This week, I am moving out of Tallahassee and down to Orlando. I’m not changing jobs. I’ll still be leading the development efforts for The James Madison Institute as JMI’s Vice President of Advancement. After more than 8 years here, that long road back to the remote state capital of Tallahassee has just worn down this road warrior. I’m grateful for the opportunity that my boss, Bob McClure, and the JMI board are giving me to be more centrally located in this very large and diverse state. And I’ll still find myself back in Tallahassee at least once a quarter to regroup with the JMI staff — and I know I’ll see so many of them at many events around the state.
But as I leave here, I also have had the chance to reflect on what this city has meant to me. I arrived here in January 2008. Other than my new colleagues at JMI, I only knew a few people in this city before moving here. I feel like 8 years later, I am leaving with hundreds of friends and many more acquaintances. And it’s also been amazing to see the number of people who have come and gone in Tallahassee during my time here — so I leave here with friends that are still here and others who have gone on to numerous cities across Florida and many states across the country (and even a few who are living in foreign countries).
Tallahassee is a perfect size city — a mid-size city, with a state capitol, two universities, a community college, and plenty of things to see and do. Even though it’s not a bustling metropolis, I’ve never been bored here. And it’s been so easy to meet people – through my work and through things I’ve been involved with: church, tennis, charities, political organizations, and other social outings. It’s also been a city on the rise — I’ve seen so many great changes here — the rise of Midtown, the invention of College Town, and the improvements of Gaines Street and Cascades Park, among others. I’ve enjoyed pub crawls led by AP reporter Brendan Farrington (or was that his alter ego, Florida Bar Tab?) and Paula Dockery. I’ve enjoyed the Downtown Getdowns on Fridays before football games, some New Year’s Eve shenanigans, and a few other late nights on this town. I’ve enjoyed participating in many Tallahassee Turkey Trots — including running my first 10Ks and 15K (which inspired me to do a half marathon in Pensacola).
I also believe Tallahassee may be the only city in Florida where on any given day you can meet anyone from anywhere in Florida. This is mostly because of all the legislators and staffers that work for them, but also all the FSU alums that come here from across the state and stay afterwards to work. There are so many Florida places I have gotten to know through my travels across this state, but also through the many people I have met here in Tallahassee.
This place is a mid-size city with a small town feel. I can’t go to Publix, church, or into a bar or restaurant, without running into someone I know. And I feel like I had this experience just a few years after living here — can’t imagine if I had grown up here.
One of my greatest memories in Tallahassee was being the organizer of the 2009 Tallahassee Tea Party. This was at the very beginning of the tea party movement – when it actually stood for something worth fighting for. In early 2009, it was perfectly timed – in reaction to the Bush Bailouts and the Obama Stimulus. It was a moment where organic protests arose around the country from millions of people who felt it was unfair for government to pick winners and losers; it was unfair for responsible citizens to have to pay for the mistakes of others. There was a moral argument being made about the role of government and the role of the responsible citizen. On April 15, 2009, we brought more than 2,000 people to the grounds of the state capitol. I was the main organizer and emceed the rally — but it could not have happened without dozens of volunteers. We attracted lawmakers who spoke at the rally, which was keynoted by local radio host Preston Scott. Since then, the tea party movement has had mixed results, but I’m still proud of that moment where we stood up and raised our voices when it counted. It paved the way for a conservative resurgence in Congress and in state capitals, and gave attention to the reckless spending both of the major political parties have engaged in. When I looked across the grounds from the steps of my state’s capitol on that day in 2009, I couldn’t have been more proud to be an American, a Floridian, and a…revolutionary. And I had barely been in Tallahassee a year at that point.
Tallahassee is the kind of city where you can meet someone in a church pew and remain friends for a lifetime (Right Jessica and Ryan?) even if those friends later moved back to their home states of Oklahoma and California.
