A native son bids farewell and best wishes to a changing city
By TIMOTHY A. JOHNSON JR.
Published September 4, 2006
On Tuesday, my wife, Clair, dog, Humphrey, and I will leave Clearwater and drive to California to begin the next chapter in our lives.
While an exciting future of retirement, cruising and grandchildren beckons, my feelings will be mixed. Born and raised in Clearwater, I have lived here all of my life except for attendance at the University of Florida and briefly in Tampa at the start of my career.
The Clearwater in which I grew up was a small town. I attended Elks Nursery School. That was followed by kindergarten through sixth grade at North Ward School.
From the fourth grade on, I rode my bike to school from our home at 1160 Drew St., with no thought given to the fears that concern parents of young children today.
North Ward was followed by Clearwater Junior High, then located on what is now a vacant lot north of the 1100 Cleveland Building. Clearwater High School followed, at its current location, only 4 years old in 1961.
Since memories are selective, most of the remembrances of my youth are fond ones: May Day festivities at North Ward; Clark Mills building boats at Clearwater Bay Marine Ways; movies at the Capitol, the Ritz and that "new" theater, the Carib; dinner at Morrison's Cafeteria downtown; the Clearwater Sun newspaper; the Chick Inn; listening to Bob Weatherly and Rev. Coleman broadcast Clearwater Bomber games on WTAN; 18-cents-a-gallon gas; high school football games (the Clearwater High Tornadoes were perennial losers under a too-nice-to-be-true coach, Earle Brown); high school debate; sunburns on the beach; Kwik Chek grocery store with its conveyor belt to deliver groceries to a pickup point in the parking lot, and on and on.
Not everything was rosy, however. "Serious" shopping required a trip to St. Petersburg or Tampa, viewed as long trips and infrequently made. Likewise, specialty medical care required a trip to south county or across the bay. There was virtually no "national" live entertainment. Air-conditioning became commonplace only as I entered my middle teens.
Clearwater has become a different town during my lifetime. Some will argue the point, but it is clear to me that the changes, on balance, have been for the better. Educational opportunities abound. Trips to "the city" are no longer required for enhanced shopping opportunities or specialized medical care. Ruth Eckerd Hall provides the highest quality of entertainment outside of megalopolises such as New York, Chicago or San Francisco. The Long Center and the "Y" offer programs unheard-of in my youth.
And now, through a process that will bring pain before reward, the beach is being remade and downtown is on the cusp of realizing its potential.
As I leave, I have many hopes for my soon-to-be former hometown and home county. Here are some of them:
1. The forces of darkness do not succeed this go 'round in thwarting plans for a marina at the foot of Coachman Park. The voices of negativism led by Fred Thomas, Anne Garris and Art Deegan have succeeded for too long in blocking progress, using eleventh-hour misrepresentations.
2. Bright, principled, courageous, hardworking officeholders with thoughts of higher office are successful in their ambitions. Two who immediately come to mind are Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard and County Commissioner Ken Welch.
3. City residents and the Church of Scientology continue their dtente and the level of tolerance, understanding and cooperation increases.
4. Downtown Clearwater realizes its potential and becomes an inviting place to live, work and play.
5. County residents put aside petty jurisdictional concerns and consolidate services such as law enforcement, fire service and waste management, thereby saving themselves millions annually.
I'll close with those thoughts and this last one: I wish nothing but the best to my friends, neighbors, colleagues and clients.
Timothy A. Johnson Jr. of the pioneering Johnson family is a land use attorney and one of the founders of the Johnson, Pope, Bokor, Ruppel and Burns law firm in Clearwater.
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