God has blessed us abundantly on Longboat Key. Two of our special blessings were Gen. Jim Patterson and Claudia Fuller.
They died Wednesday, Oct. 21, their missions accomplished.
They left lasting marks here. Their names and legacies will be etched forever in the history of Longboat Key — Patterson for his 10-year service on the Town Commission and founding of START (Solutions to Avoid Red Tide) and Fuller for her volunteerism and quiet leadership in all things that made Longboat Key a better community and more peaceful, beautiful place to live. Though it seems incongruous that Fuller could be president of a political organization, the Republican Club of Longboat Key and chairwoman of the Longboat Key Garden Club’s Butterfly Garden, those who knew Fuller would say that wasn’t inconsistent at all. Through these associations, she demonstrated her passion for what she loved.
Particularly remarkable about Patterson and Fuller: Neither of them sought the limelight. They were modest and humble, traits too often in short supply.
Throughout their lives, they exemplified that quintessential American story — that of ordinary people from ordinary backgrounds who developed their own inner passions and drive to give and do. They were doers.
Literally, Patterson was in the thick of battles in war, and Fuller in the trenches of her neighborhoods, doing what they believed to be right. And in doing what they believed, they did for and gave to others. And they did this quietly and humbly, the proverbial models of actions speaking far louder than words.
+ Fuller: Ingenious masterpiece
From time to time, we would hear from Fuller at The Longboat Observer. An avid bridge player, she scoured our weekly bridge column. And she caught every error, usually in our editing. “Can’t you do something about the errors?” she asked.
The executive editor confessed: “No one on our staff knows how to play bridge. Every time we read Donna Swan’s bridge columns, for us, it’s reading Mandarin. We have no clue what’s right or wrong.”
With that, Fuller volunteered to edit our bridge columns. And she did it faithfully to her end.
Near the start of the summer in 2004, a group of Longboaters gathered one late afternoon in the pavilion at the Joan M. Durante Park to begin planning for the town’s 50th anniversary celebrations. It was a brainstorming session. Fuller and her husband, Chuck, were among a dozen or so people, pitching ideas.
As these sessions often go, it was leaderless. No one wanted to shoot down another’s dumb idea. And after 10 minutes or so of indecisive banter, this soft-voiced, unassuming woman sitting with her husband said: “I’ll write a play.” It was Fuller. She said she’d write a play about the town’s history. She said she would do it all — the music, the lyrics, the works; write it, cast it, direct it.
Five years hence, as memories of that meeting have faded, the only idea that stood out and stuck was the one from the quiet woman sitting in the corner.
The best was still to come.
Fuller did what she said she would do. In early November 2005, about 40 Longboat Key residents, all volunteer cast members, stood on a portable stage at the town’s 50th birthday celebration and performed
Fuller’s “We Love Longboat Key (Can’t We All Just Get Along?)”
It was kind of corny. But it was fabulous. Fuller’s play told the colorful, controversial, 50-year history of Longboat Key. It named names. It poked fun at people on and off the stage. It made us all — cast members and audience alike — laugh at ourselves and at the silly things we have done over the 50 years to make Longboat Key Longboat Key. Everyone there will remember Fuller’s climactic song. It was great fun.
Most remarkable was the ingenious, impish and deliberate feat of Fuller. Through her clever masterpiece, she brought together on stage Longboaters who were often enemies on public issues, standing, singing, laughing side by side. Neighbors.
Americana at its best.
On that one afternoon, quiet Claudia Fuller created the greatest sense of community that we have seen in a quarter century on Longboat Key.
+ Patterson: Humble hero
Gen. Jim Patterson had a great, resonant voice. Perfect for a general.
Physically, you could envision him as a general — square jaw, flat-top haircut, stocky, brick-hard chest and tight-muscled arms. He was short in his later years, barely 5 feet, 7 inches standing straight, his bum knees bowed and fragile. When he stood in a crowd and chatted with friends, he never acted like he was in command. He was quiet, not particularly outgoing, didn’t call attention to himself.
When you spoke with him, he always looked you in the eye. His eyes were warm, twinkled with optimism.
He had a great smile. He had a big heart.
Gen. Patterson was our young son’s best friend.
Go back to 1995. Our growing family, with three children ranging from 7 to 15, moved onto Bogey Lane in Country Club Shores. As many of us know, kids in Country Club Shores are like endangered sea turtles.
As far as we ever knew, we had the only 7-year-old boy in the development at the time.
It was lonely for Brian, but you try to make the most of it. We put up a portable basketball hoop at the edge of our lawn so Brian could shoot and dribble on a level surface. One evening, we looked outside, and Brian was shooting hoops with a new friend.
It was our neighbor from across the street, Gen. Jim Patterson, age 65.
We learned through Patterson’s wife, Barbara, that “Gentle Jim” had been watching Brian and knew there wasn’t much in the way of male brotherhood in the neighborhood.
Patterson, a father of three girls, took a liking to Brian, and Brian likewise. They developed a bond, what became a lasting, special bond. Patterson would invite Brian into the Patterson home on occasion and talk military and aviation. The general told him about his flying helicopters in Vietnam. He showed Brian his military memorabilia.
One day Brian came home with gifts. The general gave Brian his two stars, signifying Patterson’s rank as a two-star general. He gave him tie pins of a saber and helicopter. And he gave him one of his Army air medals, bestowed on Patterson for heroic action and meritorious service in combat. These are treasures that are with Brian, now 21, displayed in his bedroom.
Perhaps it was Divine fate. Our son came home this weekend, unaware of the general’s death. He stayed for the general’s memorial service Sunday afternoon. When the bugle sang the solemn song of “Taps,”
Brian was overwhelmed.
The general would have been pleased. He had an effect. His young friend is pursuing a military officer’s career.
Patterson gave more than his share to his country and community, as war hero and volunteer commissioner. But we will remember him most as “Jim,” our neighbor, our son’s first and dearest friend on Longboat Key.
Claudia Fuller and Jim Patterson. They are why Longboaters love Longboat Key.
We are indeed abundantly blessed.
'We Love Longboat Key (Can’t We All Just Get Along?)'
Can’t we all just get along?
Just admit it — you are wrong.
Here, opinions do run strong.
But we’ll learn to get along!
We love Longboat Key.
Love its feisty history.
Now we all agree
That we love Longboat Key!