By Emily J. Minor
DELRAY BEACH — Jack Hake didn’t have any family. No sisters, no brothers. No aunts and uncles.
His parents, Paul and Louise, had been dead for years.
And so, when Mr. Hake died on Oct. 9 — taken to the hospital for the recurring cancer that would eventually take his life — he could have slipped away unnoticed.
Many men die lonely deaths.
But Mr. Hake did not.
John “Jack” Hake, a man born 77 years ago into Chicago privilege, never married, never had children, never knew the annoying joys of a big family holiday. But he died loved and remembered by a downtown Delray Beach community that had become his life since he moved to Florida nearly 40 years ago.
“There was just something about him,” said Tom Gmyrek, who met Mr. Hake at a Delray Beach drinking establishment a few years back. “Jack was a great talker. He could strike up a conversation with anybody.”
By all accounts, Mr. Hake was an affable guy — a gentleman’s gentleman — who took great care and great pride in forming these bonds in downtown Delray Beach. He lived along the Intracoastal at the Summit condominiums, right at the very end of Lowry Street. He frequented the restaurants and the bars and the shops. Merchants and residents often called him “Mayor.”
“I think I started that,” said Michael Wirtz, an interior designer who met Mr. Hake in the 1970s. “I knew the other side of him. He was very gregarious, but he was also very private, very caring.
“I think I was the brother he never had.”
After moving to Delray Beach in 1974, Mr. Hake sold furniture and carpeting, often from the trunk of his Olds 98. He moved here from North Carolina to care for his ailing father, who died in 1984. His mother lived until 1999. Mr. Hake was at her side every step of the way.
“He was a great son,” Wirtz said.
It is a stunning accolade, to be called a great son. But at the Green Owl restaurant, the city’s venerable Atlantic Avenue breakfast joint, Mr. Hake was also a favored customer, the guy who came in every day, took a seat at the counter, ordered scrambled eggs, toast and coffee, then entertained the wait staff with funny small talk. He was an important part of the restaurant’s morning rhythm, always talking sports or politics. He loved the Miami Dolphins. He loved playing golf.
But Mr. Hake apparently did not like grocery shopping. Most days he came back to the Green Owl for lunch.
“I have a lot of great customers, and Jack was one of them,” said restaurant owner David Gensman. “Jack was a really cool guy.”
And so it came to be that Mr. Hake was adored by so many everyday people. Often he forged these friendships without revealing much of himself. Still, everyone felt they knew him.
On the day of Mr. Hake’s small funeral, the Green Owl staff went afterward to the Summit building where Mr. Hake had lived. There, in the condo’s newly decorated party room, about 50 people stood and told their favorite Jack Hake stories.
There were plenty to choose from, but this one, about Mr. Hake’s last words, was perhaps the most outstanding.
The Green Owl’s chief cook had been there at the hospital, paying his proper respects to Mr. Hake, when he began to make noise about getting back to work at the restaurant.
“Any words for the girls?” he asked.
“Tell … them … I’m … finally … getting … some … good … service,” Mr. Hake cracked from his hospital bed.
“That’s true,” said Wirtz.
Not much later, Mr. Hake died — a little before noon on a Tuesday.
“It wasn’t sad. It wasn’t painful,” Wirtz said. “It’s almost like he just floated away.”