The annual “Disco Dog Party” was in full swing when one of the guards paddled up on a board to the tip of the south jetty wearing full disco regalia. Hot dogs were cooking, music was playing, and lifeguards were dancing to KC and The Sunshine Band.
The guard said he’d paddled up in the dark to a boat that was shark fishing and asked if they’d seen a “disco party anywhere out here.”
What we didn’t know is that the shark fisherman was also a state senator and that he was immediately on the marine band radio calling the Coast Guard.
I found myself in Sheriff Joe Max Taylor’s office first thing Monday morning being dissected by those steely blue eyes. Thirty years later this seems pretty funny, but at the time I was absolutely terrified. I don’t think I could’ve put three words together in a coherent fashion, but fortunately I didn’t have to.
“Son, did you have a good time last night?” he said somewhere between annoyed and amused. “Y-Yessir,” I croaked. “Gunna happen again?” “No sir.” “Get out of here and go save someone then,” he said with a hint of a smile.
I didn’t know he even knew who I was, but later I realized he knew I was young and dumb and making some less-than-perfect choices. But he also knew I had good water skills, worked hard, and was always willing to step up when needed.
He knew everything about everyone, but seldom let on. He was brilliant and shrewd, and would support his “family” with all his considerable power.
A few years later, I sat in a meeting with he and Vic Maceo, the head of the Beach Patrol at the time. Vic was a major and I was a lieutenant with the county, but were under contract to manage the Beach Patrol. Beach Patrol was still under the direction of the sheriff’s office, although it was funded by the park board using primarily hotel tax money.
We were in the budget process and Beach Patrol was about to take a big hit. Joe Max stood up at the beginning of the meeting and essentially went around the board table talking about each person, telling anecdotes.
He didn’t say anything bad about anyone, nor do I remember him talking directly about the money grab, but he did say a couple of things about how good of a job we did on the beach and how important our department was. We walked out of there with an intact budget and a sweaty board of directors thanks to his mere presence supporting us in that meeting.
I learned much about politics, true power, having vision, real leadership and supporting extended “family” from him.
Joe Max Taylor was a visionary who quickly saw how beneficial incorporating the Beach Patrol into the sheriff’s office would be for both sides. He was an enormous part of why the Beach Patrol is what it is today, and we will be eternally grateful for his support and guidance.