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Author and outdoorsman Jim McClellan joins SalterMitchell PR CEO April Salter to discuss his book, “Life Along the Apalachicola River,” their time spent served together under Governor Chiles, and the work Jim is doing to preserve the history, culture, and economic vitality of the Apalachicola River Valley.
Chris Cate: Welcome to the Fluent in Floridian podcast featuring the sunshine state’s brightest leaders talking about the issues most important to the people of Florida and its millions of weekly visitors. In this episode, created by SalterMitchell PR, our executive producer, April Salter, the CEO of SalterMitchell PR, talks to author and outdoorsman, Jim McClellan.
April Salter: Jim McClellan, Welcome to Fluent in Floridian. We are super excited to have you here today.
Jim McClellan: I am super excited to be here. Thank you for having me.
April Salter: It is so fun to sit across the table from an old friend and to be able to look back and talk about some of the interesting things in your life and the very special perspective that you bring to Florida. I think you are in many ways truly fluent in Floridian in your experience growing up in Northwest Florida, so I’m very excited to talk to you about that today.
Jim McClellan: Well, I’m excited to be here. We shared a lot of great experiences back under a couple of great Floridian leaders, an era that will never be again and we were very, very fortunate to be a part of it. But growing up in Northwest Florida has been a treat. It’s been something I now look back on as important to me as the opportunity to work with Governor Chiles and Lieutenant Governor McKay as you did. I also want to, before we go too much further, to let you know that I wanted to thank you for your help in the recovery of Mexico Beach after Hurricane Michael. Back in the 1930s, G.U. Parker decided that would be a great place to have a city and he bought a lot of the property down there and subdivided it into lots. And in order to populate that area, get people interested in it, he gave away lots.
April Salter: Oh my goodness.
Jim McClellan: With the condition that if you accepted a lot, you had to build a habitable structure within a year. And my grandparents, in the 1930s, built a habitable structure by the very loosest definition of that term-
April Salter: In that day.
Jim McClellan: Right there on the line where now the central and eastern time zone lies.
April Salter: Okay, yeah.
Jim McClellan: Right there on the north side of 98. When I was growing up, it had indoor plumbing, but you could literally stand in the kitchen and look to your left and there were two stalls. One of them was a sink and the other was a toilet with a saloon door on it. So you knew who was in the bathroom by their shoes and underwear that you could see under the…
April Salter: Well Mexico Beach, it certainly has a special place in my heart and hearing the stories from families who grew up there and who really created their family memories there is just a really special thing. And I did not know that about your family. And certainly, the Parker’s are just an institution in Mexico Beach. They still own a lot of property, generations of the Parker family, and I believe that I know the exact house that you’re referring to, and I have both assisted people in moving out of there after the hurricane and looked at that property as a potential purchase. So I thought that’s very interesting.
Jim McClellan: It was a very special place. My mother was a school teacher, and incidentally, she taught school in seven different decades. She started teaching in the 40s and taught up until the year before she passed away in 2002. But as soon as school was out, we would pack everything up and move down to Mexico Beach. And in those days you had to bring water with you, even though we had indoor plumbing, you really couldn’t drink. The water was sulfur water. And we had an outdoor shower, and I think I remember entire summers without ever doing anything more than washing my feet off in that shower. I honestly think, as a child, there were months at a time where I did not bathe officially except in saltwater in the beach.
But I saw the work that you did after Hurricane Michael. Watching that happen, I was in Philadelphia when it hit, and I was watching it on TV and I remember CNN and some of the other major outlets covering it and saying, “It’s going into a very not a densely populated part of Florida.” And I thought, “Well, it’s not densely populated, but it’s populated with about 80% of the people I know, love and care about.
April Salter: That’s right.
Jim McClellan: And so it was a very special place for me and I know that you did a lot of work in the wake of Hurricane Michael to help bring Mexico Beach back. And just from meeting you, I wanted to give you my personal thanks for everything you did there.
