THEY WERE ARTISTS, COMMUNITY builders, heroes, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. The people we lost this year filled public and private spaces. They lit the times and places they lived each in their own inimitable way — gone now, yet at times more radiant than ever in their absence. “Now that you are gone, you are everywhere,” the poet J.D. McClatchy wrote. Here we take a look back at some of their lives in our annual year-end issue.
August 25, 1919 – September 23, 2018
IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO DISCUSS CHANGES IN THE LANDSCAPE OF KEY WEST wrought by the past year without discussing “Mr. Key West” himself, David Wolkowsky. To many, if wasn’t for Mr. Wolkowsky’s foresight and entrepreneurial spirit, Key West as it exists today would never have become a hotspot on the map of top tourist destinations in the United States.
David William Wolkowsky was born on Aug. 25, 1919, a grandson of Jewish immigrants from Russia who had moved from New York to Jacksonville, Fla., and then to Key West in the late 1880s. There, they opened a men’s clothing store on bustling Duval Street. When the economy took a dive in the early 1920s, the family moved to Miami, where David was raised.
When Mr. Wolkowsky returned to his native Key West after his father died in 1962, leaving his son a handful of aging properties in Old Town, the island was nothing more than a Navy town, bereft of luxury and hardly a beauty, mostly on the national radar because of its proximity to Cuba at the height of a potential nuclear crisis. The waterfront, once a bustling trading port, had little more to offer than rickety old bars.
Though he tried desperately to retire and live a life of leisure at the ripe young age of 42, Mr. Wolkowsky found he was much more suited for a grander fate — especially with the blank canvas of Key West as a backdrop. Where others saw a dilapidated, depressed village, developer-cum-preservationist Mr. Wolkowsky saw limitless opportunity. “I couldn’t bear to sit around and collect baseball cards,” he told the Miami Herald in 2012. “If you’re not involved and enjoying what’s around you, you might as well get back in the book, like a leaf, and close it.” Over the next few decades, Mr. Wolkowsky devoted himself to the heady task of restoring Key West to its former splendor.
Mr. Wolkowsky “was one of the main people responsible for the historical preservation movement and for showing people that Key West’s past, its history, was worth saving, had a certain glamour to it, was beautiful,” local historian Arlo Haskell says.
In his typical uniform of Panama hats and crisp white linen shirts, Mr. Wolkowsky rode around Key West in both golf carts and a vintage Rolls-Royce. He was known to serve turkey hot dogs and chips to visiting luminaries. In 1974, Mr. Wolkowsky bought Ballast Key, an as-yet uninhabited 24-acre oasis eight miles off Key West. There, he built the southernmost private home in the United States — and filled it with an eccentric collection of (mostly) Key West-centric art.
Among other endeavors, Mr. Wolkowsky built the Pier House resort (where both Jimmy Buffett and Bob Marley have graced the stage at the onsite Chart Room bar), bought and restored Key West’s original cigar factory, helped keep Captain Tony’s and Sloppy Joe’s afloat amid financial difficulty and revitalized myriad shops and public spaces. With the stated goal of “(preserving) the past by making it work for the present at a profit,” Mr. Wolkowsky altered the trajectory of the once-sleepy island. By the time he died, at 99, Key West had transformed tremendously — through its years as a haven for bohemians and artistic types to today, when you can hardly cross the street without running into a well-meaning visitor scooting the wrong way down a one-way street.
Key West can also thank Mr. Wolkowsky for its deep literary ties. In painting Key West as a sanctuary for literary eccentrics, he welcomed iconic characters like Gore Vidal, Judy Blume and Tennessee Williams to call the island home. Truman Capote even rented Mr. Wolkowsky’s two-bedroom trailer, where he wrote his unfinished final novel “Answered Prayers.”
By 1993, Islands magazine credited Mr. Wolkowsky with “almost single-handedly converting Key West into America’s most distinctive tropical resort.” But to me, what Mr. Wolkowsky really instilled in Key West is the ability to not take oneself too seriously. What’s the point of having all this nice stuff if you can’t slow down and enjoy it (and maybe a turkey hot dog) every now and again?
Jon “Tosh” McIntosh
August 8, 1947 – March 12, 2018
IF THERE WAS ARTISTIC TROUBLE TO MADE IN KEY WEST, YOU COULD PROBABLY BET THAT Jon McIntosh, or “Tosh,” as he was lovingly called by just about everyone who met him, was making it. Behind his impish smile and sparkling eyes burned a brilliant and childish spirit, constantly seeking an opportunity to create. And create he did — over the course of his illustrious life, Tosh worked on projects for NASA, pieces for myriad educational publishers, a board game, and two syndicated comic strips. An artist of every kind, Tosh was also an editorial cartoonist for The Key West Citizen for nearly 20 years.
Although he spent part of his youth in Ohio and Michigan, his love of the water lured him to the coasts, and Tosh spent most of his life on the East Coast, from New England to Key West. He earned a degree in fine art from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1971. At the time, computers were just beginning to infiltrate every aspect of daily life, including the arts, and Tosh was quick to adopt the new technology.
“It was the 1970s, and I was illustrating all sorts of maps, children’s books and book covers. When computers took over and graphic design became a real thing, you had to keep up to continue working. It wasn’t a choice,” he said in a magazine interview.
More than just design on paper, Tosh was a radiant presence in the fabric of the Key West community. In our small community, he was universally accepting, loyal and sensitive. During the celebration of Tosh’s life held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in April, throngs of admirers echoed a chorus of affection, praise and gratitude for a man who was able to touch so many through his art and humor but, most of all, through his generosity and grace. The words “lov-ing,” “funny,” “loyal” and “creative” were used over and over. His son Forgan McIntosh described their relationship as “built on a bedrock of deep friendship and mutual respect.”
“Jon McIntosh was an example of someone who truly lived and breathed art in every way,” says longtime friend Todd German. “He designed my campaign logo and posters more than a decade ago when I ran for City Commission and he was constantly creating designs and other things for nonprofit organizations and charity events, and he would never accept a dime for it.”
Shortly before he passed, Tosh had also recently added the title of gallery owner to his long resume, having bought and reopened Lucky Street Gallery with business partner Betty Gay in November 2016. Tosh’s spirit lives on in his paintings — works that capture his passion for boats, the ocean and art for art’s sake — and in the kindness and gentleness he inspired in everyone fortunate enough to cross paths with him.
October 8, 1977 – September 3, 2018
THOUGH DEATH IS INEVITABLE, AND INEVITABLY SOMBER, SOME DEPARTURES ARE MORE sudden, more shocking than others. The loss of Anne Walters has permanently dimmed one of Key West’s brightest sources of light.
Anne was a healer in every facet of her life. Professionally, she healed our bodies through Happy Body, her yoga and pilates studio, and practiced massage therapy. Recreationally, she healed our minds through her creation of and participation in Comedy Key West, Key West’s only official venue for standup comedy, her dry sense of humor always managing to pinpoint the daily hilarities that unite us all. And personally, she healed our souls by simply being present, being mindful, being supportive.
To pay adequate tribute to someone like Anne is impossible. She may not have single-handedly revitalized Key West or created lasting works of art, but she made every person she came in contact with better. The hole her absence has formed is gaping and will be felt by many for far longer than the time we were fortunate enough to spend with her.