We lost Joe Akerman this weekend at age 81. Joe and I were just a couple of Joe’s we greeted each other with the phrase, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” The roots of this greeting go back to the greatest scandal in baseball history when nine members of the Chicago White Sox were implicated in throwing the 1919 World Series. The star player (his lifetime .356 batting average is second only to Ty Cobb) of the team that would be forever known as the “Black Sox” was Shoeless Joe Jackson. When the scandal was revealed, a youthful fan looked up into the eyes of his hero and said, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”
So Joe A and Joe B would regularly greet each other with the famous phrase: “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” We shared a love for history which was Joe’s profession and my avocation. Joe would call me up and tell me of an idea for my column or a book I should read. No one contributed more ideas to this column than Joe Akerman.
He was particularly fond of veteran’s stories and introduced me to several local World War II vets who had compelling stories. It was Joe who introduced me to Earl Dennis, a B-17 bomber pilot who lived on the Valdosta Highway. Earl was a fascinating and humble fellow that I became great friends with. My story about Earl’s 1944 tour with the 91st Bomb Group is now at our museum and is one of my best.
Joe also told me about Lee Cason’s wartime diary. In 2005 when I went to see Lee, he was too far gone mentally to be able to discuss his wartime exploits in the Southwest Pacific, but his diary was so remarkable that the story was already written … at the time it happened. This is living history.
Joe was a Gator and proudly wore the orange and blue. For years at NFCC, Joe had a running bet with die-hard Georgia Bulldog Bobby Scott: whoever lost the annual October “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” had to wear the other team’s hat around campus the following week. Bobby hated … hated wearing that Gator cap, but a bet is a bet. In his own subtle way, Joe could rub it in with the best of them.Joe had a great sense of humor, but he was so subtle that it would sneak up on you. Not until he displayed that wry smile and wink would you know that you’d been had – the joke was on you.
Joe was also a great Republican and conservative, but surprisingly, I didn’t talk politics with him too often. I think it was because we had other things to talk about that were more interesting and fun. When I would get too political in my column, Joe would chide me, “When are you going to stop writing that political garbage and get back to writing stories about our veterans?” He could needle me pretty good.
Of course, Joe was a published author. No one documented the history of Florida’s cattle industry and the colorful men who formed its backbone better than Joe Akerman. His books are classics. After all, it was beef cattle that put Florida on the map before oranges and tourists became popular.
Joe was one-of-a-kind, and I will miss him. We have his lovely bride Princess to hold up and for that, we can be glad, but it won’t be the same without Joe. I’ll miss his advice; his pranks; our debates. When I lose a friend like Joe Akerman, it gets down to the fact that I’m selfish – I don’t want to lose what I had. Say it ain’t so, Joe.