April Salter: Well, I thank you for saying that. I do think when the hurricane hit, I realized I have a very unique set of skills and experience which could be very useful to my little town in Mexico Beach. And so it was my privilege to try to help them get back on their feet. And when you go visit now, it’s just inspiring to see how much has turned over, how much has been rebuilt. And still, when I look at those pictures of the initial days after the storm when it was just like a moonscape, to see now families who have rebuilt, and of course some people have had to leave for various reasons, life reasons, but to see what has come back is just wonderful. It’s a very inspiring story and really says a lot about the kind of people who love Mexico Beach. And it’s filled with people from Blountstown and Bristol who would come down every year. Even if they didn’t have a place to stay, they would come down with their station wagon full of kids and enjoy the day, maybe sleep in the station wagon and-
Jim McClellan: Wayside Park.
April Salter: That’s right. That’s right. So thank you. And it’s interesting because Hurricane Michael hit not just Mexico Beach, or Tyndall, Panama City, but it cut a wide swath all through northwest Florida, including Blountstown, Bristol, Wewa, and then up into Georgia. So what has that been like?
Jim McClellan: I tell people it was, first of all, think of it like a 50 mile wide tornado. That was how strong that storm was. I believe it was a category three hurricane when it crossed the Georgia line.
April Salter: Right. Category five when it hit Mexico Beach and still a cat three in Georgia.
Jim McClellan: It was horrific and it’s very sad to me now to go see that river swamp that was so beautiful. Canopied forest, hardwoods that had shaded out the undergrowth. Hunting over there was walking on the ground and being able literally to walk from tree to tree through that river swamp and see for 50, 75, 100 yards and actually sneak up on game.
April Salter: Because it was so dense.
Jim McClellan: It was so open. And now, all of those trees were knocked down and so now what’s come up are the sweet gums and a lot of the other underbrush. It won’t happen in my lifetime. Hopefully my son and my daughters will get to see it again in it’s glory. But I feel now very privileged to have been able to enjoy that thousands of acres.
April Salter: Yeah, I bet it makes it even more special to you to think of that time that really can’t come back.
Jim McClellan: Well, you grow up thinking this is always going to be here. It’s always going to be like this. This is a river. It’s here. God put it here, it’s never going to be gone. And then you realize that for a number of reasons, development, mismanagement in the case of the Apalachicola River, all of that, storms, things like that, it can change. And it’s a good life lesson.
April Salter: It was a very difficult time and certainly I, as many, many others, were very proud to help with that recovery. So, thank you.
Jim McClellan: Great.
April Salter: So Jim, you have written a book called Life Along the Apalachicola River and what a read it is. To be able to just go back and look at what life was like growing up along the river, hunting, fishing, in such a special way. I mean, it’s very different than I grew up in Key West. My experience was very different. It was also spent around the water. It was also spent fishing and crabbing and doing that sort of thing, but in a very, very different environment. So if you would, talk a little bit about what it was like to grow up along the Apalachicola River.
Jim McClellan: It was, looking back on it, it was an amazing experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything else in the world. At the time, coming from a small town into even a city the size of Tallahassee was almost a culture shock because I felt like, especially at Florida State, coming from Blountstown High School to Florida State University, from a town of 2500 people to a university of 25,000 was, I felt like a country bumpkin from hell. And I remember telling stories about things that we were doing, and I remember a roommate in college that was horrified that I’d gone home over the Christmas holidays and killed a deer.
And I remember saying that and saying it without any sort of thought to there being anything that that wasn’t normal for everyone. And as I got older, I learned to sort of police myself and sort of judge my audience a little better and sort of understand, which is one of the reasons I really like working with Governor Chiles is that there was never any concern about that.
April Salter: He was definitely a hunter/fisher guy.
Jim McClellan: Yeah. The first trip I ever took with him, we went down to Central Florida, and it was a day trip, but he was going to stay for the weekend and he was speaking to the citrus growers. And the last thing the FDLA agents brought on the plane was his shotgun. And it was so tall that they couldn’t lean it up in the back of the plane. They put it between, in the aisle. And I looked at the governor and I just kind of jokingly said, “Is that yours?” Because I thought it was FDLE shotgun.