My JMI colleagues have been a family to me — it’s one of the most special places one can work. Luckily, I’m still part of the JMI family, but not being a regular part of the Tallahassee office will be something I’ll miss (but like I said, I’ll still come back and work from there a few times a year). One of the greatest things that has “kept me young” here in Tallahassee is my daily work with the many JMI interns who have come through our organization. In the past 8 years, I’ve seen more than a hundred (probably 200+) interns or so work at JMI. I’ve had a few dozen work under my direction. I have hoped to have a positive influence on them: teaching them professional skills, lending them a book or two for intellectual development, and hoping they’ve picked up a trait or two from my own work ethic. I never tire of writing letters of recommendation for so many of them and it’s like being a proud parent watching them take off in their own careers after college. But those interns also introduced me to so much: from keeping up with the youthful lingo of the day, the newest craft beers being offered in Tallahassee, and how to use Instagram and Snapchat.
We have had many successes at The James Madison Institute – including the increasing influence we have on public policy. From a fundraising perspective, perhaps the greatest achievement has been helping take the organization from a roughly $800,000 annual budget in 2008 to a $2 million budget in 2015. In 2010-2011, we ran a successful $1.6 million capital campaign to help us purchase a new headquarters. We were able to move into The Columns, the most historic building (circa 1830) in downtown Tallahassee. The size of the place has allowed us to house our growing staff, provide adequate space for our interns, and host events for up to 75 people at a time. The location – just two blocks from the state capitol – has allowed us to have increasing influence on all the decision-makers in Florida’s capital city. I have worked in an amazing building and have been fortunate to have a really amazing office space — it’s certainly one of the things I’ll miss most about not being in Tallahassee. It’s the coolest office around — after moving in there, I started hosting what have become our now famous “cigar happy hours” in the after hours and have even “experienced” some hauntings by our ghost when I’m working late by myself (not sure I’ll miss that).
My Catholic faith has also continued to be strengthened here in the Southern Baptist/Protestant stronghold of North Florida. But I think part of that is because this is a community of so many people of faith. I couldn’t tell you how many churches of various denominations Tallahassee has, but it must be in the hundreds. I didn’t even know “Wednesday church night” was a thing before I lived here and saw how many cars fill the streets of downtown Tallahassee on Wednesday nights surrounding all the churches. I will miss my own church, the Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More, which is right across from the FSU campus. I attend various mass times, but when I do go to the 6:00 PM mass (and that’s quite often), it’s the mass that is filled mostly with FSU students — and it is the most difficult one to find a seat at in a very large church. It has been inspiring to see the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Catholic college students at FSU who make their faith a priority each Sunday and throughout their lives. The first few years I lived here I was a part of the Frassati Society of Tallahassee (a Catholic group for young adults) and made so many great friends in that group. Over the years, I’ve also been a participant in some of the Bible study classes at St. Thomas More Catholic Church. I’ve enjoyed getting to know so many of the adults that also participate in those classes — of many age ranges, and to have a deeper appreciation for the Bible and my own faith. There have been many amazing priests (many rotating through here over the years) and so many of them are young — in fact, I’ve seen a few priests younger than me, including the one who blessed my new house here in Tallahassee back on Cinco de Mayo 2009.
I actually bought my first house here in Tallahassee — closing on the house on the most fateful day of the stock market in recent memory – September 15, 2008. I thought I got it for a good deal, as the housing market had gone down considerably over the past two years. But as I was closing on the house, the market dropped out. Luckily, I’ve had some great roommates over the years, who have included Mike Williams, Kevin Wessa, Salomon LaGuerre, Matt Farrar, Jean-Yves Aubone, Dan Dawson, Jesse Dyer, and Nick Loffer. What a great experience it has been getting to know all of them even more than before they moved in here. But with my move out of Tallahassee, I have put my house on the market for rent — and have decided that my days of having roommates is now over.
One other sad part about leaving Tallahassee is leaving my house. I love my house. It has been great — It was a new construction when I bought it in 2008. And I absolutely love the location and being in Southwood. This is a really great community. I love the running and biking paths, all the green space, and the convenience of having so much around me — all within a 15-minute drive of my office downtown. When I moved in here, I said I really wouldn’t be living anywhere else in Tallahassee as long as I lived in this city. That has held true.
