More than 700 people came together Friday to say goodbye and celebrate the life of Justin Flippen, the beloved late mayor of Wilton Manors.
His death shocked the city, and its collective grief was on full display at the Venue in Wilton Manors, where the community gathered for an emotional tribute to the 41-year-old, who died Feb. 25 of a brain aneurysm while en route to his City Commission meeting.
“In my deep grief on the loss of my friend, I know that his memory will remain alive and vibrant as we continue to lift up the legacy and spirit of ‘The People’s Mayor’ as we together, heal,” said Julie Carson, a friend and Wilton Manors City Commissioner. “Give us all the strength to live as Justin lived – bold and loud, quiet and tender, doing justice, walking humbly throughout the journey of his life.”
Carson led the celebration that included remarks from rest of the city commission, his brother Greggory Flippen, Broward County Commissioner Nan Rich, Congressman Ted Deutch, and members of the United Church of Christ.
The speakers detailed Flippen’s commitment to his faith, politics, the local community, LGBT rights and children.
“On this occasion, as we reflect on Justin’s life and share in song, stories and prayers, together as a community family, we will live his memory into the future,” Carson said.
The evening also included a candle lighting ceremony, a video tribute, America the Beautiful sung by Wilton Manors Elementary School Choir, Somewhere Over the Rainbow sung by the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida, and the Pledge of Allegiance led by Daniel McCrater and Rowan Cannon, two of Flippen’s young friends.
Flippen was born in Hollywood. He was the oldest of five boys. He graduated from Coconut Creek High School and received degrees from Broward College, and Florida Atlantic University. At FAU he was the first openly gay student body president. He also attended the University of Florida where he earned a law degree.
“Justin Flippen was full of life, love and ambition […] building a successful career in public service,” his brother Greggory said.
Justin was first elected to the Wilton Manors City Commission in 2008. He was elected mayor in 2018 in a historic election where Wilton Manors became the second city in the country, and first in Florida, to have an all LGBT commission.
“Because of his grassroots approach to public service, populist appeal, and long standing history and connection to Wilton Manors, Justin was always known as ‘The People's Mayor,” Greggory said. “Justin was a man of, and for the people. He worked tirelessly to break the model and changed Wilton Manors, earning a spot in the hearts of everyone.”
Justin worked full time for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.
He had a passion for parks and traveling the U.S. He had visited all 50 states, as well as 500 national and state parks by the time he turned 40.
During the service a couple of the commissioners noted Justin’s devotion to protecting local parks and how they’d like to see park named in his honor.
Justin was also a man of faith.
“Justin Stuart Flippen was a devout Christian, his relationship with God shines through everything he did,” Greggory said. “He strived to be the most honest, just and hard working man that he could be, loved by many, Justin was also known to have a light heart, finding humor in everything he did. He filled the room with laughter and optimism. His passing was an unexpected tragedy. He will be forever and deeply missed by those who knew him.”
Carson also noted Justin’s passion for children and families pointing out his Harvey Milk Book Reading initiative.
“[This] demonstrated his love for children, our city, education and weaving the fabric of equality into the lives of our youngest residents,” Carson said.
During the video tribute images of Justin’s life, flashed on screen with the song “I Hope You Dance,” playing in the background, while the audience lit candles in the former mayor’s memory.
Instead of flowers or gifts, Flippen’s family is asking for donations to be made to the Justin Flippen Memorial Fund, at , or to the United Church of Christ Fort Lauderdale, 2501 NE 30th St. in Fort Lauderdale.
Click HERE to see SFGN's Facebook Pictures from the event.