April Salter: Right, right.
Jim McClellan: And he proceeds to tell me that, yes, that’s his Ithica 10-gauge that he’s going turkey hunting, and I’m just sitting there going, “Okay, well I’m in the right administration.”
April Salter: That’s right. That’s right. Because you grew up, I mean, you hunted everything. I mean, reading your book, I really had no idea the degree to which you spent your time in the woods. So what was that like as a kid?
Jim McClellan: It was completely normal. I mean, at least two nights a week, my dinner would be served on a cardboard beer flat lined with paper towels, and it would be brown and shell cracker and things like that. On Thursday nights, we would have a big fish fry at Iamonia Lake and my father would come home. This is Iamonia Lake, not to be confused with Tallahassee’s Lake Iamonia. Blountstown has its own. You wouldn’t think that would be a name they would reuse.
April Salter: Right, within 30 miles of each other.
Jim McClellan: But that was just completely normal to go fish on a creek bank and catch a dozen fish, cook them, or two dozen fish, cook them right there, eat, make a plate for my mother, drive home and be back at the house at 12:30 in the afternoon on a Saturday. And it never occurred to me that this wasn’t a widely shared experience. It probably was a widely shared experience 50 years ago, or 60 years ago, 70 years ago, but I feel like I had an opportunity to stay stuck in time a little bit. In fact, in the book I talk about, one of my reasons for writing it was like paddling upstream against the current back to remember some of those things that I experienced that weren’t special at the time, but now I look back and think, that was amazing.
April Salter: Well, the book actually started not as a book, but as a series of blogs. Is that right?
Jim McClellan: It did. I started because, as I told stories about my childhood in Blountstown, and growing up over there, I was an average at best hunter or fisherman. But now take me out of Blountstown and move me into a technology company in Pensacola. In that context, I was Daniel Boone. And all of a sudden, I start telling these stories to people who hunt and fish and their eyes were real wide. And that was the genesis of the book. But I would tell these stories and the people that I was talking to would, “You were out in the swamp in the middle of the night?” Because their exposure to hunting and fishing is the highly commercialized-
April Salter: Very sanitized.
Jim McClellan: The magazine who killed the biggest… And certainly we were always, but in the context of Blountstown, you’re talking about smaller deer and it was all about who you were around. But I would tell these stories and it occurred to me that these stories, these experiences that I had growing up were not universal. Not everyone had experienced frog gigging on a lake in the middle of a swamp in the middle of the night or doing some of the other crazy things that we did.
And I started wondering who it was that was going to record those stories and tell them, especially about the Apalachicola River, especially about that time period, and the stories that I’d heard, not only my stories, but the stories I’d heard from my father and the stories he’d related from his grandfather. And so, I’m not a historian and I’m not a scientist, so I didn’t want to go down either of those roads.
But it occurred to me that a lot of our history and our culture was recorded just in stories in sort of an oral tradition that probably you can find in any culture but that was true of ours and I wanted to capture it as much of that as I could.
April Salter: Well, I think you did a great job. There’s so many different snippets of life that, as you describe them, you just have to chuckle at some of the characters that obviously were present in your life and people that were pioneers in their own way.
Jim McClellan: Even in that context, my father was something of a sort a larger than life character, and he was an outlaw who didn’t tolerate any other outlaws. I tell people, and I’m dead serious about this, he was a postman for 10 years and hunted ducks all his life, as did I. I was in college before I knew what a duck stamp was.
April Salter: Huh.
Jim McClellan: And when I found out, I went to him and I said, “Did you know we were supposed to have these things?” And my father literally looked at me and said, “Yeah, but you know I never fooled with that stuff,” which every environmentalist right now that hears this is thinking, “Oh my God.” But that was-
April Salter: That was back in the day, right.
Jim McClellan: That was the world he grew up in.
April Salter: And your uncle, or your great uncle, was one of the first game wardens for the state of Florida so that must have been an interesting dynamic to have your father who was kind of like, “Eh, live and let live. I’m doing what we’ve done for years and years in Blountstown when we hunt,” and then you have a game warden uncle who doesn’t quite feel the same way.
