In a flurry of black fabric, the memorial announcing to visitors that they have arrived at Justin Flippen Park was revealed.
A silver-grey tree bent over black stone, the piece includes a quote from the late Wilton Manors Mayor, who died unexpectedly at 41.
“I just get chills looking at the dates,” said Wilton Manors Mayor Scott Newton. “So young.”
The city hosted the memorial unveiling and park dedication Saturday afternoon, where those who loved and admired him attended. Remarks were made by Jim and Greg Flippen, his father and brother, as well as members of the commission. Those in attendance included Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis and Oakland Park Vice Mayor Michael Carn.
Flippen died of a brain aneurysm on his way to a Wilton Manors City Commission meeting on February 25, 2020. Those who knew him felt that not only was his life cut short, but his potential for public service.
“I think he was Wilton Manors,” said Randy Bitton, who donned a blue sweater with Flippen’s photo. “He was just a person who was proud of his city and had great things planned, and I really think that if he had lived he would have gone farther than Wilton Manors. He might have been a senator, he might have been the president one day.”
Bitton and her daughter, Brooke, teamed up with Flippen as they worked on a murder-mystery novel based in Wilton Manors. He was the keynote speaker at the book’s launch party, and the two have since created a booklet of his photos and quotes as a fundraiser.
After the memorial was unveiled, Jim told the crowd how his son loved his country and had visited almost 400 national parks in the United States and in territories abroad.
“Wilton Manors of course was his favorite city in the whole United States. He could be who he wanted to be and not pretend that he wasn’t, here in this city. I admired him for that,” Jim said. “He cared about every one of you.”
Greg recounted how his brother always took photos with a thumbs up in front of park signs — the whole group who attended the dedication got together to take a photo by the memorial, smiling with their thumbs up.
Beyond the park, his memory has not been forgotten. The Our Fund Foundation created a scholarship in his honor. Prior to his death, he was also open about his experience of conversion therapy and helped ban the practice in Wilton Manors.
“We weren’t just comrades on the dais up there, we were friends,” Newton said. “He was a strong man. A big man. A big heart. All he wanted to do was help people. I never heard him say one bad thing about anyone, ever. That’s the kind of person Justin was.”
Photo by JR Davis.