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Scene & Heard: A Lawyer’s Struggle

BY January 30, 2018


While the events I’ve been to lately have certainly been sparkly and festive, some have also carried an air of seriousness as some local movers and shakers have bared their souls for causes close to their hearts. At last October’s Faces of Hope luncheon at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre to benefit Hope Clubhouse, which provides support for adults living with mental illness, popular attorney Sawyer Smith—who once ran for county commissioner and whose father, Wilbur Smith, was mayor of Fort Myers from 1988 to 1996—addressed a rapt audience of 350 guests. The 41-year-old barrister with a soft Southern accent spoke of his bouts with depression and his struggle with attention deficit disorder. He was honest, candid and raw as he recognized that while he had the available resources to get treatment, so many others do not. At the end of his talk, the audience members rose to their feet and a thunderous applause echoed through the room. In fact, Sawyer’s speech was the talk of the town, as so many attendees related and shared their own stories with friends. The event raised a whopping $100,000 for the cause, which is so rare for a luncheon event. Christin Collins of Lee Health, the luncheon’s Chair, had asked Sawyer to speak. She says, “The fact that so many people came to the luncheon and gave of their hearts represents the generosity of our community to create change when it comes to mental and behavioral health. Mental illness affects 20 to 25 percent of our local population. Sawyer had the resources to get to the other side and to thrive (for other news on him, see below). The funds that were raised at the event will help so many others in their journeys to do the same.”

Not long after the Faces of Hope luncheon, the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa glittered with shades of purple (the color for domestic violence awareness) as around 600 guests gathered in November for the annual Arts for ACT Fine Art Auction. There was WINK News anchor Chris Cifatte; PACE Board President Diana Willis with her husband, Scott; glamorous Sherri Holly of Chico’s; photographer Ollie Gentry; Spada owners Judy and Andrew Williams; Honorary Chair Marc Collins and his lovely wife, Lori—and at the helm was Kellie Burns as mistress of ceremonies and auctioneer extraordinaire Scott Robertson. But, one lady who stole the show was former Cape Coral Mayor Marni Sawicki. She courageously took to the stage and spoke of her frightening experiences of being in an abusive relationship and how much ACT helped her to gain strength and heal. Her talk was powerful and moving and proved that abuse has nothing to do with income or status—it can happen to anyone. As Marc Collins said, “Marni was amazing, brave, and helped remove the stigma. She has endured so much, and ACT is so grateful for her honesty.”

Personal stories clearly make a difference at events—not just in raising money for worthy causes, but also by putting faces on those causes. At the Tides of Change sunset dinner fete in November at Marine Max in South Fort Myers for PACE Center for Girls, the waterfront venue was stunning; touring yachts was exciting; chef Brian Roland’s spread was over-the-top delicious; and it was fun running into attorney Jenna Persons, Scott and Mary Fischer of Six Bends Harley-Davidson, Dorothy Fitzgerald of the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, Dr. Steve Prendiville and his wife, Tehjan, of Assuage Spa, and so many others decked out in “coastal chic.” But it was young PACE graduate Mara McKinney who told her story of success who was the real star of the evening. Getting our stories out there is healthy, compelling and admirable. Hopefully, this is a trend.

A true broadcasting pioneer passed in November. Bernie Waterman suffered a stroke, pneumonia set in, and the 96-year-old’s condition worsened quickly. He grew up in the Great Depression and answered the call of duty by serving in World War II. Then, “Bernie married the prettiest girl in Alabama,” says Steve Pontius, executive vice president and general manager of Waterman Broadcasting, referring to Bernie’s beloved wife of 71 years, Edith Waterman. Steve spoke at the funeral, held at the Sanibel Community Church, where current and former faces from NBC2 and ABC7 gathered to celebrate a life well-lived. Together, the Watermans poured their savings into buying a radio station, which proved the first of many smart acquisitions. In the late 1970s, Bernie saw an opportunity to turn WBBH-TV into a powerhouse NBC affiliate in Southwest Florida. On the walls of Bernie’s Fort Myers office are pictures and reminders of a man with deep influence. There’s a thank-you note from a young presidential candidate named John Kennedy. During his touching remarks, Steve relayed the story behind it, of a 1960 meet-and-greet event in Massachusetts in which JFK asked Bernie if he thought a Roman Catholic could win the presidency. Bernie prophetically replied, “Yes I do.” Up until recently, Bernie would still come to work, send out newsworthy topics to producers, and eat among his employees in the lunchroom with his own brown-bag lunch, which Edith would pack. When I started with NBC2 13 years ago, I remember Bernie mentioning his door was always open. I wish I would have walked in a few more times.

The unofficial start to the Naples social calendar kicked off in grand fashion with Hats in the Garden. The November event benefits Naples Botanical Garden, which, this year especially, needed help refilling the coffers after Hurricane Irma. One mother-daughter duo put their heads together for a topper that certainly was a talker. “People were definitely touching it to see if it was real,” Heather Dockweiler told me. She got the inspiration for “hat hair” from her style-savvy then-5-year-old daughter, Celie Rose Dockweiler, who regularly watches hair and nail tutorials on YouTube. Heather then called on the creative powers of Matthew Huddleston and Louis Boutier from 50 Fifty Creative Services. The hat consisted of hair extensions and Heather’s own hair wrapped around a form. “The only issue was getting it out,” Heather recalled.

Above-mentioned Fort Myers attorney Sawyer Smith told TSA at Southwest Florida International Airport that he didn’t realize he packed a loaded pistol into a carry-on bag. Instead of catching a November flight to Connecticut, Smith was arrested. His expired concealed carry permit only added to the issue for a man who is used to defending others. Smith broke the news to friends on Facebook by saying, “Slow down and be present.”

Former President George W. Bush is staying active post-White House. He hit the links in Naples with his brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, for a round in November. Our 43rd president was kind enough to pose for pictures and allowed someone in the group to record video on a cellphone. Gene Fieger, the director of golf at The Club Pelican Bay, said afterward he thought the former president, now 71, probably shot in the low 80s. With all due respect Mr. President, after seeing your swing, I’d like to file an open records request on that scorecard.


Photography by AP Alexander (right) and Jim Jett Photography (left)


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