Jim McClellan: The great irony in all of that is that my father’s father had given up on hunting. He loved to fish, but he didn’t hunt. The person who taught my father to hunt was my great uncle James, and he was the fourth Florida game warden, killed in the line of duty. He essentially raised my father and taught him to hunt. He would give my father 10 shotgun shells and my father had to come home with either the shell or an animal to show for it. And he pointed to an oak tree out in front of Uncle James and Aunt Elissa’s house and he said, “You see that tree out there?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “There were many, many afternoons where I sat under that tree waiting on two doves to get close enough together that I could kill two with one shot because I had missed something else and I didn’t want to come home and tell Uncle James that I’d missed.”
April Salter: Wow.
Jim McClellan: That was the ethic that he grew up with. But Uncle James was a hardcore. He was never off the job. He was always working. So my father told a story about my mother. They had Uncle James over for dinner. The were having duck. And my father said he left the room and my mother, who was probably the worst criminal accomplice in the history of mankind, is sitting there innocently. And Uncle James starts asking her questions like, “This sure is a lot of ducks. It must have taken Gene a long time to kill all these.” And my mother’s, “Oh no, he killed them all last weekend.” “Must have had a bunch of people with him.” “No, no. He was right by himself.” And my father, our house was really small, and my father was in the other room hearing this conversation, so he’s realizing what’s going on. And so he’s rushing back into the room to tell my Uncle James, “No, no, no, no, no. Somebody gave me these.”
April Salter: Right. So he was always on the job.
Jim McClellan: He was always on the job.
April Salter: And I’m sure always suspicious of those Blountstown types out there.
Jim McClellan: My father was suspect number one. But daddy told me that Uncle James would’ve hauled him in, and in fact did, arrested him on the Dead Lakes for being over the limit on fish. But my father was freshly back from World War II and feeling his oats, and they had paddled to the fishing hole and Uncle James and his fellow game warden had paddled out, caught him, watched him, and said, “Follow us back to the landing. I’m making a case against you.” And my father said, in a rare act of defiance, he crossed his arms and propped his legs up and he said, “No, if you’re going to arrest me, you’re going to have to paddle me in.”
April Salter: And this is his uncle.
Jim McClellan: Yeah. So Uncle James tied my father’s boat to his own and starts paddling both boats back to the land. Its three miles back to the land.
April Salter: Right, and we will hitch you.
Jim McClellan: Yeah. And he said they got about halfway back and he said Uncle James reached in his jacket and my father said, “I really kind of was worried that he was going to pull his pistol out.” He said instead he pulled out his knife and turned around and cut the rope and he said, “Don’t let me get you back here again.”
April Salter: Oh my goodness.
Chris Cate: Fluent in Floridian podcast is brought to you by SalterMitchell PR, a communications consultancy focused on helping good causes win. We provide strategic insight and guidance to organizations seeking to make an impact in the nation’s third most populous state. Learn more at snprflorida.com. Now, back to April’s interview with Jim McClellan.
April Salter: I love the story in your book about your father’s dress code, that he was not one to want to have camouflage, that he didn’t buy into that concept. Tell us a little bit about that.
Jim McClellan: He thought camouflage was probably the silliest thing. That I knew of, he owned a pair of camouflage pants that I bought him, and he had an old jacket that I think was vintage World War II or something like that that he the wore. But his theory was that you needed to learn how to be still and if you could learn how to be still, and man, what a life lesson that is in a number of ways.
April Salter: So many ways.
Jim McClellan: That was the key to the whole thing. Pay attention, be still, watch what’s going on around you. And so for him, hunting and fishing and outdoor activities weren’t just rest and relaxation. He certainly enjoyed it, but that was part of our diet. We ate fresh fish at least a couple of times a week. We would go to the freezer and pull out fish or deer or pork, turkey, squirrel.
April Salter: Right, right. The whole idea of a fish camp, it’s a little bit different reading about your fish camp and my vision of what a fish camp was prior to reading your book. Tell me a little bit about the fish camp that you grew up around.
