For 13-year-old Ely Roberts, the moment he learned his Eagle Scout project was approved was “good news in a bad news situation,” as the announcement came from his dying grandfather, who just days earlier had been with his grandson on a weeklong camping trip with Brandon’s Troop 111.
“That’s all he cared about in the hospital, was my Eagle Scout project,” Roberts said, about his beloved grandfather, James D. “Big Jim” Selvey, the first Republican elected to the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners in the modern era. “He wasn’t supposed to talk, but when he saw me he just wanted to know everything that happened at summer camp, everything in detail. And then he said, ‘I got your Eagle Scout project approved.’ It was good news in a bad news situation.”
Selvey, 77, who was working in the real estate business until he died, served as committee chairman for Troop 111, which meets Tuesday nights at HCC at The Regent in Riverview.
“First and foremost he was just a gentleman, a true Southern gentleman,” said Selvey’s son, Jimmy Selvey, who was at HCC at The Regent on July 22 for his nephew’s Troop 111 meeting. “He was a hard worker, full of energy, and he worked tirelessly for the community, even after he left office.”
Selvey added that his dad “wore many hats” and was his best friend.
“He was a dad. He was the political guy. He was a farmer. He was a Scout,” Selvey said. “He worked in South America, in charge of international sales at a plywood plan. He was a realtor. He was a people person. He was an extreme family man. He loved his family. He loved his grandchildren and he strived to be an active part of their lives.”
Moreover, Selvey “was probably one of the best decision-makers ever, because he thought out all the effects of every decision he made,” his son added. “He would look at the pros and cons of every situation. He did the research. That was what he lived by. He believed in research.”
“Big Jim” Selvey was elected to the Hillsborough County Commission in 1985. He served two terms and was elected chairman by fellow board members in 1989.
He served at a time — and for his constituents in the Greater Brandon and south and east county areas — when growth was booming and major infrastructure needs were being considered.
“I met him in 1985 when I was covering the county commission. He was a true Southern gentleman,” said D’Ann White, who for 25 years served as editor of the Brandon News.
Earl Lennard, who served as both the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections and the superintendent of Hillsborough County schools, also referred to Selvey as a ‘true Southern gentleman.’
“He was a good commissioner, a great commissioner,” Lennard said. This community will miss him because we were better off that he lived and served.”
As for the Boy Scouts, “that was one of his favorite things, working to mold our young people into doing good,” Lennard said.
As for his grandson, Ely Roberts remembers a “papa” who was “fun to talk to” and had “lots of funny stories,” who found lots of time for family and “got along with everyone. “When he had disagreements he handled it professionally,” Roberts added.
Now, for Roberts, the road to Eagle Scout will be forged with an even greater determination. His proposed project is to replace all the benches and seats around the fire rings at the youth camp at Hillsborough River State Park, a task he must complete by age 18 to earn his Eagle Scout standing.
“It’s not just for the other people now,” Roberts said of his Eagle Scout quest. “It’s just for him, it’s all for him.” And when he gets his Eagle Scout recognition, Selvey’s grandson said he’ll be thinking, “Papa, I got it done, I made you proud.”