The rescues were in the hundreds but Jay Moyles won’t ever forget the first.
More than three decades later, on the eve of his retirement today as chief of Manatee County Marine Rescue, he remembers it like it was yesterday.
It happened at Coquina Beach, a man was down on the sand and his wife was screaming he was dead.
“I started CPR ... and in the background I could hear a pastor or priest praying with the family,” Moyles said Tuesday. “All of a sudden, he’s got color coming back in his face and he takes this huge breath. He was alive.
“Bringing somebody back, what an adrenalin rush.”
Moyles was 20 then.
He’s 52 now.
“Retirement? The reality of it hasn’t gotten to me yet,” said Moyles, gazing across Gulf Drive North from the new Marine Rescue headquarters. “But it’s looming.”
The son of a New York City cop came here at 19 ostensibly to become a marine biologist.
But the beach got him and kept him.
“Some guys don’t like to be surrounded by four walls all day or dress up in a suit and tie,” said Moyles, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native. “This is what I wanted to do.”
Even after years of handling administrative duties at the county building downtown, like performing as a public information officer for emergency management, or being a liaison with the parks and recreation department or natural resources, Moyles still pulled a shift in the lifeguard tower.
“There’s a sense of freedom,,” the bachelor said. “You’re outside in an environment where people pay thousands for a week’s visit. We get to live here, work here and make a difference here.”
Moyles did in more ways than one.
Among them:- He was a catalyst in getting the $1.25 million Marine Rescue headquarters built.- He helped transition his lifeguards to emergency medical technician status.- He helped secure them special risk retirement benefits.
“Jay’s been a fixture, someone you could always count on,” said County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, a Holmes Beach resident. “When you think about public safety and our beaches, you think about Jay.”
Moyles’s colleagues feel the same way about him.
Only more so.
“We’re like brothers,” said Lt. Rex Beach, a lifeguard for 36 years.
“You work with somebody who’s like family for so long, you don’t anticipate coming to work and not seeing him,” said Capt. Joe Westerman, a lifeguard for 23 years. “Now that day is here.”
Doesn’t Moyles know it.
Their camaraderie is what he’ll miss most.
“It’s going to be hard to let go,” he said. “Not that I’m bossy, but I’ll miss the ability to know I run a good group of guys. They’re professionals and take the job seriously.”
None took it more seriously than Moyles.
He misses the responsibility already, though he knows it’s time to let go.
“It’s the lure of the water, you know the dangers inherent in it and yet you risk your safety for that of somebody else,” he said. “The lives you saved, it’s a huge reward.”
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055.