Jim McClellan: The Iamonia Lake hunting and fishing club, and it was the brain child of a man named D.B. Hayes, who had been the mayor of Bruton, Alabama, moved to Blountstown, fell in love with it, moved his family there, and he created the club. And in 1938, they built a clubhouse, which had a sleeping porch, had a buck room. When it got cold, it was heated with a fireplace. And that building is still standing in its original form today with just a couple of add-ons. We remodeled it back in the 80s. That was like maybe 40 years ago.
We may be due for some upgrades, but it’s not an Orvis lodge. But there’s so much history there that you can feel it when you walk in. There’s a membership roster. I’ll tell you one of the most special things about it, and I don’t know why this membership roster is up. It was from 1984. And I look down that list and most of the people on that list now, sadly, are all passed away. But as I look down that list, I can picture all of these old folks in there sitting around the fire outside, cooking fish, Mr. Jack Sale smoking a cigar. Hubert McCollum, the last man, the only person I ever knew that actually went to prison for moonshining. I remember him being there. The nicknames, greasy gasket and boat casing. And just hearing the stories, going back to my great-grandfather and even great great-grandfather hunting and fishing down there. It’s palatial by no means, but to me, it’s the last place in Calhoun County where I can pull up, get out, walk in, make a cup of coffee, take a nap, and nobody can run me off.
But there’s a poker table that sits in the center of it that was seldom used now as anything other than a dinner table, but back in the day, there were a lot of poker games there. But Lisa Bristol, her husband, Dr. Cliff Bristol, his father built that poker table. And Lisa sent me a note, she sent me pictures of the table when it was in it’s early days. And she said, “Wow, if only that table could talk.”
April Salter: I bet.
Jim McClellan: I wrote her a note back and I said, “Lisa, that table has withstood 70 years of hard use and survived, but if it ever started talking, I’m pretty sure it would be gone.” But it was a great place to grow up, to spend time around older men, if you were a young boy, who taught you ethics. Things like you don’t shoot something you’re not going to eat. You don’t randomly go kill something. You don’t kill something you don’t need. You don’t shoot more of something than you need. You leave something for somebody else. Now, there’s times where get while the getting’s good. If fish are biting, then you might catch a bunch and stick something in the freezer, but you don’t get greedy. And I joke about them being outlaws, but they taught us an ethic more to the point than just the simple follow the law. I’ll always treasure my experiences there.
April Salter: I cannot even imagine the stories that would’ve gotten told around that campfire. So what’s to come of that lifestyle? Obviously Blountstown is still a small town. Bristol is still a small community. Wewa, very small. There’s some change, but the natural environment, the environmental assets are still there. Are kids still hunting and fishing in that way?
Jim McClellan: They are and a lot of them really appreciate that heritage and it cuts across a lot of different political persuasions. And that’s one of the beautiful things about it is people start to realize, and this is the way we’re going to save every natural resource, is for the kids that are growing up in Blountstown, that river, they’re acutely aware from their parents and grandparents and great grandparents that when there were soup lines in New York City, in Chicago, there were fishing lines in that Apalachicola River.
There’s a degree of self-sufficiency and I use this as an example, when they were considering oil drilling over there, not one of those people would have taken a million dollars to move away from that. If I offered you a million dollars, but you don’t ever get to be on that river again, would you take it? And I don’t think there was an elected official over there that would’ve answered that question yes.
April Salter: Yeah.
Jim McClellan: And I know that from the generation that’s younger than me, I see them down there. They’re starting to be really aware of the treasure they had and Hurricane Michael made everybody a lot more aware.
April Salter: Yeah, I think so. It’s like, this is our treasure. We have to protect it.
Jim McClellan: That was incredibly sad. That river swamp got destroyed. And then to see the damage of that hurricane and realize it is not coming back in my lifetime.
April Salter: Right.
Jim McClellan: It was some of the prettiest, in my view, some of the prettiest land in the world and it’s forever changed now.
