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Casa del Mar Board of Directors President John Zefeldt recognizes D.M. Williams’ service with a plaque Saturday, at the Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel.
Longboat Key Wednesday, Sep. 14, 2011 8 years ago

Neighbors: Memory Maker

by: Mallory Gnaegy A&E Editor

On the wall lining Casa del Mar General Manager D.M. Williams’ office are four framed poems written by resort guests about Williams. In the past 30 years, he has worked at the resort, he has collected about nine poems.

“They just keep on writing them about me,” Williams says with a grin.

The 80-year-old shows off his office packed with memorabilia like a cherished trophy collection: a world map with 100-plus pins marking places his Cripple Creek Cloggers danced; plaques displaying his “Citizen of the Year 1988” and “They Make A Difference 2003” awards; and photos with famous people from their stays at the resort, such as the late Boston Red Sox Manager Lou Gorman.

Last week, Williams received the newest piece of memorabilia for his collection.

From his bookshelf, he delicately lifts a wooden plaque with a model of a Longboat Key police car mounted on it — and again he breaks into his trademark big smile.

“I know I’m protected now,” he jokes.

On Thursday, Sept. 8, Police Chief Al Hogle, retired Deputy Police Chief Martin Sharkey and a few other police officers surprised Williams with the plaque, to thank him for his support over the years.

“We leaned on him a couple of times,” Sharkey said.

During a hurricane evacuation, Williams would give all law officers as many rooms as they needed so they wouldn’t have to drive home after a 12-plus-hour shift.

And on Saturday, Sept. 10, about a dozen resort staff members and the board at Casa del Mar surprised him again — this time with a luncheon during which they presented him with a plaque, a garden windmill and many thanks for his longtime leadership.

“He’s the best boss I’ve ever had,” said Jeanette Frint, Casa del Mar office manager.

In the last three decades, the Texan has made lots of memories, he says.

One cherished memory was when Williams and Casa del Mar hosted teenaged terminally ill cancer patients, through a program called, “Kids by the Sea.” Twenty-five years ago, Williams provided 24 rooms to the kids, doctors and aids for five nights, with full amenities.

Edith Barr Dunn helped by providing catered meals from her Shenkel’s restaurant. The kids also played at the beach, ate in different restaurants, danced and went on sight-seeing buses. Café L’Europe sent limos for the patients to dine at the restaurant.

“I sat by one 14-year-old boy who was looking out over the Gulf of Mexico and asked him to tell me about his life,” Williams said. The boy had been told two months prior that he was terminally ill. “It broke my heart,” Williams said.

That event was the inspiration for Williams’ work with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital — he has been working with it and the Longboat Key Kiwanis Club for the past 25 years. It’s a well-known fact that each year Williams sells the lion’s share of raffle tickets for the St. Jude Gourmet Luncheon raffle, organized by the Kiwanis Club.

Williams’ philanthropically-inclined demeanor extends to everyone he meets.

“D.M. treats every person as the world’s No. 1 most important (person),” says Casa del Mar Building and Grounds Supervisor Holly Baran, who has worked with Williams for the past 18 years.

The staff also spoke about his passions for dancing and riding horses; how kind, considerate and quick-witted he is; the great stories he tells; but, most of all — the lessons he has taught them.

“I learned a lot from him,” said landscaper Juan Cavazos. “He’s not only experienced with plants, but he gave me a job when I needed it and helped me and my family a lot.”

Williams loves his flowers — almost as much as people.

“I have one of the most beautiful landscape and properties on Longboat Key,” Williams said.

He has built a flourishing orchid garden, which started with only one board of orchids some Casa del Mar guests left in Williams’ care. The garden has become a bountiful haven of about 250 orchids. He has grown the world’s tallest cotton plant — more than once — something reminiscent of his past. Williams grew up on a cotton farm in west Texas, where his mother raised him and his 11 siblings. He was the youngest, and he attributes the cotton plant’s world-record growth to his older brother, who sent him the seeds.

His newest project at Casa del Mar is a rose garden. He has four arches set up and is waiting to plant 20 climbing roses and three rose bushes in October.

The grounds are filled with dozens of species of flora and fauna, which Casa del Mar uses to create arrangements for guests’ special occasions, for first-time visitors or just to brighten someone’s day. Williams orchestrates these plants with landscaper Elton Arellino, who puts the arrangements together.

“It’ll make them remember us,” Williams said.

Williams has certainly made a name for himself in the past 30 years on the Key. Whether it’s through activities at Casa del Mar or his many charitable contributions — Williams doesn’t know a stranger. And even though he looks back on his time spent here with satisfaction in all that he has achieved, this gardener knows there’s always room to grow.

“I’ll stay until I can’t do it anymore,” he said.

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