"Happy Birthday to you.
Happy Birthday, dear Eddie.
Happy Birthday to you."
Eddie Enns would have turned 73 this week, if he had not died of pancreatic cancer two months ago. I marked the date on my calendar, because March 22 is also the day that Eddie found out that he had cancer, on his birthday last year.
The first news that Fort Pierce's "Number One Son" was gravely ill made me catch my breath, because Eddie, the former Mayor of Fort Pierce, had retired not too long before to spend more time with his family. After years dedicated to making Fort Pierce and St. Lucie County a better place (the Fort Pierce native had also served as county commissioner, insurance agency owner, bank board chairman and Rotary Club member), he was finally taking time for himself.
During his years as mayor, Eddie became known for his never-ending optimism about the city, starting a monthly "pep rally" called "Coffee with the Mayor." Anyone could announce anything at these get-togethers, as long as it was positive. Phil Donahue-style, Eddie would hand the microphone around to his seated guests, encouraging others to speak; if you didn't have good news, you thought some up.
He dogged the media to report the good news, too, believing strongly that people needed to see and hear about the rebirth of the city, the renovation of the Sunrise Theatre, the continued growth downtown and the ongoing improvements throughout the city. He made sure there was always good news to report.
After his retirement, he continued to be the city's biggest cheerleader, spending many an early morning at Brewer's Café, a local downtown coffee shop, where locals gathered to talk about politics and life. There, his extended family, Annie, Ned, Ginny, Mike and others, waxed poetic about the world. Often, Eddie brought one of his grandsons to join in the conversation.
Tall, lean and lanky, Eddie Enns always reminded me of a fictional hero from my youth, Atticus Finch, as played by Gregory Peck in the classic movie, "To Kill a Mockingbird." It wasn't just his looks, it was his manner- unassuming and humble, yet a pure Southern gentleman, a vanishing breed of man.
I know hundreds of people who wept at the news of Eddie's death, because, either for a minute or for a lifetime, he had touched them personally. His dry wit, his mellow, laid-back style might have fooled you, if you didn't see the incredible progress he made. It was an illusion, that slow, thoughtful way Eddie had of dealing with things political and controversial. While you weren't watching, he was making enormous gains. His ability to use humor and reframe difficult issues in a positive light gave him great insight.
For a man who gave so much to his community, Eddie was always there for his family and friends. I loved that he had a tale or two to tell about his grandsons, whenever I saw him. I also loved that he appreciated people.
While he was mayor of Fort Pierce, Eddie had begun the monthly tradition of visiting my radio show, as a regular guest, to help spread good news, of course. Each month, he brought a department head or another valuable member of the city's staff. He always introduced the person to me as "someone who helps to make the city run smoothly," or "someone who makes my job easier."
That's just the way Eddie was: If he was a success, he gave credit to the people around him. Then, he stood humbly by, proud as a papa bear of his den.
Eddie's humor was so dry that sometimes he had to explain to me when he was kidding. Like the time he showed up at the radio station, without an extra guest in tow.
"I brought a book about the history of Fort Pierce," he told me. "I thought we could read from it."
Then, his eyes crinkled and he grinned.
Another time, he greeted me in the radio station lobby and showed me his socks.
"What do you think of these socks?" he asked. I wondered, was it a trick question?
"My grandson tells me white socks aren't cool," he said. "Only with athletic shoes, he says." He flashed his white socks. After that, we checked his socks each month. Someone had to give him fashion advice.
A wise man, Eddie also knew how to prioritize his time, retiring from the insurance agency to concentrate on his role as mayor. And, three years ago, he retired from politics (again) to spend time with his family and travel, during what turned out to be his final years.
You could argue about what was Eddie Enns' most precious legacy to our area, because there is so much to choose from- leading the renaissance of the city, new businesses lured by improvements, restored civic pride and the increased reporting of good news.
As we filed out of the church after the funeral, I passed the front row filled with the scrubbed, fresh faces of little boys and young men, dressed in neat navy blazers and ties pulled into tight knots-the grandsons of Eddie Enns.
I realized that those little boys and young men would grow up remembering a grandfather who cared about people, and gave selflessly to his community; they are the greatest legacy Eddie Enns could leave us.
I saw the future of Fort Pierce and the world reflected through the tears in my eyes and on their cheeks, and it was indeed good news.
Sue-Ellen Sanders writes about family issues every week in the Hometown News. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.