Former Indian Shores Mayor Bob McEwen in his den where the walls covered in plaques and honors he received during his time in office.
INDIAN SHORES – Former Mayor Bob McEwen says he is always happy to greet old friends and quickly invites visitors into what he calls his man-cave, a bedroom converted into an office with walls covered with framed plaques and proclamations and a bookcase full of the type of knick-knacks a politician collects after years in office.
McEwen, who will be 85 in September, lives in the same condo unit he and his late wife Mary bought in 1978 but he doesn’t spend much time there. He’s a world traveler and has the pictures to prove it. In fact he is currently in the middle of a two-week visit to Casablanca.
Perhaps the urge to travel in retirement came to McEwen because of his past. It was a life of moving from one place to another. When he was 17 years old, growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, he joined the Marines. Twenty-one years later, in 1967, he retired from military life and hired on as a sales and public relations executive with the newspaper company Scripps-Howard.
For 19 years with the company he traveled throughout the southern United States. Always on the move, he finally settled down in Indian Shores when he retired from that. It was an interesting transition.
“I retired in 1986, on St. Patrick’s Day. Suddenly I didn’t have an expense account anymore. I lost 30 pounds during the first months of retirement,” he said laughing.
It was in 1987 that McEwen began to think politics might be something he was interested in.
“I was elected to City Council and the mayor asked me to represent him in Tallahassee,” he said. “I got the bug and soon after, when he retired, I quit the council and ran for mayor.”
It was to be an unsuccessful run and one, which linked his political career forever with a woman who turned out to be his political nemeses, Janet Hoppe. Hoppe defeated McEwen in that election, but he would get his political revenge a little later on.
“In 1990 I ran again and this time I defeated Hoppe,” he said. “I enjoyed my time as mayor. It kept me busy for 10 years.”
Hoppe, who was unavailable for comment, was later elected to the City Council and her battles with McEwen over various issues were legendary.
McEwen retired as mayor in 2000, but his public service didn’t stop there.
“When I got out of office I was asked by the firemen and fire chief to run for a seat on the board of the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District,” he said. “I served two four-year terms there and enjoyed working with the folks.”
All was not rosy during retirement however. McEwen’s wife Mary, who was often seen by his side during his political career, became ill and died. McEwen still breaks down when he talks of her.
“In 2008 we found out that Mary was ill,” he said. “We had just come back from a two-week cruise and she needed a wheelchair. Then we took a trip to Moscow in October 2008. In December of that year she had gotten ill again and I took her to the ER. The doctor said she had plenty of life left in her. Three days later she had total organ failure and died.”
The cause of that organ failure was something that had been keeping her alive for years.
“She had been on steroids for another condition for years,” said McEwen. “It saved her life and kept her alive for 35 years. She was 85 when she died.”
The McEwens married in 1956. Bob remembers as if it were yesterday.
“She was 32 and I was 26,” he said. “She had a master’s degree and I was a high school drop-out. One year later she gave birth to our son.”
It was that son, William Gavin, who would cause McEwen even more grief in his retirement. He died this past August.
“He was 56 years old and addicted to cigarettes,” he said. “A parent should never have to bury a child. That’s a rough one, nature is not supposed to go that way.”
He says he has somehow managed to continue living an eventful life, a life without politics and mostly without much involvement.
McEwen introduced current Indian Shores Mayor Jim Lawrence to politics during a golf game. During his years on council he was close to McEwen. But McEwen’s retirement years have taken their toll on that friendship.
“He’s been traveling a lot and we’ve sort of lost touch,” said Lawrence. “He doesn’t play golf any more and he doesn’t get involved in any town activities any more.”
Lawrence recalled some of those epic McEwen-Hoppe battles.
“With Janet Hoppe he had that ‘us against them’ mentality. Janet was the ‘them,’” he said. “There were other characters, some of whom wanted to do outlandish things. Bob was the balancing force.”
“After he left office I never had any problems with Janet and she stopped being a town issue,” said Lawrence.
As for his days as mayor, McEwen reflected on his first impressions of the community and some of the things he helped accomplish.
“This place is all about the beach, the beach and the people,” he said. “I met some great people and have made some good friendships out of those years.”
“I remember our putting in the nature park, and putting in boat docks. It was always satisfying to get money out of the county for various projects. I found it very enjoyable.”
McEwen says it is important for residents to realize where the money comes from.
“We have 1,400 registered voters in our town,” he said. “During the season there is bumper to bumper traffic and 12,000 people. This is strictly a tourist town and they do great things for our economy.”
Many of those residents and visitors may remember McEwen as a man who did great things for his community. Lawrence presided over the naming of a new park on 197th Avenue, adjacent to where McEwen lives, as Bob McEwen Veterans Park.
Lawrence says it is a well-deserved honor.
“It is worth it for his dedication to public service,” he said. “Anybody who gives that much time to something that doesn’t pay much deserves recognition, and I appreciate what Bob has done for this town.”