Deaths you may not know about

by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, July 07, 2015 No Comment(s)

One of the sadder effects of the cutbacks in the newspaper business is the virtual elimination of non-paid obituaries. It doesn’t seem to be good business, because most people who read obits are candidates for the space themselves, and they are also among the dwindling numbers who still read newspapers regularly. Sure there are obits, lots of them, clustered together like the markers in a military cemetery, but they are all paid and written by family members. They are often maudlin, amusingly pious, and they usually don’t really tell you much about the real life of the departed.

Thus, we fill the gap. Patti Phipps, also known by various names due to various marriages (Bates, Brannan and Houston come to mind), died recently at a nursing home in Washington, D.C. According to her brother-in-law, Ted Drum, she was in her early 70s and died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. Until her illness, she was for much of her life one of the prominent socialites in Fort Lauderdale. For more than 30 years she was a regular in the pages of Gold Coast. So much so that the above photo of her in the early 1970s appeared in our April 50th anniversary celebration issue.

She had a running start. Her mother, Zada, who is still going at 98, was a Burdine, the daughter of the founder of Burdines. It was for years the leading department store in the area. It is now Macy’s. Patti was beautiful, blonde and ebullient. Her father, who left her life early, was a romantic figure who flew in World War II in China with the 14th Air Force, successor to the legendary “Flying Tigers.” Her last marriage was to prominent banker Ed Houston.

She was a good friend of Margaret Walker, associate editor of Gold Coast from the 1960s until her retirement in the 1980s. As such, she became an early friend of Gold Coast’s new owners in 1970, and was helpful in giving strangers in town valuable recognition. She literally matured with the magazine. She appeared in the 1990s on a group cover promoting the revival of “The Showoffs”—a live review staged by prominent people in Fort Lauderdale, which she helped start in the early 1970s. She even made the magazine after moving to Vero Beach, in a piece on locals who had migrated to the Treasure Coast.

John Therien’s obit did make Sunday’s Sun-Sentinel—in the paid listings—and although it mentioned he was prominent in the restaurant business, it failed to emphasize a contribution he made, which was revolutionary in the bar business at the time. In 1971, he was a partner in launching the Banana Boat on Commercial Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale.

The restaurant was a dramatic break from the traditional dark, smoky bar. It was blonde and airy, and featured a U-shaped bar where people could relate to each other. It was one of the first of what now is a standard design for a dating bar. Its great popularity made Commercial Boulevard one of the fun streets in South Florida, as a number of other restaurants, with some of the most popular bartenders and barmaids, open nearby. They were constantly in and out of each other’s places, trading dollars. The late Jack Riker, known as “Turtle,” was one of the original Banana Boat staff members. He used to say he was working on a book—How To See Commercial Boulevard on a Thousand Dollars a Day.

John Therien’s most visible partner in the Banana Boat was Pat Kirk, a former stockbroker. Kirk was a bit of a wild man; John Therien was not, which is why he outlived Kirk by several decades. The Banana Boat concept spread to a number of locations with various partners, but all using the same concept. Today only one survives in Boynton Beach.

Therien, joined by three sons (Luke Therien is president) went on to succeed in a number of ventures, including the Fifth Avenue Grill in Delray Beach, which is still going under different ownership; and another in Deerfield Beach, which closed in 2012. He also opened Old Calypso in Delray Beach. His company, Restaurant Holdings, still runs the Banana Boat and also the more upscale Prime Catch in Boynton Beach. John Therien made it to 80, pretty good for a man in a high stress business.

Finally, we bid farewell to Rosemary Jones, who died at 85 on June 20th. She was a long-time freelancer for Gold Coast and she was active for decades in literary organizations. She earned a special place in the magazine’s history in 1992 when she introduced publisher Bernard McCormick to Fred Ruffner, her boss at Omnigraphics Inc. McCormick was looking for investors to rebuild Gold Coast after a long legal fight to regain control.

Instead of investing, Ruffner bought the magazine, and in one year restored its credibility as the leading South Florida magazine. He then sold it back to a new investment group headed by McCormick.

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