My father, Dr. Colquitt Pearson, was the first anesthesiologist in Miami, coming down here from Georgia at the suggestion of his cousin Dr. Homer Pearson, an obstetrician who for many years was Secretary of the Florida Board of Medical Examiners.
That South Georgia family also brought Dr. I. T. Pearson, superintendent of Dade County Schools, Dr. Rufus Pearson, Dr. Dade Pearson and a number of Pearson attorneys who became judges, including Tillman and Ray, who died recently.
A legend in the family was that during the 1935 hurricane my mother Betty, not knowing about the “eye of the storm” lull period, had walked to the corner of Southwest 17th Avenue and 23rd Terrace to a small grocery to buy some milk. Half a block from home the back half of the hurricane hit with terrible force. Through some act of God, Daddy was just then turning into our street, having driven home from Jackson Hospital, when he saw Mother holding onto a telephone pole about to be blown away. He managed to rescue her and get home safely.
When I got older and hurricane warnings were given, I can remember putting down our shutters, clearing the yard and stuffing rags and papers underneath our porch doors to keep the rising water out. As power invariably went out, the day after the hurricane Daddy would drive us all down to the Royal Castle (open 24/7) on the Trail and 16th Avenue, as they had a gas grill and all the nickel hamburgers you could eat (along with birch beer!).
Summers were spent playing ball at Shenandoah Park, where future Dade County sports legends like Stan Marks, John and Leo Weber, Nick Balikes and Lester Johnson played. One summer we had a team sponsored by the “Clique Club” bar and grill; the owner gave us all black T-shirts and baseball caps (although it was many years before any of us was old enough to go into that bar, across the street from the Parkway Theatre).
I do remember that Miami attorney Louis Lafontise and former high school coach Ricky Adams were teammates, and that Stan Marks struck me out with a fastball in a game at the old Miami Stadium.
As we lived not far from the Bay, we used to row an old skiff from the canal at Bayshore and 17th Avenue across to what was then called “Fair Isle,” today’s Grove Isle Club. We would take our dog, find dry driftwood and build a fire, and cook hamburgers on the beach. That was a real adventure, not possible in these times of structured “play dates.”
Neighborhood theaters like the Tower (on the Trail), the Gables and Coral (in Coral Gables) and the Grove (in Coconut Grove) used to show what we called “shorts,” (little comedies with people like Leon Erroll and Robert Benchley); followed by cartoons (Mickey Mouse, Tom & Jerry); followed by serials (The Green Hornet, Batman and Robin); the newsreel (battle scenes from World War II); and finally, the feature film. It was a whole Saturday afternoon, and you could spend as much as 30 cents (A dime for the movie, a dime for the popcorn, a nickel for a Pepsi, and a nickel for a bag of M&M;’s).
Sometimes we took the bus (number 17) downtown, had a sandwich at Kress, and walked over to the Royal Theater, which had double-features. On the way there we stopped in Jan the Magic Man’s store, and on occasion we’d stand outside Professor Seward’s open-air tent on Biscayne Boulevard while he lectured on astrology.
My mother was musical and the family sang around the piano at home and on the summer trips in her station wagon. When I was old enough to drive, I started singing around town – on WIOD’s “Crusader Kids” show on Saturday mornings, in amateur contests at the American Legion, and on Sunday Club Dates at small Beach hotels like the Shore Club and Delmonico. We got $5 a show.
One summer I ushered at the fabulous Olympia Theatre on Flagler Street, a unique old-timey place that combined movies with stage shows. There was always a band (Les Rhode, I recall, was one), an MC/comic, a singer, and some kind of variety act — trained dogs, jugglers or acrobats. What it really was, was Vaudeville.
When the Korean War came along I spent three years in the Coast Guard, most of it in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. I then went to Emory University, where my fathers and uncles had studied medicine, and on to United Press International. I spent three years with a group of young men developing the new resort of Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island, and when John Kennedy called everyone to do something for his country, my wife Anne and I moved to Washington, where I spent a year as a Peace Corps official and a year with former Florida Gov. LeRoy Collins working in Civil Rights.
By a twist of fate, I was called to handle the press at the White House on Nov. 22, 1963, a night neither I nor any other living person will ever forget.
My father retired as chief of anesthesia at Baptist Hospital in the late ’60s, and spent most of his time fishing at our cottage on Tavernier. So we brought our children to Miami to spend time with their grandparents, and I opened my public relations firm.
The firm is still alive and well, the children are all grown and flourishing, but times are changing. These days the grandchildren are all bi-lingual, and some are taking their Math and Science classes in Spanish.
During Bob Graham’s years as Florida governor, I helped him and Jimmy Buffett with Graham’s “Save” conservation campaigns, including the manatees, the shoreline, and energy. More recently, my efforts have been directed at stopping the drilling off Florida’s coasts, and holding Dade County’s Urban Development Boundary.
Miami has grown from a quiet little Southern city to an exciting international metropolis. But I still miss the Royal Castle hamburgers.?