April Salter: Yeah, I think it’s a special thing when as a kid, there’s no question that you’ll have food. I grew up in Key West, and if you’re hungry, open up a coconut, go pick a mango, there’s food everywhere. So that is a very special thing that I think is being lost a bit for kids.
Jim McClellan: Yeah. You’re experience in Key West mirrors that almost exactly. It’s almost a portend what we could be looking at up here. People discover it, they realize here’s this peaceful place that you grew up thinking would never change, and then within a very short span of your life, you watched it completely change.
April Salter: It’s hard to recognize.
Jim McClellan: Yeah. We’ve seen that on the beaches. Like Mexico Beach was a retirement village when I grew up. There were whole summers down there where I’d be the only kid on the beach, to seeing it densely developed. Apalachicola is going through that change right now. In fact, I would say Apalachicola is probably analogous to Key West.
April Salter: Yeah.
Jim McClellan: Limited amount of land there in Apalachicola and East Point, but you’re seeing people discover that, and I think that’s going to continue to move up river for good and bad. It’s going to forever change.
April Salter: When you look at the health of the river system and so forth, what do you think the biggest threats are?
Jim McClellan: The biggest threat in my mind is the reverse management of the river. We’re not managing as we should. Common sense would tell you, you start at the bay and see what the bay needs and then work your way back upstream. And Steve [inaudible 00:28:54] at Florida State has really done some great work modeling all of this. This is a workable problem. These are math problems that can be solved were anybody so motivated to do it. And I’ll say this now, you and I worked with the Jacksonville District of the Core, and you remember Colonel Salt.
April Salter: Wow.
Jim McClellan: And how visionary those guys were even helping restore the Everglades. The Mobile district has not ever had, and that’s who controls the Apalachicola River, they’ve never had that kind of visionary leadership there. And I don’t know why. But they’re managing it from Lake Lanier South, starting with that, managing water supply in Atlanta, rather randomly in my opinion, and then the bay gets what it gets.
April Salter: Yeah. Well, and I know that you have worked with Apalachicola Riverkeepers, as has our firm for part of our past, and certainly hopefully for the future. The Riverkeepers’ goal is really to be the guardian of the river system and they have fought alongside with the state for increased water flow and water quality and so forth. But what do you see the role of the Riverkeepers? I mean, how are you involved with them now and how do you see them going forward?
Jim McClellan: Our best chance at this point is to create a sense of ownership among the stakeholders to the north, to realize that this is one system. The ACF Basin is not a winner take all. This cannot be a fight because we lose.
April Salter: Right, and we have lost.
Jim McClellan: Yes.
April Salter: The Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, Flint River.
Jim McClellan: Well, Georgia just controls… There’s too many people in Atlanta.
April Salter: They take the water.
Jim McClellan: And they have no incentive not to, and they don’t have… As long as this is a fight, everyone loses. In my view, the Riverkeeper, our highest and best thing we can do is build awareness and build a sense of ownership and help people understand this is not people versus oysters. This is not a matter of if we get the resource, you can’t have it. There’s plenty of water to go around. You were intimately involved with the Everglades debates, hydroperiod, hydroflow. There’s water there. It can be done. What has to happen is the political will and the only way that’s going to happen is if we get away from the us versus them, and we turn this into a, we’re all us.
April Salter: Right.
Jim McClellan: This system is important because it’s a system. You’re on the north end, we’re on the south end. This is an estuary for the entire Gulf of Mexico. This will come back. There’s no free lunch here. You don’t get to abuse the system in the north and not pay a consequence somewhere down the line.
April Salter: It’s really interesting because I have rental property in Mexico Beach, so I see a lot of people, they’re coming from Atlanta to come enjoy our Gulf Coast. And somehow there must be an opportunity there. There must be an opportunity to educate them about that water flow because it is so vital. I know that you’ve been involved in, is it River Track?
Jim McClellan: RiverTrek. RiverTrek’s been going, I think now about 10 years, maybe a little bit longer. It started out as an idea when somebody had a crazy idea just to kayak the whole river, and then it became a fundraising opportunity and they’ve done it every year. I had an opportunity to do it in 2015.
