Aging has its pros and cons. It brings wisdom to those open to it, and it can open one’s eyes to the fact that 45 and 50 year old women can be very attractive. The downside is that the Grim Reaper collects one’s friends until there are none left.
I lost a dear friend a week ago on January 15 at 3PM US Central Time, Patrick B. Jones, MD. I met Patrick 20 years ago when I tired of living in the Washington, D.C., snake pit and moved to Inlet Beach, Florida. Patrick and his wife Nancy have a modest vacation home in the neighborhood which they frequented from their home in Dothan, Alabama, where Patrick was chief of pathology at the large regional hospital there.
The neighborhood had few year-round residents and some of the original small one-story edifices, often 800 square feet concrete block structures surrounded by 1.25 acres of sand oaks, still existed. Some of the houses were invisible and buffered from hurricanes, surrounded as they were by dense sand oaks too short in height to topple.
The neighborhood had an historic neighborhood association, and Patrick headed it up. As a new entrant, I was expected to join, and I did. Inlet Beach had been the site of a government coast guard or naval outpost during World War II. The ruin of an 800 square foot observation post on a dune overlooking the Gulf of Mexico is still present. After the war, the government held a lottery for soldiers, and those successful acquired a 1.25 acre lot, theirs for a $50 filing fee and the stipulation that they build an 800 square foot house within 5 years.
By the early 1950s Inlet Beach was a vacation site for former military families. No one had AC. The roads were sand, and getting stuck was part of the experience.
The beach was undeveloped as St. Joe Paper company owned one million acres and a hundred miles or so of beach front, and wouldn’t sell a square inch. When I first experienced the area in the 1980s there still was four miles of beachfront with nothing but wild dunes, sea turtles, and an abundance of fish, crabs, and birdlife. It was like that along much of county road 30-A.
Inlet Beach has its own water company: two coastal wells with the ever present danger of salt intrusion. The water company operated under permit from the North Florida Water Management authority. When I arrived in Inlet Beach, the neighborhood was coming under assault by outside real estate developers and the county which wanted to grab the water company. It was this assault of money and illicit government power on the community that brought Patrick and I together.
Patrick, a well read person and a scientist, was an evangelical Christian who helped people black or white who were down on their luck. But he was also a Scotsman and tough as nails. The neighborhood put Patrick and I, with me as President, in charge of the water company.
The real estate developers with the county commission in their pocket were going to buy up Inlet Beach and put multi-story (up to the county restriction of 4 stories) buildings on every one-eighth acre in place of the one and two story structures on large lots. This extraordinary density required sewage, thus the grab for the water company. The county was going to impose high sewage fees on the descendants of the WWII soldiers in order to subsidize the real estate developers.
These powerful interests did not reckon on Patrick Jones. When we took over the water company, we found a deplorable situation. The permit from North Florida Water Management had expired, and the company was over-pumping the amount allowed by the permit. It appeared to be the case that those on the North side of Inlet Beach, not part of the historic association on the south side, who had been running the water company had set aside no reserves and possibly had been providing free water to various friends, so that there were no funds with which to renew the permit.
Members of the new water board traveled to meet with North Florida Water Management to explain the situation. The water authority did not like the coastal wells because of the threat of salt intrusion into the aquifer. They did not think the area had the infrastructure for the high density development that the real estate developers had convinced Walton county to approve. So the officials made a deal with us. They would allow us to continue the expired permit at the current level of water usage—no increases—for a specified time period with the proviso that we would work to close one of the wells and replace the water with purchases from Regional Utilities, the county controlled water operation, that drew its water from higher up in the Florida panhandle.
With this deal in our pocket, we did not have to grant any more water permits. Development, that is, the destruction of Inlet Beach, stopped. Patrick and I made it clear to developers and the county commission that there would be no water permits issued to developers until the county approved, and the state passed, Inlet Beach’s large scale amendment limiting density in south Inlet Beach to one unit per quarter acre. Agreement was achieved. In this way the planned density was cut in half for approximately 80% of South Inlet Beach.
As for sewer, Patrick and I told the developers that they could have sewer only if they paid every cent of it, and that we would not force people on septic tanks to pay fees to join the sewer. The developers submitted.
We were able to save Inlet Beach for a decade, but in the end money and politics won. Inlet Beach is zoned single family residence, but the county has permitted developers to build mini-hotels that sleep 20 or more people under the single family designation. Thus, commercial vacation rental party houses are taking over the neighborhood. This is possible, I am told, because the county’s criteria for meeting the requirement to be a single family home is one oven.
Patrick as a young man managed to get himself off to university where he was a cut-up with a poor academic record until he met Nancy, the love of his life. Nancy was one of those transformational events. Patrick realized that an attractive and intelligent woman was not a likely candidate to be a wife for a person bordering on failure. Patrick pulled himself up and produced an A average for his senior year. This and his 130 IQ got him into medical school.
Patrick ended up heading all sorts of medical associations and producing with Nancy three gifted children: Shannon, Patrick, and Tom. Shannon is multi-faceted, Patrick is a district attorney, and Tom is a radiologist. I know them and have had the pleasure of enjoying their company.
Patrick Jones is the kind of person who made America great and communities livable. Pray that our country can still produce such people.