Friday, August 22, 2014

Another Hero's Gone

Must have been around 1970, '71. I was starting my last quarter as a geography major at the University of South Florida in Tampa and I knew it was time to look for a grownup job.  I called a family friend who was something of a mover and shaker in the community and asked if he could help. I knew just enough to figure out that geographers worked in urban planning and such. I didn't really know what that meant. Still don't. 

The wise gentleman asked, "What do you really want to do?"

Although I hadn't considered such a practical approach, I immediately responded, "I want to work for Roger Stewart."

Roger was the head of a small county department called, at that time, Hillsborough County Department of Pollution Control.

The friend told me that he didn't really know Mr. Stewart but that his first suggestion would be to call him personally and ask for an interview. I suppose that Roger recognized a twinkle that made up for a lack of sophistication and experience. I spent a few months as an intern, graduated and went to work full time as an air quality specialist. I tilted at windmills along side my hero for years until finally I was the head of enforcement with a staff of ten or twelve dedicated zealots working under me to protect the environment that we loved.

When the county commissioners fired Roger illegally in 1974 a small group of us hardcore loyalists hung on, longing for justice to reign. Who knew.

The feds forced the county commissioners to give Roger Stewart his position back based on an obscure federal law that had been violated in the firing. I still remember my grandmother calling from Alabama to tell me that she had seen me on an episode of 60 Minutes blubbering to Roger that I would work for him for nothing before I would do anything else.

Well, I spent ten long years in those trenches, the longest stretch away from my beloved rock'n'roll. My side of the story is that Roger caved in, compromised, sold out. His side would be backed up by former wives and girlfriends. Mine, not his. We both failed at romance on a regular basis.

He couldn't fire me. I never did anything wrong. He finally took my staff, my office, my car, my files and my salary out of the budget. Felt like I was fired.

A couple of years ago I was convinced to attend a special event at USF honoring Mr. Stewart. We hadn't crossed paths in decades. When he saw me he hugged me, his eyes filled with tears. Neither of us had to say much.

He left this polluted planet yesterday. I will always love him. He will always be my hero.

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