April Salter: I bet it really gives you a sense of the whole river and the different ecosystems within it or microsystems within it.
Jim McClellan: Oh, it’s incredible. You go leave out of Gadsden County and you’re in these high bluffs in Torreya State Park. Allen Bluff is the highest bluff in Florida, I believe. And it’s five days on the river and four nights on sandbars and at the campground. In 2016, I talked my oldest daughter into doing it with me. But it’s a fundraiser. You raise money. They’re raising money right now. You go to apalachicolariverkeeper.org.
April Salter: Okay.
Jim McClellan: Look at RiverTrek. Cam Barton, she’s a teacher at McLay, she’s making maybe her third or fourth trip down there. I can’t remember how many. Doug Alderson, Georgia Ackerman. There’s so many people. They are just absolute heroes of the river.
April Salter: And you don’t have to be involved in the organization in order to do that. You can just sign up and agree to help with the fundraising.
Jim McClellan: If you agree to help with the fundraising and you’re in the first… It’s gotten very popular. You have to limit the number of people and you commit to a fundraising goal. I had all sorts of fun figuring out ways to raise money. I had intended to do a challenge that was designed to keep me in shape for RiverTrek and also raise money, which was do these physical challenges and the idea was I would do a push up for a dollar, a pull up for $5 or run a mile for $20 as a donation.
April Salter: Right. I think I donated to one of those.
Jim McClellan: I think you did. And the problem is I didn’t really limit it to that. So my sisters-in-law, one of them decided that she would donate $50 to see me vacuum the house.
April Salter: Oh.
Jim McClellan: Another friend of mine said, “I’ll pay $50 to see you do a cartwheel.”
April Salter: Oh okay. Do you have video of that?
Jim McClellan: I do. I haven’t been able to get rid of it. But I happened to mention that it was like the third or fourth… That was how I had to prove it was to put it on Facebook on video and stuff. We had to do about four or five takes. And so I had another friend that said, “I will pay you a hundred dollars if you’ll put the outtakes…”
April Salter: Whatever it takes to raise the money. That’s what I say.
Jim McClellan: It’s the worst thing I’ve ever done for money.
April Salter: Well, Jim, I think we could probably talk for many hours about all of these interesting growing up topics, but you had a unique opportunity to work in the Chiles’s administration and had a number of different roles there. Are there any particular memories that stand out for you as key times that you remember?
Jim McClellan: Yes. And I tell the story, it’s a funny story, but it also speaks to something that involves Buddy and Chiles and I think you were involved with this. In fact, I think you might have prevented this from being a PR disaster. I was talking to Buddy one night late during the session back in the days when we had food in that large conference room between the governor’s office and Buddy’s office. And I was talking to Buddy in his office and I opened the door that’s right there beside his desk to walk into the executive conference room. And if I’m lying, I’m dying, Chiles was standing there holding a black rooster, a live black rooster.
April Salter: Yeah, I know this day.
Jim McClellan: While eating a chicken wing.
April Salter: And Cowboy Joe was standing off to the side,
Jim McClellan: Cowboy Joe was not there.
April Salter: In a red jumpsuit.
Jim McClellan: I eased back into Buddy’s office. I mean, Chiles said, “How do you like my rooster?” Well, how do you answer that question? It’s nice.
April Salter: It’s a great rooster, Governor.
Jim McClellan: So I back into Buddy’s office and I shut the door. I look back at Buddy and I said, “Why is the governor standing there holding a live rooster?” And Buddy’s not phased by the fact that Chiles is in there holding a live rooster. He just kind of smirks. And he said, “I have no idea, but boy, you better treasure this craziness because there won’t won’t ever be another one like that one.”
April Salter: And that is the truth. That is the truth. What a joy it was to work for them. Jim, you served in many capacities. You were speech writer, you were press secretary to Buddy McKay, you’ve gone on to work in lots of different jobs. As you look back on your career, is there something that you would say, “I am so proud of this particular thing?”
