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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: A holiday weekend that will live in infamy

Labor Day weekend has come and gone, the vast majority of us having emerged unharmed from its peculiar invitations to celebrate summer’s traditional wrap-up. And yet, in years to come, certain survivors among us will recall this particular seasonal bookend as a climax unlike any other.

Joshua Griffin and James Poindexter, two young men separated by background and prominence but united by personal effervescence and the joy they gave others, were swallowed up by Gulf waters a day apart, leaving communities of loved ones shocked and grieving.

Too young. Too soon. Unbelievable.

Once again, we are forced to peer through the lens that turns the world topsy-turvy.

Griffin, 29, was the first-born son of Danielle and Jeff Griffin, libertarian-leaning Republican activists whose spread off State Road 52 near the Suncoast Parkway — Fairhaven Farm — has for years served the GOP as gathering place and campaign launching pad.

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Griffin himself launched, if briefly, from Fairhaven just last year, waging an energetic against-the-establishment bid for the Pasco County commission in the Republican primary. History shows Kathryn Starkey, by far the more seasoned politician, won the primary and the general election.

But when it was all over, the neophyte from Fairhaven was the only candidate who had advanced anything approaching a fresh idea, that Pasco should adopt “performance-based” budgeting, a scheme that introduces private-sector competition and constant reevaluation to local government spending. He’d witnessed performance-based efficiencies for himself working government contracts around Florida as a project manager for the family’s business, Bio Mass Tech.

They say he had plans for law school, which, at least as a resume-enhancer, made a certain amount of sense. Far from soured on electoral politics, the last time I talked to him, Griffin sounded like someone itching for the next opportunity.

Now, devastation. In a heartbeat, it’s over. A boat strikes a channel marker, and the young man brimming with promise is ejected. Full of life one moment, life flowing out the next. The horror. The cruelty.

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Horrible, too, is the loss of James Poindexter, who was just 27 when he vanished Monday afternoon in deep water a softball’s toss from shore near the Clearwater Sailing Center on Sand Key. Until then, Poindexter was not the sort who made headlines, but his family described him as a good father and a reliable coach at the Spring Hill Boys and Girls Club.

Those are good words, father and coach. Solid and trustworthy, all the more so for so often being in such desperately short supply. Men who carry out those duties, especially when they have become so unfashionable, provide the foundations of communities that function well while presenting the impressionable with a worthy example to copy.

Now the responsibility to be solid and trustworthy and reliable and foundational falls to others who must hold off the chaos that swirls around accidental death. It is a nightmare that Poindexter slipped away. It will be tragic if no one steps into the breach his absence creates.

As for the families left to mourn these bright fixtures now suddenly extinguished and stripped away, theirs is an especially exquisite variety of grief that comes from the churn of life being turned on its head.

Parents should not outlive their offspring. That’s just a given. And tots should not grow up without their dads.

The rest of life becomes just too many vacant chairs, too many empty moments, too many breathless gaps.

But that’s where we are on this dark side of Labor Day 2013, a weekend that will live in infamy.

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