HISTORY OF PASCO COUNTY
The Rest of the Mahaffey Story
By WILLIAM W. “BILLY” MAHAFFEY
It has been well over sixty years since the Mahaffey family left Lacoochee, and a lot has happened to us since then. I would like to share with you a little about each of us and the directions our lives took after we left Pasco County.
As I told you earlier in my story, my parents left Lacoochee after a series of strokes incapacitated my father. They moved to Quincy, Florida in early 1949. I joined them there after spending the last months of my tenth grade school year with the Andrews family in Lacoochee. My time with the Andrews family was special. They treated me like a son, and Mrs. Andrews, the Lacoochee Junior High Principal at the time, even managed to bring about an improvement in my study habits. I will always be grateful to them.
I entered the eleventh grade in Quincy High School in the fall of 1949 and immediately joined the football team. I was so angry at being snatched from the place I loved that I could not wait to hit someone. The football team seemed the appropriate place. In November of that year my father, who was 51, passed away. Despite my grief over the loss of my father and my continued anger at having to leave Lacoochee, my load was somehow lightened when we drove into the cemetery for the funeral, and I saw the members of the Quincy High School football team lining both sides of the road.
After my father’s death, my mother and I were on our own in Quincy. Harriet was there living with the Cumbie family, and we saw her a lot. Jeanette and Mary were married and away, and Jimmy was out on his own. After finishing high school, I attended Florida State University. In the summers I went to sea on merchant tankers to earn money for school.
While I was in college, my mother’s cancer returned in a big way. I had already completed the first session of Marine platoon leader’s class, but I decided to request orders for active duty so that I would have enough income to send an allotment to Mama. After I completed basic training at Paris Island, I was on active duty as a diesel mechanic for two years. Lucky for me I spent my time at a radar base near Miami instead of fighting in the Korean War. My mother, unfortunately, passed away from cancer in 1954 while I was in the Marines. She was just 54 years old.
When I completed my Marine service, I returned to Quincy and continued my college education at Florida State. My uncle, Earnest Mahaffey, had a successful insurance and real estate business in town. When he died unexpectedly, my aunt offered me the business. That was the beginning of my over fifty years as an insurance agent and real estate broker. During those years I was active in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and served as a City Commissioner and as the Mayor of Quincy. I married Janis Perkins in 1959, and we had three daughters, Jan, Julie and Laura. Janis passed away in 1998, and daughter Laura died from cancer in 2001. My girls all married and gave us grandchildren, five boys and one girl. All of the grandchildren are doing well. I have a young great grandson and a new born great granddaughter.
After five years of being a widower, I married Susanne Bradford Maxwell, the widow of a Quincy friend. We have enjoyed over twelve happy years of traveling and spending time at our Alligator Point, Florida beach house. We live on what was a shade leaf tobacco farm, and I stay busy these days trying to keep it up!
Harriet is the only remaining one of my siblings. She is doing well and lives in nearby Tallahassee. Harriet graduated from South Carolina’s Converse College and for a number of years taught deaf children. She married a high school classmate, John Wilson, and was in Atlanta with him while he attended medical school. When he completed his studies, he practiced medicine in Tallahassee as a heart specialist. Harriet and John have three daughters, Ann, Rebecca, and Mary Beth. Ann and Becca live in the Charlotte, North Carolina area, and Mary Beth is in Orlando. Dr. Wilson died in 2000. Harriet spent seven years as a widow, and then married another high school friend, widower Bob Butler. Harriet has been very involved in her community and in her church. She was active in prison ministry for eleven years, traveling to numerous prisons to minister to women inmates. She now teaches English as a second language to international students. Bob continues to work in the insurance business, and they enjoy spending time with their families including Harriet’s nine grandchildren.
My oldest sister Jeanette attended secretarial school in Tallahassee and then worked in Pensacola where she met her first husband, Rex Robertson. Later the family moved back to the Ormond Beach area where Jeanette lived for the rest of her life. She was the mother of seven, Reid, Rex, Jim, Jane, Amy, John and Michael. In her last years Jeanette and husband Bob Clarke cut a mean figure on the dance floor. They loved to dance and to go out on their boat. One of my cousins told me that “Jeanette always was a looker.” When she died in 2014 at 91, she was still a sweet and very pretty lady.
Sister Mary, the true “rock of the family,” married Neil Rollins. Neil was a World War II crash boat skipper. They lived in various places in the United States including New Orleans, Savannah, and Wayne, New Jersey. Neil’s work with American Cyanamid took them to Taiwan, China for a while. Outgoing Mary made wonderful friends wherever they were. The couple had three children, Dean, Michael and Becky. Dean died when he was in his thirties. Michael and his wife now live in Colorado, and Becky lives in Winchester, Virginia. For the last twenty or so years of their lives, Mary and Neil lived in the little Pennsylvania town of Jersey Shore where they had a wonderful old home that Mary filled with lovely antiques. It was always a place that the rest of the family loved to visit. Neil died in 2006, and Mary followed him in 2009.
After leaving Lacoochee, brother Jimmy was in the Coast Guard and later graduated from refrigeration school in Chicago. He returned to Quincy where for many years he owned and operated a very successful heating and air conditioning business. He married Helen Clair Wheat of Quincy and they had two daughters, Harriet and Mary Carol. Jimmy adopted Helen Clair’s two year old son, Branch. Jimmy died in 1991 as the result of a terrible freak accident that occurred when an acetylene tank exploded and burned him over 70% of his body. After the accident Jimmy was flown to the Burn Unit at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida. Despite the fact that he had always been an avid Florida State Seminole, he was given excellent care in the city of the University of Florida Gators. During our time with Jimmy at Shands we were comforted by visits from our old Lacoochee friend, Bill Andrews.
I have always known that I was blessed to be part of a wonderful family and to grow up with them in a very special place. One of our favorite topics as we gathered through the years was our time in Lacoochee. Many years have passed since those days, but our memories never dulled. Throughout our lives, you can be sure that each member of the Jim and Wilma Mahaffey family carried a little bit of Lacoochee stardust with them.