Judy frolics in the surf during a birthday party May 17 in Redington Beach.
REDINGTON BEACH – A quiet birthday celebration toasted by champagne and sweetened with cake might be fine for some but not for Claudia McCorkle.
To usher in what she described as a “milestone” event, the Redington Beach resident invited 40 friends and family members and one elephant to her 60th birthday celebration May 17 at her impressive beachfront home on Gulf Boulevard.
The star attraction sure to be remembered was “Judy” a 3-ton plus Asian elephant whose professional career as an entertainer spans some 40 years.
Between the steady stream of hugs and kisses proffered by guests, McCorkle explained her reasons for wanting to surprise guests with a pachyderm.
“An elephant represents karma,” she said. “They have things like longevity, memory and loyalty and playfulness, and I wanted all those majestic qualities for the people I love most in the world, my family and my close friends.”
Party guests, including Redington Beach Mayor Nick Simons climbed the set of aluminum steps that brought them up high enough to ride atop Judy’s oriental rug-covered back for a brief turn around a cordoned-off enclosure on the beach.
Beachgoers out for a late afternoon stroll congregated in awe snapping photos and videos.
Sheriff’s Deputy Don Savalox was working the elephant detail.
“Normally, I don’t work on the weekends in terms of off-duty jobs, but I thought since there’s an elephant on the beach, I thought that’s unique,” Savalox said. “I want to be part of that.”
Keeping the pachyderm’s appearance a secret beforehand proved difficult thanks, in part, to the local media.
“You’re a naughty girl,” McCorkle chided a reporter (good naturedly) for mentioning it in a news article last February when she appeared before the Redington Beach Town Commission seeking approval to host the elephant on her property because Judy’s 65-foot trailer would require parking at the town’s beach access.
Despite the unusual nature of the request, the commission, after confirming the animal would remain on the beach under close supervision in addition to supportive letters from neighbors had no qualms about granting it.
Many guests, however, were quite stunned when they arrived.
“I knew there was a theme, but I didn’t think there was going to be a real elephant here,” said Bud Harris, a friend of McCorkle’s who lives in Hope Sound.
Xtreme Entertainment, a company based in Sorrento, supplied Judy and her trainer, Bones Craig.
The day could not have been more perfect – sun-splashed, warm and breezy. A pianist tinkled the ivories, caterers offered trays of champagne and hors d’oeuvres. An outdoor tent set with linen-covered tables and chairs awaited guests for the birthday dinner later that evening.
When not hosting parties with elephants on her backyard beach, McCorkle describes herself as a philanthropist, who with her late husband, Jack McCorkle, established a number of academic scholarships for young people in need of financial assistance.
In 2010, after the sudden death of her husband, Claudia said she has been involved in philanthropy. The couple, in 2009, established a fund for students attending the University of South Florida Honors College.
After her husband’s death, McCorkle also provided a cash gift to the fund aimed at students wishing to travel abroad.
Despite Judy’s trailer getting briefly stuck in the sand, the preparations for her arrival went smoothly, and before returning home, Judy refreshed herself with a wade in the Gulf of Mexico.