Dr. Leroy Hommerding, the long-time Director of the Fort Myers Beach Public Library, was the victim of a brutal murder on Sunday morning, January 20, right in the doorway of the building he worked so hard to make a reality and that he loved so much.
A little over two years ago, I became the lead writer for The Island Sand Paper, taking over for my predecessor who was and is much-beloved by the island community. Dr. Leroy, along with Joanne Shamp, who was still two months away from her role on Town Council, were the first two people of the Fort Myers Beach area to welcome me with open arms, a gesture that meant a great deal to me. I quickly discovered, through my interactions with him over articles for “The Artist of The Month,” library programs, events like “Christmas In July,” and Behind the Scenes Tour that he was smart, funny, caring, eclectic and insightful. I often asked him good-naturedly how it felt to be the Director of the Best Small-Town Library in the Entire Nation, a compliment he accepted with just the right mix of modesty and pride!
He was not a man without ego – you need an ego to build the vision he had that became the dream that he transformed into the reality of the new Fort Myers Beach Public Library a half dozen or so years back – but he was a man without pretext. Coming from an academic background where I know how difficult it is to attain a Ph.D., I insisted, over his initial objection, on calling him “Dr. Leroy,” but to everyone else, from the youngest schoolchild to the most senior of citizens, he was, in the most common of touches, simply “Leroy.”
In sharing our past experiences, Dr. Leroy learned I had previously served as the Director of a suburban park system and asked me how I handled the homeless, but that was a situation I never encountered. He spoke with great eloquence about his deep feelings for them, and knew the Library would out of necessity be a haven for them. He did, however, explain that he had to institute the minimum of rules, where the homeless, like all library patrons, would have to treat each other as well as the Library Staff and other patrons with respect, they must never be “under the influence,” and they must remain awake while in the building – I found those well-thought-out and quite reasonable.
This is unfortunately the second Fort Myers Beach homicide in less than a year, but unlike the equally-tragic murder of Pamela Hutchinson, she was an island visitor and a stranger to us. Dr. Leroy was someone quite different; he was known by virtually everyone, whether as an acquaintance or as a great friend, by every resident and seasonal guest; his is truly A Death In The Family. Some may want to strike out at those they judge responsible, and our Town Council is already initiating difficult conversations to solve perhaps an unsolvable problem, but Dr. Leroy would not want us to be vindictive and vengeful, but compassionate, caring and understanding.
While Dr. Leroy was a wonderful man, he was a human being and, like the rest of us, prone to mistakes, short-comings and foibles, so I do not paint him as a saint today. He was a good man who is already entering the local lexicon of being an Island Legend, who would today, I wager, rather still remain a good man among us. Fortunately for us all, he left behind a magnificent legacy in the Fort Myers Beach Public Library that will entertain and educate those who are already here and those yet to come to our island community for generations to come. As fantastic as it is, however, he still had dreams for it to fulfill, like additional alternative energy enhancements and even possible 4th and 5th floors!
Sallie Seabury, the President of the Fort Myers Beach Public Library Board, said it best when she reflected, “Someone will take his position, but not his place.” As for me, I miss my friend.
Rest In Peace, Dr. Leroy, and on behalf of the entire Island Sand Paper Family, read a good book for us in Heaven’s Library.