Charles Siemon, the institutional mind trust of Boca Raton, died early this morning in Marathon, Florida, surrounded by his family—with beloved daughters Lisa and Laura at his side. He was a few days shy of his 75th birthday.
One of the last times I saw Charlie was at a small gathering a couple of years ago in honor of his retirement, and his move to his beloved Marathon home.
He had had a stroke some months before and he knew it was time to go south, go fishing, be with family. I remember raising my glass and saying, “I always thought Charlie was a know-it-all—because he did, indeed, know it all.”
He was my source for decades on the history of Boca, its development, how things worked, how cities should work. A land use planning attorney with GrayRobinson at the time of his retirement, Charlie is credited with bringing Mizner Park to Boca Raton, as well as the beloved Festival of the Arts, among many other innovative community changes. He was well versed in history, land use planning, the ins and outs of how Boca worked and just about anything else you’d want to know.
As his longtime friend and colleague Wendy Larsen says, “Literally the face of Boca changed for the better because of Charlie’s work with Jamie Snyder on the downtown master plan and then he and I built the amphitheater and the Center for the Arts—the rest is history.”
And his own history was formidable, at least to me. I loved that Charlie was a local. He grew up in West Palm Beach where his family owned the iconic office supply company Halsey and Griffith. He was a great fisherman. He knew South Florida. He could, as John Milton said in “Paradise Lost,” explain the ways of god to man—or very near that.
Charlie was invaluable to me and this magazine and the city of Boca Raton for years; I wish I had a dollar for every lunch I had with him and John Shuff where he filled us in on what was going on in Boca behind the scenes, what issues were at stake.
Mostly, Charlie was a giver, a doer, a change maker. He loved his city of Boca Raton. But he said it best himself in an interview years ago when asked for his favorite inspirational quotes. “The true meaning of life is to plant trees,” he said. “Under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”