By Steve Plunkett
Fond recollections and a stirring tribute to the late Mayor William Koch Jr. marked the Gulf Stream Town Commission’s first meeting in the post-Koch era.
Town Attorney John “Skip” Randolph remembered being a “wet behind the ears” lawyer in 1971 and meeting the “somewhat intimidating” mayor.
“It took me a while, but I ultimately learned that Bill Koch’s gruff exterior was just a facade and that his bark was much worse than his bite,” Randolph said. “In truth he was a pussycat.”
Randolph said he had many reasons to enjoy being Gulf Stream’s town attorney but that the primary reason was Koch.
“I will miss the way that Bill Koch could always bring harmony to the town in those rare instances in which there was disagreement,” Randolph continued.
“I will miss watching him trim the budget at budget time in an effort to keep the millage rate one of the lowest in Palm Beach County, and I will miss watching the managers squirm as he hacked away at their budget.”
Randolph said he was surprised to hear how sick Koch had been in his final months, how Town Clerk Rita Taylor would take documents to his bedside for him to sign and how the mayor would still preside over commission meetings.
“I remarked to him recently how good he looked and how amazed I was that he was able to come to these commission meetings. His response to me was characteristic.
He said, ‘I’m a tough guy.’
“Yes, Mayor Koch, you were a tough guy, or so you would have had us believe,” Randolph said.
“But I learned in knowing you for 41 years, whether you would admit it or not, you were a kind and gentle man who had a heart of gold. “So here’s to you, Mr. Tough Guy. We miss you. And let all who are listening hear this: Your little town of Gulf Stream will never be the same without you.”
Taylor read letters of condolence from Boynton Beach Mayor Woodrow Hay, former League of Cities executive director Jamie Titcomb and current league director Richard Radcliffe.
“We can only pray to have a legacy that comes close to that of Mayor Koch,” Hay wrote.
“We are certain that he will be missed for his talents, his contributions to the community at large and his wry sense of humor,” Titcomb said.
Commissioner Garrett Dering was so moved by Randolph’s remarks that he asked for a copy of the tribute to be hung in the lobby of Town Hall and mailed to every household.
“You’re not going to charge us anything for it, are you?” he asked Randolph, invoking one of Koch’s familiar barbs.
In the audience were Koch’s daughter, Claudia Burns, and her husband, Scott, who left after the tributes.
“I know Mayor Koch would want you to get on with the meeting,” Scott Burns said.
In a public hearing over whether to permit Paul Lyons Jr. to add 324 square feet to his residence on Polo Drive, architect Roy Simon began by saying he, too, missed Koch.
“Mayor Koch?” Taylor asked one more time, seeking a yea or nay in the resulting roll call vote. She quickly corrected herself to say, “Mayor Orthwein?” After so many years it will be a hard habit to break, Taylor said.