Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
October 7, 2019
Johnny Miller meets some of the most interesting Fernandina Beach visitors, not just because he serves as the City’s Mayor, but also because he literally serves visitors as bartender at the Palace Saloon, the most historic watering hole on Centre Street. Because of his high visibility and affability, many local residents make it a point to let him know when special groups plan to visit, in hopes that he will be able to spare a few minutes to greet them.
At the end of the October 1, 2019 Regular Meeting of the Fernandina Beach City Commission, Miller recapped a recent encounter with a veterans group on a busy Saturday at the Palace.
A local resident had alerted Miller that the 77th Field Artillery Regiment Association would be holding a reunion in Fernandina Beach. Miller sent word back via his local contact that he would like to officially greet the group at the Palace during the Saturday of their visit. Once he received confirmation that the group would indeed like to drop by, he contacted City Clerk Caroline Best and asked her to draw up a Proclamation expressing the City’s gratitude to the 77th for their service to the country.
Best conducted research that she then fashioned into a Proclamation, as Mayor Miller had requested.
When the 50 or so Association members arrived at the Palace, the place was bustling with its usual Saturday activity. Miller, upon recognizing the group, shed his bartending cap and donned a jacket before standing up to read the Proclamation.
Miller reported that a hush fell over the normally boisterous weekend crowd as visitors and locals watched the members of the 77th stand at attention while he read the document to all assembled. The words provided by Caroline Best gave the Palace crowd an unanticipated history lesson.
Miller reported that some people took photos and videos; others hugged or cried. Following his presentation of the Proclamation, the Palace broke into applause. Members of the Association thanked Miller and asked that their appreciation be passed along to City Clerk Best. They could not stay long, as they were on their way to an Amelia River Cruise. But Miller reported that all they could talk about was how friendly and open the Fernandina Beach community has been to them.
The next day, the tables were turned on Miller. A man entered the saloon in military garb. He called for quiet and attention on deck. He then delivered a formal thank you to Miller and Best, inducting them as honorary members of the 77th’s Association. The current Commanding Officer of their unit, who is on active duty, had also received a copy of the city Proclamation.
And in recognition of the hospitality and recognition afforded to the veterans group, members have decided to declare Fernandina Beach the permanent location for their biannual reunions.
As he concluded his recounting of this event, Miller told his fellow Commissioners, “[The vets] could not talk enough about Caroline Best and how important that proclamation was to them. He then turned to Best and said, “The things that you do for this city; the lives that you touched went way beyond the scope of what I asked you to do. I just can’t tell you how important that is and what an asset you are to the community. Thank you.”
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.