Wednesday, February 6, 2019

A special look back. Lake Worth through the lens of Mr. Tom McGow.

Many here in the City of Lake Worth will recall the man we all called “Tom”. The news of Tom’s passing came just prior to the annual Christmas Parade last year in Downtown Lake Worth, an very special annual event Tom and Yours Truly chronicled each year with video and photos and a few stories too.

The news of Tom’s passing brought back a lot of memories and many of them hilariously funny. When you have the time check out the blog “Tom’s Page” for a look back in time about this City of Lake Worth.

From 2008–2011 Tom entertained the public and oftentimes skewered public officials with “Tom’s Page”. Later in this blog post Mr. Greg Rice will share thoughts on Tom.

Following the sad news last November there were tributes written on the life of Tom. Tom’s skill was using a camera. He had that unique talent how to frame a shot. The light just perfect and the shadows just perfect too. And the eyes. It’s like he got into people’s souls. But later he would do amazing things with those photographs. Continue reading to learn more about that.

Here is one of several photographs from 2010 Tom titled, “The Gardener”:

Click on photograph of Javier Del Sol
outside Lake Worth City Hall.

Tom wrote nearly nine years ago:

“You see him everywhere, City Commission meetings, Volunteer Board meetings, riding his bike and picking up trash. . . . There is not a spot in Lake Worth where Javier Del Sol is not known.”

Here was my tribute to Tom, from Yours Truly, Wes Blackman.

I knew Tom very well. Tom’s time in this City was short but very significant. He took politicians, City officials and public figures to task. Tom’s blog is called “Tom’s Page” and it’s still there for everyone to read and enjoy.

Our first introduction was by way of one of this City’s historic buildings and the most infamous slumlord in Lake Worth history. Tom lived next door, to the south, of 431 North L Street. The property and its tenants openly terrorized the neighborhood. They openly laughed at the Lake Worth PD. Fines? Notices? They and the slumlord didn’t care.

There was simply no legal way to reclaim that historic home for some time. That slumlord owned it. It was his and he dared anyone to challenge it. But then later the City of Lake Worth took ownership of that property through legal action.

Sadly though, little changed. The City turned out to be a terrible landlord too. Not as bad as the previous landlord. But not much better either. That’s when Tom and myself and many others got to work. We went to war with the previous City administration, the one prior to 2011; the majority on the City Commission now took back control in November 2011 and all three were re-elected again, and again, and once again in March of this year. But more about that later.

Tom’s Page chronicled an important time in this City’s history. This would be shortly after PBSO had merged with the Lake Worth Police Dept. in 2008. Tom’s blog called “Tom’s Page” began in December 2008 and the last blog post was in August 2011.

Just recently this City and PBSO recognized their ten-year anniversary and successful partnership.

You could call me one of McGow’s targets. Tom skewered me more than a few times on his blog which you’ll learn more about below. In December 2006 I resigned from the Planning and Zoning/Historic Preservation Board to run for a seat on the Lake Worth City Commission.

Back then this was one volunteer City board. Later they became two separate boards when the Historic Resource Preservation Board (HRPB) was created.

There were people there that day twelve years ago when I announced my resignation and subsequent candidacy; names you may recognize such as Phil Spinelli, Herman Robinson and Lisa Maxwell. Some of those people would later get praised and others skewered when Tom began his blog two years later. But unlike most political blogs Tom had a way with a camera. And a way with humor. And a way with Photoshop too.

Greg Rice, a long-time resident of this City, on learning of Tom’s passing wrote this on Facebook:

Sad news for those of us who lived in LW a few years back. Tom McGow who wrote a blog about all things Lake Worth unexpectedly died this week. Tom’s flair for writing and his skill with Photoshop when he lived here was just what many of us needed to see, the lighter side of problems and politics in our little beach town.

Tom had a gift to see the world and all the elements that make it tick a little differently than most. What a gift to have and share with others. Tom loved Lake Worth, his neighbors, our quirkiness and our sense of community. Thanks for including Lake Worth as part of your Transylvania Bounty photo collage of your life.

and then Greg adds this. . .

For those of you who didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Tom, or the way he saw things, take a look at a blog post he did about me a few years ago [see link below].

Greg’s reference to “Transylvania Bounty” will be explained later in this blog post.

