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Jerry Hill’s storytelling an education

The question popped up frequently over the years.

“How’s Jerry Hill?” someone would ask. “Heard he’s not too well.”

My answer was always the same:

“Jerry Hill will outlive all of us.”

I really believed it.

Nobody lives forever, of course, but Jerry Hill was one enduringly tough son of a gun.

Even though the gentle giant left us Friday afternoon, I remain in awe of him.

As an outdoors writer who lived his beat and knew his readers and his community well.

As a storyteller without peer. If that corner booth at the original Popi’s Place, where Jerry held court daily over breakfast, could talk!

As a man who gamely battled an onslaught of ailments and illnesses that would have felled a lesser man before his time.

When I first got to the Bradenton Herald, Joanne Mamenta, the managing editor then, was showing me around the newsroom and nodded toward a curly-haired, bearded bear of a man slowly shuffling to his desk.

That’s Jerry Hill, our outdoors writer, Joanne said.

“Jerry just got out of the hospital,” she continued, her concern apparent. “He’s not doing too well.”

That was 11 years ago.

Yet Jerry carried on.

I am not an outdoorsman but have an abiding respect for folks to whom fishing and hunting are a way of life around here.

I credit that to Jerry.

Hearing his endless stories about fishing trips on Lake Okeechobee or hunting trips out in the east county or down in the Everglades were not just entertaining.

Looking back, they were more like an education.

An insightful education about people in our community.

That intimate knowledge had to weigh on Jerry, an ardent conservationist, when he championed the statewide net ban amendment in the mid-1990s.

It profoundly affected the livelihood of the entrenched culture of Cortez, Florida’s oldest fishing village, and triggered the wrath of its outraged inhabitants.

Yet Jerry stood his ground.

That took guts.

This wasn’t some remote port in the Panhandle.

It was Jerry’s backyard.

Now his address has changed for eternity and we wish him Godspeed.

Although I don’t know if there’s any fishing or hunting in heaven, I can just imagine the scene at the Pearly Gates on Friday afternoon.

There’s St. Peter nodding his head and rolling his eyes as Jerry Hill regales him with another tale about one that got away.

Mannix About Manatee, by local columnist Vin Mannix,is about people and issues in Manatee County. Please call Vin Mannix at 745-7055, write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification.

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