SOME THINGS YOU JUST CAN’T FIND IN A GOOGLE SEARCH
By Catherine Bissett Burkhardt
So, if you don’t count the anticipation of the box of Bailey chocolates at Christmastime, or the family boating days on the Matanzas, or the Fourth of July festivities at the Bailey beach house by the pier, I’d say my most cherished memory of John D. Bailey, Sr. would have to be when he came to the Bailey Center for Caring to visit my late father, George W. Bissett. Mr. Bailey sat at my father’s bedside, by the first friend he made when he moved to St. Augustine, reminiscing of the good times they had shared together. When he stood to leave, I thanked Mr. Bailey for coming to visit. He slowly kept walking, then stopped at the door, turned around and, with tears in his eyes, looked straight at me and said, “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
As I reflect, it seemed as if Mr. Bailey felt his own eventual mortality. He had just said goodbye to a friend he had known for nearly 70 years in the facility that bears his name, one built especially for times like these. It was a very powerful moment that not many people get to experience. The whole circle of life flashed-the big and small moments-and the really great moments with a true and treasured friend. Hopefully, Mr. Bailey felt a comfort, then, in knowing that in the final hours of his friend’s life, he was able to help one more time.
In that moment, I saw the compassionate and caring John D. Bailey, the man who valued people, the man who showed others they were important, and the man who treated people with dignity and respect.
John D. Bailey was a true icon of St. Augustine, a member of the greatest generation, a well-known and respected civic leader, and friend to an entire town. I ask myself where to begin to pay tribute to such a great man!
I believe John Bailey told his own story. He was the poet and the poem. He told his own story by the way he lived his life. It seems as though he found the meaning of life early on and was able to live that purpose-filled life to the ripe old age of 94, surrounding himself with a loving wife and family, a successful career, and a philanthropic mindset shared by an entire community of friends that loved and admired him. What an incredibly blessed life!
Mr. Bailey demonstrated an ability to change the lives of many people by the relationships he fostered and good deeds he performed for others. There are countless stories, from people throughout our community, of how John Bailey impacted lives. His children have witnessed and learned how he helped people. Whether it was assisting financially, aiding professionally, or lending a listening ear, he would always do what he could to help people.
John Bailey served on numerous boards in the St. Augustine community and performed many civic duties, such as serving as Mayor of St. Augustine during the 400th Anniversary Celebration. Mr. Bailey was an early leader in the formative years of Flagler College and enjoyed witnessing the growth and success of the college while serving over 40 years as a Trustee on the Board.
John Bailey’s dedicated service in numerous organizations, along with the abundance of awards he received, demonstrates not only his strong leadership ability but his love of people. Mr. Bailey was a man who truly cared about people. He showed my Dad and our family he cared about us. He showed my Dad that his life was important. John Bailey made each person feel special and important. What a wonderful way to live life and to be remembered. John truly enjoyed people. He enjoyed talking with people, all people, and he listened and cared about them. He was an excellent teacher, mentor, and a respected elder in the St. Augustine community. Never did a meeting with Mr. Bailey and my young sons go by without an instruction on a proper gentleman’s handshake. I can hear his voice, now, saying, “Have a firm grip and always look them in the eye.”
My parents and John and Peggy Bailey were friends in Winter Park long before both couples moved to St. Augustine. Life for these young couples who actually lived in the mid-century modern time, which many try to emulate these days, was filled with hope and dreams for future prosperity. After their service in WWII, these men were finally living the life – each marrying a woman he adored, buying a first home, securing that first job, celebrating the birth of children, and truly living free and happy! The young couples would get together for dinners, celebrate birthdays, and play cards (the simple pleasures before color TV and future technology). They were just enjoying the good life in Florida. When John and Peggy arrived in St. Augustine, as did my parents, they resumed the friendship they built in Central Florida and quickly expanded their friendship to an entire St. Augustine community, where it seemed everyone knew everyone. The fond memories I have with the Baileys and the Meltons, my mother’s sister’s family, will forever be cherished in my heart. It was a time when babies were born, cribs were borrowed, mothers rearranged small houses to accommodate growing families, swim team practices were held at the Ponce Pool (now Flagler College), friends stayed at each other’s houses through Florida hurricanes, Christmas Day visits occurred to see what Santa brought, and there were always lots of birthday parties! It was a simple time and considered the “good ol’ days” by those who lived it and were fortunate to live to tell the stories to their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. These life moments are some things you just can’t find out about a person in a Google search.
John and Peggy Bailey’s five beautiful children, and their many grandchildren, are already following John’s legacy of loving and caring for people – a legacy of love, family, faith in God, patriotism, friendship and caring for all people. It was an honor and a privilege, as many will agree, to know Mr. John D. Bailey!
Oh, and I forgot to say, “Go Dawgs!” I’m sorry… just a little Florida Gator- Girl slip-up. John Bailey absolutely loved cheering for his Georgia Bulldogs.
Rest in peace, kind sir. You’ve been a good and faithful servant. You will be deeply missed by your family, your friends, and the St. Augustine community that you loved so well.