From August 2011 click on this link to learn more about “Citizen Rice”. The ‘Citizen Rice’ by Tom was a play on the classic movie Citizen Kane. And for those who had difficulty getting the joke, Tom added a reference to “Rosebud”. Still don’t get it? Then Google, ‘Orson Welles’ and ‘Rosebud’.

Now you get an idea how Tom McGow looked at the world. He looked at politics with wit and satire. His parodies were hard hitting some times. But many times Tom was absolutely hilarious. But always Tom’s observations contained that element of truth that made it work. If Tom made you one his targets you probably had a real good reason to become one.

In April 2012 Michael Bornstein was hired to be the city manager for this City of Lake Worth. Prior to that Bornstein was the town manager in Lantana. Knowing Bornstein’s sense of humor possibly it was Tom’s Page that provided the inspiration.

This blog you’re reading now began thirteen years ago. In December 2006 full of promise of winning a seat on Lake Worth City Commission I ran and lost in 2007. Then ran and lost again in 2009. Losing an election hurts. On announcing my candidacy in 2009 Tom put up this blog post.

Some here in the City of Lake Worth now and reading Tom’s Page may be a bit confused about elections. Prior to 2013 elections were held in November. Following a referendum in 2013 elections were moved back to March. So that will help explain annual events like elections on Tom’s Page better for readers.

Now to Mr. Rice’s reference to “Transylvania Bounty”.

On his passing Tom McGow lived in Brevard, North Carolina in the County of Transylvania. Just as in the City of Lake Worth, Tom was known for his special skill looking at the world through the lens of his camera. And his very special talent using Photoshop as well, way before it became easy, when it actually took hard work and creativity.

Now Photoshop is just clicks. Ten years ago Photoshop took real skill and true talent.

Tom made a significant impact on the City of Brevard in North Carolina. Just like he did in this City of Lake Worth. From Toby Brown of the “We are Brevard North Carolina” Facebook page comes this datelined Tuesday, December 4th:

I just learned of the sudden passing of Tom McGow. Tom was such an amazing part of our community. A monumental contributor to capturing the soul and heart of Brevard, many of you saw him out and about snapping photos under the name of Transylvania Bounty. But most of us just knew him as Tom.

You would turn a corner in this town and boom, there he was, camera in hand and the most infectious smile many of us have ever seen. He beamed. Like a serious beam. A light that set you at ease. Then he’d ask, “can I take your picture?” “Of course you can, Tom!” . . . You were now part of Transylvania’s Bounty.

You were seen through Tom’s lens and officially archived as one of the beautiful characters that made up Tom’s world. A world he shared with us for nothing. A world he shared with us because he just genuinely seemed to love this town, this community.

and. . .

But as a community, it’s his photography that connected us. He captured Brevard like few others. He was an important piece of our bigger puzzle. We needed more of Tom, not less . . . so this one hurts. He was a great man. He was a friend.

Now back to my tribute to Tom McGow:

Remember, our first introduction was by way of one of our City’s historic buildings. Tom lived next door to 431 North L Street. The property came before the Planning and Zoning Board as a nuisance abatement matter. That’s when a combination of code enforcement matters and efforts to end criminal activity such as prostitution and drug sales were taking place.

It took quite some time for the City to create the documentation between code enforcement and the former Lake Worth Police Department. And later the City took ownership of the property as a result. But unfortunately, very little changed for some time.

Here is a blog post from Tom titled, “What the L? 431 North L Street” and here is another headlined, “Nightmare on North L Street”.

But still late into the 2000s, the City itself proved it wasn’t being the best of landlords. Through reading my blog Tom McGow introduced himself and kept me updated on what was and what was not happening at 431 North L.

You can search this blog for all my posts about it from that time. I am happy to report that the property was eventually sold and is in private hands.

Within the past month, the property owner has installed new windows in the historic structure and it once again is on its way to contributing positively to the City and particularly the neighborhood. At the time that Tom lived in this City his partner was Donna Ross. We shared some time together as appointees to the Community Redevelopment Agency. Donna owned property on North J Street.

I got to know her and Tom during those days back in 2008 and 2009. We always shared a lot of laughs together while they were in town. We kept in touch after they left but then over time everyone moved on to other endeavors. But we still kept in touch.

Tom gave me permission some time back to let me use images from Tom’s Page.

Hope you enjoyed this tribute to Tom McGow. And hope learning more about this City’s history will help more of the public appreciate how far this City has progressed in the last ten years.