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He moved to West Palm Beach with his parents in 1938 when he was just 10 years old. The city would be Joel Thomas Daves’ home until he died at age 93 Tuesday morning.
He grew up in the area back when it was only “a typical small town,” Daves said when speaking at a local government meeting in 2017. Over his 40 years living in downtown West Palm Beach and his four years as West Palm Beach mayor from 1999 to 2003, Daves saw the city undergo what he would later call its own “urban renaissance,” he once described to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
When Daves was elected mayor in March 1999 at the age of 71, he opened the door to his home on Evernia Street to see hundreds of his supporters gathered outside and spilling into the street, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported after his victory over John Linstroth.
It was his second shot at running for mayor after Daves lost to former two-term Mayor Nancy Graham in 1991.
But at the age of 89, Daves still showed up at a local meeting to share his support for a new building project and insight from his years as mayor.
Daves ran for re-election in 2003 but was defeated by now U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, in the highly contested race.
“Joel dedicated many years of public service to the City of West Palm Beach as a city commissioner and then as a strong mayor,” Frankel said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “He leaves a legacy of love for our city.”
West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James described Daves as “a beloved friend to many, a dedicated public servant and a longtime pillar of our community.”
“I last saw Joel and his family a few weeks ago, and we shared a few laughs. I am so glad I had that opportunity to see his smile one last time,” James said in a prepared statement.
Daves’ eldest son Joel Daves IV, who is a city councilman in Mobile, Ala., said his father raised him and his siblings to work hard to build the best lives for themselves. He instilled his sense of integrity in his children and taught them the importance of working a job from a young age, as evidenced by Daves’ own busy adolescence.
He was an Eagle Scout at the Memorial Presbyterian Church and a football player in high school and sang in the glee club. He attended the Sewanee: the University Of The South in Tennessee in 1946 and continued playing football.
Daves graduated from the University of Florida law school with high honors in 1953. He practiced in West Palm Beach for 50 years, his son said. He also served as an officer in the U.S. Marines from 1952 to 1955.
Daves’ political career stretches beyond his time as mayor and city commissioner, his son said. In 1959, then Gov. LeRoy Collins appointed Daves as the Palm Beach County solicitor and was elected to that role the following year. He became a mentor for many young lawyers then who went on to have successful careers.
Having grown up in a family of men who ran for public office, Joel Daves IV said he never considered a path in politics until he was older. It’s evident the lessons his father taught him stuck.
“His decision to put aside his personal plans and offer to serve in public office certainly was one of the factors that I considered when I was making that decision,” Daves’ son said about becoming a local official himself.
Some of Daves’ political efforts were successful and some were not. “But he was a man who always was going to do what he felt was the right thing to do, even when a lot of other people disagreed with him,” Joel Daves IV said.
Daves was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1964 and was voted by his fellow state politicians as the outstanding freshman legislator. In 1970, distraught over the Vietnam War, Daves ran for the U.S. Senate but lost, his son said.
Though his political career reached beyond West Palm Beach, it is the city he grew up in and attended public school in. It’s the city he cared deeply for and whose people he was dedicated to supporting, Joel Daves IV said.
“He was a man who had the courage of his own convictions,” Joel Daves IV said.
Daves is survived by his wife, Darden Kettler Daves, his daughter Posey Kettler Daves, sons Joel Thomas Daves IV and Christian Shannon Paty Daves, along with seven grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and several nieces and nephews. His funeral will be for family only.