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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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From clothing store, a life in public health
By C.T. BOWEN
Published January 7, 2007
Robert Hall led Marc Yacht to public health.
That's Robert Hall, the clothier, by the way. It was just one of the stops on Yacht's career track that culminated with him serving as director of the Pasco County Health Department for nearly two decades.
Next month, the resume adds a new line: retiree. Yacht, 67, is leaving his position, effective Feb. 28.
It is a department that is in far better shape than before his arrival. The advances include providing dental care to poor children and the elderly and expanding clinics to Hudson, Zephyrhills and Lacoochee (which later burned down). The department helped continue obstetrics care in east Pasco and pediatrics on the west side after disputes over government reimbursements prompted physicians to withdraw their services temporarily. It worked to expand the Mosquito Control District and, for a while, it administered the highly popular restaurant grading program in Pasco.
Over the next few weeks, Yacht will assist his successor, David Johnson of Tallahassee, with the transition. Yacht also will be giving up most of his ties to the 20 community boards on which he sits and will leave the details of advocating for universal health care, access for the uninsured and curbing teenage smoking to others.
Yacht acknowledges a long and diverse job history. You can't call him an accidental doctor because he enrolled in college with plans to study premed. But certainly, it was a long way from his native Philadelphia to a medical degree and the head of a county health department in west-central Florida.
Premed didn't pan out, at least initially, for Yacht, so he settled on majoring in English with a minor in psychology at the University of Miami.
Anyone familiar with Yacht's passion for writing - he contributes letters and columns to this opinion page, is a playwright, and volunteers as a publicist for West Pasco Habitat for Humanity - understands that the English degree doesn't go unused.
He got his first taste for journalism in November 1963. His family traveled to Washington, D.C., for the funeral of President John F. Kennedy. Yacht wrote about it for the local newspaper.
"It was horribly written," Yacht said, "but the newspaper just loved it because here was this local boy down at the Kennedy funeral."
After college, he landed in the management program at the Robert Hall clothing chain and was assigned to a store in Tom's River, N.J., as an assistant manager. He did two years there but left to become a traveling salesman pushing industrial cleaners. Teaching seemed like a good idea, so he became a substitute in Philadelphia's school district and also worked part time in the evenings as an admissions clerk at a hospital. He liked the exposure to medicine and decided to re-enroll in premed classes.
He gave up the uncertainty of the per diem as a substitute teacher for a steady paycheck supervising a job training program for needy teenagers. Later, another of the program's supervisors talked Yacht into sitting for the civil service exam for state administrative jobs.
Yacht confessed that he "never had any knowledge of state (administration). Nothing. Nothing, but I took the exam and ended up on the civil service list." Two years later, he got a call to interview for a regional administrative officer for the state Department of Health in Philadelphia. It sealed his taste for public health because of its community work.
He reconfigured his career goals, obtained a master's degree in public health from Tulane University and then enrolled in medical school in Belgium before transferring to a school in the Philippines.
He was 43 by the time he was a licensed physician. He returned to South Florida and worked in the private sector for a few years to gain clinical experience and then sought a job in public health. He accepted the position in Pasco, in part because he drove around after his interview and spotted a sign for a pediatrician with whom he had attended medical school.
After Philadelphia and Miami, he was happy for the semirural existence that Pasco offered in the 1980s.
"I'm a new guy. I'm a Yankee. I'm coming from Miami, but the reception I got (in Pasco) was enormously friendly. I never felt, in any way, unwelcome."
Public health in Pasco County may not have materialized as a career if Yacht hadn't taken that long-ago civil service exam, the minimum requirement for which was two years of management experience. Yacht qualified for one reason - his stint with Robert Hall clothes.
Who says clothes don't make the man?
Up next, Yacht plans to travel to Spain with his wife. He will do some writing and try to adjust to doing nothing. But, he's been working since age 10 - when he helped a cousin sell goods at a farmer's market. He plans to stay active but isn't sure exactly how. For a hint, reread some of his submissions to the newspaper.
Public education has become a passion for the former substitute teacher. Yacht is critical of the No Child Left Behind Act. He is disgusted with the demise of a well-regarded prekindergarten program in Pasco because of the politicking surrounding the Pasco-Hernando Early Learning Coalition. Yacht called it the low point of his career in Pasco, and he resigned his seat on the board in protest.
Public health will take a back seat in Yacht's retirement, but don't be surprised if a public life continues.