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Guest column: Julian Craft worked a lifetime to help those down and out in Brandon

Julian Craft died June 28. He was 84. In this memoriam, Brandon attorney B. Lee Elam, a friend and colleague, recalls Craft as a man with humble beginnings who spent much of his life offering a hand-up to individuals and groups across Brandon who desperately needed it. Craft's family asked that donations in his honor be made to groups he helped to succeed — Emergency Care Help Organization, Rotary House or the Brandon Outreach Center.

Julian Craft was a member of the Brandon Rotary Club, the oldest Rotary Club in Brandon. Rotary International's motto is "Service Above Self" and no one personified that philosophy better than Julian Craft.

Julian and Carol, his wife of 60 years, Carol moved to Brandon in February 1961. Their initial home was on Craft Road off Bryan Road in south Brandon, where they bought 32 acres next door to Boyd and Mary Lee Burley, Carol's sister.

After serving in the Air Force at MacDill Air Force Base, Julian worked for employers including Jack Eckerd, the drug store chain magnate. Julian loved to tell the story of how Eckerd consummated every deal with a handshake, a firm believer in "a man's word is his bond."

As part of his job duties, Julian was required to draw the specifications and layout for each new franchise. It was said that after leaving his job there they had to hire four men to fill his job duties. Soon after leaving, the Craft Equipment Co. was started with Julian's brother as partner.

One of Julian's first concerns was the plight of local residents who were down and out. Having come from very humble beginnings in Black, Ala., on the Florida border, he was aware of how circumstances could put a family in desperate need. Since help from local, state and national governments involved a waiting period up to two to six weeks, he addressed the emergency needs of Brandonites.

Having heard of an organization in Leon County called Emergency Care Help Organization, or ECHO, he and Hilda Hampton traveled to Tallahassee to interview its leaders.

After obtaining permission from the Tallahassee group to use the same name, the two returned and began Brandon ECHO. Its philosophy is to function not as a "hand-out" but as a "hand-up." ECHO stressed that we are all subject to at least temporary hard times. ECHO's function is to bridge the critical gap between educational assistance and support for those suddenly short of resources.

Julian provided ECHO the use of prime rental property on Highway 60 for 10 years at no cost. His largesse included space in the building for the Brandon Outreach Clinic, an institution providing medical care for the working poor who have no health insurance. Julian was president of the Outreach Clinic board of directors, receiving an appreciation plaque in May of 1996. Thus, the two most fundamental needs of the community were met by the generosity of one man.

Julian's public service career began after he retired in 1988, his wife Carol said. He worked diligently with the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners to obtain the location on Parsons Avenue where both institutions now are housed. In acknowledgement to how much he meant to the Brandon community, the building previously known as the Merchants Bank Building on 710 Oakfield Drive was renamed the Julian Craft Building. This became a location of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce.

Bob Dykes, another giant of community service, worked often with Julian on Brandon causes. The two friends were members of Brandon Rotary for many years. On Feb. 14, 2012, Brandon Rotary declared Julian Craft Day at its lunch meeting.

Julian also received recognition from such diverse groups as Hillsborough Community College; Gulf Ridge Council of the Boy Scouts of America; Egypt Shrine Temple; Sertoma; Brandon Jaycees; Brandon Ballroom Festival; and Emergency Services Inc., ECHO's predecessor.

Tim Barber, Julian's nephew, said at his eulogy that Julian never forgot his roots in Alabama.

Mark Lee Craft, his son, said, "He was an amazing role model and we are all better for having known him."

Contact B. Lee Elam at [email protected]

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