Jim McClellan: It would have to be that I feel like that I had an amazing opportunity. I mean, that God gave me an opportunity to work with two of the finest men that ever, and not only the two of them, but the people they attracted. Linda Shelly, Tom Herndon.
April Salter: Yeah.
Jim McClellan: Even going back, Julie Ann Bender, Ron Sachs, all of these people who became incredible influences in my life and people who became leaders in all facets of life. And I realized they all united around the force of personality that was a positive thing. That Chiles and Buddy got up every morning actively thinking about how to make Florida a better place. And we never had to worry about doing the right thing and getting in trouble for it. We never had to worry about answering a question and telling the truth, and somebody was going to be upset with us for that.
April Salter: Yeah, definitely made being communications director a lot easier because we could predict what they would want us to do and I think that was a real gift.
Jim McClellan: I look back on that now and that changed my life. That changed the way I looked at everything out there. And so I think I look back on that and just consider that one of the, I mean, probably the defining experience in my career, that whole seven, eight years of that.
April Salter: Yeah. Well, Jim, I think I could sit and talk with you for many hours, and I really appreciate you coming in today and appreciate you taking the time and to record this history of Apalachicola. And I encourage folks who want to read more about the special time to go to your local bookstore and buy this book, Life Along the Apalachicola River. It’s a few years old, but it is something that you can enjoy, you could enjoy with your children, frankly. It’s a great series of stories. Some you might want to edit out before you tell your kids.
Jim McClellan: Well, my brother, who was a judge, pointed out that I copped to two felonies and multiple misdemeanors in writing. So, there’s that.
April Salter: But it’s a great book and it’s a great history of Apalachicola and really northwest Florida and a way of life that is increasingly being forgotten. But with people like you and the good work that many people are doing, hopefully we can preserve some of those traditions. So thank you for that. Jim, I’m going to wrap up with four questions that we always ask our folks. So the first one I have a clue as to what the answer might be, but the first one is who’s a Florida leader that you admire? It can be someone from any different industry or field, from the past, or someone who’s still active.
Jim McClellan: I don’t think anyone is ever supplanted Buddy McKay and Lawton Chiles in my view. The two of them just still stand.
April Salter: Just first class. First class. Okay. And then what is a person, place or thing in Florida that you think deserves more attention?
Jim McClellan: Obviously the Apalachicola River. I think that the more attention the river gets, I think the more ownership we can create around it and the better chance we have of preserving it.
April Salter: Yeah. And again, what is your favorite location in Florida to visit?
Jim McClellan: I’m going to quote D.B. Hayes and say I feel like if I live a great life and I do what I’m supposed to do, when I pass away I’ll spend eternity fishing on Iamonia Lake.
April Salter: All right. And finally, do you have a favorite Florida sports team?
Jim McClellan: I think this year I do.
April Salter: Finally. Finally. Could it be our year?
Jim McClellan: Yes, absolutely the Seminoles.
April Salter: Okay, good. Good. Well, we’re hoping for the best for the Seminoles this year. I was fortunate to be in New Orleans for the game against LSU, and I got to say, we look pretty good. Our offensive line is much stronger that it’s been in years past and I think if we can give our quarterback a chance to get out there, we’ll have some success. So, good to hear. Well, Jim, thank you so much for taking the time to come visit with us. You are such an example of someone who is truly fluent in Floridian, and so we’re honored that you could be our guest today.
Jim McClellan: I am honored to be here and I enjoyed it immensely. Thank you so much.
April Salter: Thank you.
Chris Cate: Thanks for listening to the Fluent in Floridian podcast. This show is executive produced by April Salter with additional support provided by Heidi Otway and the team at SalterMitchell PR. If you need help telling your Florida story, SalterMitchell PR has you covered by offering issues management, crisis communications, social media, advocacy, and media relations assistance. You can learn more about SalterMitchell PR at smprflorida.com. You can also learn more about the Fluent in Floridian podcast and listen to every episode of the show at fluentinfloridian.com or by searching for the show using you favorite podcast app. Have a great day.
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