One of the toughest things about moving to Tallahassee was dealing with all the FSU Seminoles. As someone who grew up a devout Miami Hurricanes fan, this was the last place on earth I thought I’d find myself. So many people here thought I would eventually cave in and become an FSU fan. It didn’t happen. The closest I’ve come was cheering for some friends who were on the FSU tennis team (when they weren’t playing Miami, FAU, or Maryland) and cheering for FSU on the football field — when invited by other FSU friends — but only if they weren’t playing one of my teams. But let me state for the record I have never done the Tomahawk chop. I could never go that far. I actually became “immune” to those FSU colors. Before I lived here, garnet & gold would rub me the wrong way. But seeing it every day, kind of made me immune. And let me say how much FSU is a part of this community and my life now: they have provided me with so much great intern talent, they’ve allowed me to play on their beautiful tennis courts (including the new “indoor” facility), run around their campus, give talks to their student groups, partake in numerous educational seminars, and enjoy the athletic competition that is brought to the FSU campus on a constant basis. I’ve enjoyed having FSU just blocks away from my office. It’s a great institution with so much to offer Tallahassee and the state of Florida.
The tennis community in Tallahassee has been amazing. I grew up playing junior tennis until the age of 18 – when I burned out. I didn’t touch a racket for another five years. Once out of Florida, I started playing a little bit of tennis when I lived in Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. But when I landed in Tallahassee in 2008, I looked around for some tennis – finding my (now) friend Wilson Dean through a tennis player search on the USTA website and finding a 4.5 tennis team (then led by Tim Thompson). The tennis community welcomed me quickly with open arms. I played in the 4.5 league for the first three years here. Then, the Tallahassee Top 100 Tennis Ladder started shortly after and I would find a lot more players to hit with and compete against. I also was able to play with all the top junior players in the high schools here – including some of my favorites: Josh Record, Brett Landau, Chris Perrigan, Allen Vinson, and David Mottice. It’s been great to see these great young men great head off to play college tennis (David is next!) Chris ended up interning for The James Madison Institute and Brett has been a stellar volunteer at Rock by the Sea the past few years. There have been so many other local tennis players I’ve had the privilege to hit with many times — including Wilson Dean, Leon Tennis Coach Kevin Record, FSU professor Ryan Rodenberg, and lately FSU student Connor Hollander, among many others. And one of my former roommates here, JY Aubone, was someone who I watched play at FSU and have since watched go on to play on the professional tour. One of my favorite tennis tournaments each year is the Tallahassee Challenger, a mid-level professional event where you get to see the rising players in men’s tennis compete. Over the years, I’ve seen John Isner, Dennis Kudla, Mardy Fish, James Blake, and Donald Young, all play on the same courts I have played on at Forestmeadows Park. I’m going to miss all of my own epic tennis matches on the many courts around Tallahassee: from Forestmeadows, FSU, Leon High School, Winthrop Park, Tom Brown, Maclay High School, and Southwood. And I’ll definitely miss that Tallahassee Challenger, but hope to come back and play with some of my friends here and be a spectator at that tournament again in the future.
I wish Tallahassee had more of a local music scene — but at least I can say I’ve gotten the opportunity to see music in smaller venues here — and to see many up-and-coming artists be featured at house parties, including those hosted by my friend Mike Manley. Those experiences seem unique to a mid-size city like Tallahassee.
I’ve also had the opportunity to explore many places in North Florida that I never knew before: Wakulla Springs, St. Mark’s, Torreya State Park, Leon Sinks, 30A, and one of my favorite places in the world: St. George Island. I was first invited to “SGI” by my friend (and then-roommate) Mike Williams, who took me there for my first Rock by the Sea event. Two years later, I would join the Rock by the Sea board of directors and find myself on SGI at least twice per year for music events, and other times just to go to the beaches on “Florida’s Forgotten Coast.” I plan to stay on the board of Rock by the Sea and attend the annual festival there in May (so I’ll be back in Tallahassee and SGI for the week of May 9-15, 2016 and hopefully many other times in the future).
I am grateful to God for the opportunity to live and work in my state’s capital city for the past 8 years; grateful for all the amazing people He has put in my life here; blessed for the opportunity to live in a great house in a wonderful neighborhood with a high quality of life; blessed to have the opportunity to work in the most historic building in downtown Tallahassee and to have wonderful colleagues and interns; and blessed that even though I am moving half way across the state, I can still hold on to all the memories and all the friendships I have made here. It’s always tough to leave a place you love and leave people who mean so much to you, but if it wasn’t tough, then it wouldn’t have been worth living here. And Tallahassee, you’ve been worth every minute. So, farewell Tallahassee (kind of).