commissioners passed by they were greeted with loud cheers and laughter.
This year, the corner was mostly quiet. The Green Owl has closed (for now) and Barbara Garito, the family matriarch and our beloved City Clerk and friend passed away earlier this year.
I miss her smile. But we are so much richer for having known her and so many others who have made Delray such a special place.
You see cities are made special by people, not by rules and regulations, building heights and millage rates. All of those have their place–but the real magic comes when people devote themselves to a place, work together, build trust, laugh with each other, cry with each other and constantly reach out to bring others in.
Those are the people who leave legacies. And make a true difference. Maybe they didn’t build the biggest chamber or clean up every street in their neighborhood but they did touch a whole lot of lives. And continue to do so.
Legacies–that’s what they left. And that’s what’s truly important.

Happy holidays and see you in the New Year!

A Village is a Port in a Storm


There was a homicide in Delray Beach a few weekends ago.

A 26-year-old man was shot and killed outside a community market on our Main Street, in our downtown. His name was Jamar Gabbage.

The shooting happened not far from our “gateway” feature, in the 1100 block of West Atlantic Avenue; the entrance to our downtown.

Last week we learned that three people died after overdosing on heroin within 24 hours in Delray.

The same day this story led the local news I saw a young man on a bike heading toward A1A screaming at passersby. I wondered whether he was ill or under the influence of “flakka”, the new scourge that is laying waste to young minds. This week came more news of someone allegedly under the influence and violent requiring several police officers and a K-9 to subdue.

But when I stop by to visit friends at a local restaurant the talk isn’t about murders or what to do about substance abuse. The talk is about “A frame” valet signs and whether a part on the beach pavilion is rusting.

When I browse social media I read about change and how sad it is to see a chain store downtown. Valid concerns, but definitely first world problems, I think to myself.

Then I read about an unattended death at a local rehab and see a slew of insensitive comments.

And I feel sad.

These are people we are talking about.

Someone’s dad. Someone’s child. Someone’s friend. They are not “cancers”, they are people.

I see a lot of lost people in our city. I see them outside the local Walgreens and watch them slowly cross a parking lot in front of my office on Lindell Boulevard.

Some are homeless and worn, like weathered driftwood. Others seem cooked with vacant thousand yard stares as they make their way across streets only to disappear in crevices.

We have it all here.

Mansions on the water.

Craft cocktails.

Fancy cars.

Valet parking.

Big Boats. Expensive private schools. 100 foot Christmas trees.

We also have murders.

Drive by shootings.

Kids whose parents beat them. People suffering from cancer and dementia. Heroin. Homelessness and drug deals done in alleyways.

It’s there for all to see in the village. If we care to look.

When I drive through town I have memories everywhere. That’s what happens when you’re anchored in a place for a long period of time as I have been in Delray—happily.

I remember being able to seeking solace in people whenever the going got rough.

On South Swinton there was Father Stokes. Chip, he would insist you call him.

He became Bishop of New Jersey.

But before he left he was a confidant; a trusted partner.

He cared about the poor people who lived just west of his church. When you talked with him you could see his passion about education, social justice and racism. Before he got his post in New Jersey he was up for another big job in the church.

A team of senior church leaders came to Delray to discuss his work in our city. I was asked about Chip’s work in the community and when I began to answer I noticed that I was choked up describing the care and leadership he provided. I realized that if he left, he would leave a gaping hole. He didn’t get that job but a few years later he got an even bigger one.

And you know what? We miss Chip Stokes’ leadership, courage and ability to focus on what was most important.

On Lake Ida Road, there was Nancy Hurd who spent decades loving the poorest children in our village at the Achievement Center. Nancy was always a port in a storm. On the darkest days, the days when I couldn’t sleep because I saw images of a 15 year old boy in a casket I knew I could visit Nancy and she would hold my hand and together we would visit pre-schoolers with their smiles, hugs and hopes. By the time you left, you had hope in the future. It wasn’t that reality changed, but in that corner of the world you could see goodness and love.

On North Swinton, at Old School Square there was Joe Gillie and Frances Bourque who were always excited about the arts and about serving children by exposing them to culture. Their passion was infectious. You wanted to sign on to their mission immediately and we did.

Years later I would sit on an interview panel and listen to 17-year-old Stephanie Brown talk about her love of photography stoked by a class she took at Old School Square. She would become one of our first set of Dare 2 Be Great Scholars. A year or two later she was named one of the top young photographers in Savannah where she excelled at the Savannah College of Art and Design. But for that class…it might not have happened.

Near Pompey Park, lived the Pompey’s, lovely people, educators, community builders whose love of this city made you fall in love too. Their history was painful; fighting for the right to go to the beach, better schools and parks and for local children denied opportunity.

On the southwest side, you could sit with Mrs. Wesley. Libby to some…and she would sing to you or read you a poem that left you a puddle. Libby was beauty personified. She believed in Delray. She believed in young people. She believed in roots. She inspired everyone.

At City Hall, you could pop in and feel the energy of achievement and pride. In the clerk’s office were Barbara Garito and Chevelle Nubin and lots of happy faces, Sue and Jim and others. There was DQ and Lula and a busy planning department with smart people like Ron Hoggard and Jeff Costello who could figure out any problem you threw at them. And we did. We threw a lot their way.

And there was tough Paul Dorling, who could be disarmed with a joke.

Perry held court at Boston’s and Bill at the Chamber. Lori could be found at the market and Nancy was always planning a festival.

Solace; everywhere you looked.

Pame, Jen, Evelyn, Skip, Bob, Cathy B, Susan, Kerry, Rachel and Tom Fleming in the Grove. Mrs Gholston and Miss B.

A village.

There were murders and drugs. Always. There was crime and blight galore. Businesses went bust. People said rude things.

But we were a village.

Always a village.

I’m not sure if those same havens exist these days. I hope they do and I suspect they do. Many of the players mentioned above have moved on in life which is what happens, but I’m sure they were replaced by others who are caring as well.

My wish is that current and future leadership seek advice and solace. You can’t do these jobs on social media, as great as Facebook is. And you can’t do it walled off somewhere in a vacuum. It’s only a village if we talk to each other. And listen—with empathy.