One of my most endearing moments shared with friend and colleague, Justin Flippen, was when both he and Commissioner Julie Carson would conduct a children’s book reading at our own very special municipal library here in Wilton Manors.
For the last few years both Julie and Justin hosted a book reading event during Gay Pride Week for local children, their parents, and a handful of residents.
The joy, the magic, and the enthusiasm Justin showed for this event was infectious. Julie and Justin would take turns reading the children’s book, “Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag,” to an audience of young children sitting around on the floor in front of them listening intently. Once the reading was completed, the children would have an amazing discussion on the Rainbow Flag, its meaning, and why it was so important.
Viewing both Justin and Julie interact with the children, all gleaming with hope and optimism, gave affirmation that better days would always be on our city’s horizon.
Today, looking out from our grieving Island City, that horizon does not look so happy and joyful. The tragic loss of Justin Flippen, a dear friend to many, an inspirational leader of our community, a strong Mayor of our city, a neighbor and fellow advocate of a very special place we call Wilton Manors now darkens that horizon.
During the past few days, contemplating how best to write this article, I found myself returning continually to the happy memories of those childrens’ book readings for direction and guidance.
Doing so, steered me to find comfort and hope in another children’s book, “Badger’s Parting Gifts,” by Susan Varley. In this hopeful tale, woodland animals come together to remember their friend Badger after he dies. Questioning how they will go on, they decide to do it with the help of his gifts: his kindness, his friendship, and his love for them, which they'll never forget.
What a wonderful way for us to move beyond our grief and to happily remember such a unique and special human being. Utilizing the many gifts that Justin shared with so many of us; his love of family, his spiritual beliefs, his dedication to our city, his community spirit, will now assist us in becoming a stronger community.
Looking past the grief, remembering Justin reading to the children, or handing out trees at Mickel Park during the Tree Giveaway, or riding high on a float during the Pride celebrations along Wilton Drive, inspiring many here in our Island City and beyond, enthusiastically presiding over City Commission meetings, and so many more wonderful memories, we will once again see rays of hope shining through the dark clouds of grief.
For it is these wonderful memories that Justin planted in our minds, our hearts and our soul, that have made each of us a better person. Moving past the grief, we have been blessed to have shared such precious moments of our own lives with that of our passing friend.
As in Badger’s story, our sadness and grief will fade away and in its place we will have happy thoughts, smiles and a renewed community spirit whenever Justin’s name is mentioned. Joyful memories and stories of his good deeds will bring a smile to all.
Just as one of the woodland animals looked to thank the passing friend for all of his parting gifts, I too wish to thank our dear friend Justin for all the wonderful gifts he has left with us here in our Island City.
“’Thank you Badger,’ the little mole said softly, believing that Badger would hear him. And somehow …Badger did.”
I know somehow Justin heard my words as I spoke to him, as I am sure he hears all of yours.
Thank you Justin for the bountiful precious gifts you have left us all. We will remember you always with smiles, admiration and much gratitude for seeking to make life, not only in our Island City, but far beyond our small village, just better for all.
Justin Flippen stories about his life can be [email protected]