Like many of us in Goodland, I had watched but kept my distance from an unkempt, long haired, bearded, and rather melancholy looking (some would say wild eyed) man, riding a makeshift bike around town or along San Marco Road. Occasionally, he would walk the streets of Goodland to the post office or to the restrooms at Margood Park. He had no known lodging in Goodland and seemed to appear from nowhere and disappear again from whence he came. I later learned that some took pains (occasional violence was involved) to let him know that a person of his ilk was not welcome here.
In September 2016, I approached this specter of a man and asked if he would mind me writing a story about him for the Coastal Breeze News. Obviously pleased that someone, anyone, would take an interest in him, he agreed to do it. Thus began a relationship which would change his life and mine. Over the next year, he would pour out his remarkable and star crossed life story to me. As a result, from November 2016 to November 2017, I have written five articles about Danny. This will be the sixth. (If you are curious, go to coastalbreezenews.com and search Danny Mootispaw.)
Over the course of these articles, Danny went from being a pariah to a bit of a celebrity, not only in Goodland, but on all of Marco Island. Today, instead of being cursed, he is greeted by many who cross his path. Some have gone further than that. It was my fourth article, “Danny’s Life Afloat” (Coastal Breeze News, March 2, 2017) that resulted in an upwelling of widespread community support for this gentle man. “We are all wondering, how you manage to survive [under the rotting superstructure of your boat],” I told him, last February, “I would like to have a look see for myself.” “Maybe you might get a new roof out of this,” I mused, not realizing how prescient and game changing this observation would turn out to be. Danny rowed me out to his boat; I took some pictures, and wrote the article that helped to galvanize support, which ultimately got Danny his new roof and much more. This is the story of how that happened.
The “Danny’s Life Afloat” article had painted a grim picture of life aboard his floating hulk, which he had christened the Fish Camp. I had seen for myself that the roof covering was disintegrating and that this was leading to extensive rotting underneath. During storms and in the rainy season everything, including Danny and his bedding, had to be protected by plastics for protection from rain, dripping through the roof and blowing in to the cabin through the mostly unprotected sides. The whole structure had to be held upby1x4’s,which were only postponing the inevitable. Danny had neither the wherewithal to buy materials for repairs nor any way to get them to Goodland. Cleve Smith was among those who had been moved by the Coastal Breeze articles, especially this one, he said. Of all the people I know in Goodland, Cleve is the one you would want in your corner, when the chips are down. He is almost irresistible when he sets his mind to something and has a way to get people to do things. He also has a big heart and a soft spot those less fortunate than he. He called me after reading the very first article and said he wanted to meet Danny. The two had a lot in common and a friendship developed. Upon reading about the deplorable conditions on Danny’s boat, he called me again and said he wanted to help. I knew then that Danny’s worries, at least about his roof, were over.
Cleve grew up in S. Pittsburgh, Tennessee (There is no N. Pittsburgh), a village of about 3,000, on the Tennessee River where it crosses into Alabama. It is a suburb of Chattanooga. He graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in 1966 with a degree in business, and in 1977 founded Smith, Harris and Carr, which became one of the most influential lobbying firms in the state. “We lobbied the Tennessee legislature on behalf of major industries which had offices or plants in Tennessee,” Cleve said, “Among those were quite a few Fortune 500 companies.” Cleve may be the best and most ingratiating storyteller since Will Rogers, and soon was working his magic on key lawmakers who were considering legislation involving his clients. It was common for him to receive copies of notes between legislators, saying in essence, “We’ve got to pass this one for Cleve.” Cleve sold out to his partners in 2003 and moved permanently to Goodland in 2005.
Since then, both Cleve and his wife Jane Ann have immersed themselves in community activities, but always under the radar. Now he became more like a tornado sweeping through the island. “I didn’t know anything about construction,” he said, “and had no idea what this would cost.” He began talking to people around town. Some agreed to help with some things and some with others, but none could suggest how to pull the whole project together. It became apparent that the costs of materials and labor would be prohibitive. Transporting all of this out to Danny’s boat seemed almost impossible.
To get over the first hurdle, Cleve decided to try getting a supply company to donate the materials. He thought of Lowe’s Home Improvement Store at U.S. 41 and Collier Boulevard, because it was closest. “I didn’t know anyone at the store,” he said, “but decided to drop in on them and see what I could do.” In February 2016, without an appointment, he went out to Lowe’s, carrying with him the Coastal Breeze News articles about Danny. He was ushered into the offices of the HR manager Stephanie Earnhart. Cleve knew generally what Danny wanted, which was to rebuild his superstructure and get away from a flat roof. Beyond that he would depend only on his suasion, considerable warmth, and homespun charm. “I was in there for about 20 minutes,” Cleve said, “Stephanie seemed interested and said she would get back to me.” After several more visits, Earnhart announced that she and some other store managers would like to come out and meet Danny and look at his boat; they had been intrigued by what he had gone through. A visit was set up for late March. Barry was a practicing attorney before he worked as a Special Agent of the FBI for 31 years. Barry worked for several government agencies another ten years before retiring to Goodland in 2006. Barry is presently the Secretary of the Goodland Civic Association.
Next edition: “Danny Mootispaw Gets a Hand Up, Part 2; Lowe’s Steps Up to the Plate.”