Submitted by Gerry Clare
When you see James W. Delaney (“Jackie”) at the coffee shop with friends (Dr. and Mrs. Brien Lieng), or at McDonalds, playing cribbage and enjoying a big breakfast, you may wonder about his story. You may know that his family moved here from St. Mary’s in 1863 through the Union Blockade. You may also know that many of his family were involved in shrimping (nets), were stone masons, and were involved in city politics. You may also have read about his amazing collection of political memorabilia.
However, if you thought he has lived here his whole life, you would have been surprised at the wanderlust he experienced early in his life. He was born in Fernandina Beach in a small house near Beech Street, had two sisters and one brother. His father worked at Standard Marine (formerly known as Standard Hardware) and often brought nets home to work on. As he says, it was a small house and they didn’t have much, but there was a lot of love and nurturing going on.
After Peck High School, where he met Mamie, his wife of 56 years, he was drafted and began to see the world. He was stationed in Europe (Germany, France, Belgium, & Luxembourg) and remembers vividly the rough crossing of the Atlantic on a ship with 5,000 troops After World War II was over, he was stationed in the Philippines and became a supply sergeant to a Japanese prison camp near Manila. He can speak a little of quite a few languages and received his first introduction to life outside Fernandina Beach courtesy of the Army. He was discharged in 1946 and came home to work.
He worked loading phosphate rock on the railroad, but when the industry moved to a deeper harbor, he followed the job to Boca Grande, Florida. He rode the rails on a rail pass when he had time off. He worked that job for about 5 years and took off for Evansville, Indiana (a place he had seen in the Army). He worked for awhile in a Chinese restaurant, but it was too cold there and he returned to Florida on Christmas day. After a brief stay in hot Miami, he decided to come home to Fernandina Beach. He settled down, married Mamie, and worked for Container Corporation for 34 years. He was involved in a discrimination suit there, as no blacks other than janitors, had been working inside the mill and was eventually promoted inside. He and Mamie have 6 children and he was happy to take early retirement and get involved in collecting things, the community and the Democratic Party.
When he was young, he used to collect coins and baseball cards, but a chance meeting in Jacksonville at a coin shop brought “Jackie” into touch with an interesting older man who had a “button collection.” Eventually, Jackie was instrumental in helping this man and his wife move to Fernandina and helped him organize his collection. It was so large that he had to rent an upstairs space downtown to work on it. Coincidentally, he also became involved in the Democratic Party and was a delegate in several conventions including Orlando and Miami, where he met Bill Clinton. His political collection became his retirement occupation and after the man and his wife died, he expanded his collection. He has an unbelievable view of history right at his fingertips. Many of his buttons, hats, cards and posters are from local elections as well.
This 87 year old gentleman is a local treasure and has many more stories to tell. Just ask him.
September 20, 2013 4:46 p.m.