Remembering John Shuff

john shuff

John Shuff never held back.

We met in February 2014, when he offered the chance to write the City Watch blog for Boca Raton magazine, which John had started in 1981.

By then, the effects of multiple sclerosis had forced John to use a motorized scooter. I asked what it was like for someone who had captained his high school basketball team and been a scratch golfer to deal with the disease.

“It’s s–tty,” John said. There was no pablum about overcoming challenges. There was reality.

John died Monday evening. He was 80 years old. With him was Margaret Mary, his wife of almost 57 years. Anyone who knew them could not have imagined one leaving this world without the other close by.

In addition to Boca Raton magazine, JES Media includes Salt Lake magazine in Utah and Delray Beach. The company produces the annual guide for the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce, Worth Avenue magazine and Mizner’s Dream for the Boca Raton Resort & Club.

But Boca Raton, John’s adopted hometown, remained his chief passion. “He was devoted to Boca,” recalled attorney Wendy Larsen. She and her former partner, Charlie Siemon, founded the annual Festival of the Arts at Mizner Park in 2007. The Shuffs have been supporters from the start. “I’m so grateful,” Larsen said.

Indeed, John set an example of corporate citizenship. He served on the boards of Boca Raton Regional Hospital and the Boca Raton Museum of Art as well as the Community Foundation of Palm Beach County. He and Margaret Mary also donated to, among others, the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts and St. Andrew’s School.

In 1998, the chamber of commerce named the Shuffs and JES Publishing the organization’s Small Business of the Year. They also have been honored by Boca Raton and Lynn University. In 2011, the chamber gave Margaret Mary its Diamond Award, which goes to a woman who has achieved professional success and made a positive difference in the city.

John never stopped looking for ways to make Boca Raton better. He helped to recruit businesses. He kept in touch with city leaders. He emailed me with suggestions and comments. Many began, “What the hell is. . .” It frustrated John that infirmity kept him from being as active as he had been.

One of John’s best moments came during the negotiations that turned the Boca Raton Mall into Mizner Park. John, who then walked with a cane, served on the “Kitchen Cabinet” that helped then-Community Redevelopment Agency Chairman Jamie Snyder overcome the planning and political challenges to produce the project that transformed downtown Boca Raton.

Larsen and Siemon also were part of that inner circle. “Politically,” Larsen said, “we were at opposite ends of the spectrum.” John was very conservative. “But because we were working for Boca, none of that ever mattered.”

He also could lighten the mood. “John was so damned funny,” Larsen recalled. He would call their firm and pretend to be Winston Churchill or some other figure from history. The receptionist would say, “Some strange man is calling.” Larsen paused. “I miss those calls.”

John Tolbert, the resort’s president, said, “When I moved here in 1995, I was introduced to John and Margaret Mary Shuff and Boca magazine. I can’t begin to describe the impact that the Shuffs have made on Boca Raton–from business to philanthropy, there is no one else like them.

“John truly was larger than life.  I know his legacy will continue to thrive for many more decades to come. On a personal note, I always looked forward to John’s ‘My Turn’ page and will never forget when he shared his perspective on his own father.”

John came of age in the “Mad Men” era of the 1960s, working for the media companies and learning what he would need to become a publisher. He enjoyed a cocktail.

But he was no libertine, having married in 1963 a woman whose intellectual capacities matched his. They had two children. David is a staffer at the magazine. Molly works for Northern Trust Bank in Delray Beach. A Notre Dame graduate, John was a regular for Mass at St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Deerfield Beach.

John had to work hard, to create and sustain a business and to deal with a disabling illness. He expected the same from others. He also was an enjoyable dinner companion who never stopped learning. He listened attentively when my wife discussed early childhood development.

And if John sometimes was hard on employees, he was much harder on those who attacked the magazine and his people. He defended employees as his family.

Marie Speed has been the editor of Boca Raton magazine for almost three decades. She said of John, “He could be tough and demanding; I remember the days he’d sit there by the front door of the office like a big spider waiting to catch people who were late.

“And then he’d turn around and be the guy you’d meet for Bloodies on a Saturday morning, pouring your heart out because someone was breaking it.

“One of the reasons I have stayed as long as I have is because he always ended up upholding our editorial integrity–even when it cost him. He tried to do the right thing, and that’s rare these days.”

As Tolbert noted, each edition of Boca Raton magazine ended with John’s “My Turn” column. Appropriately, John always got the last word.

He reminded people to enjoy the small pleasures of life. Personally, I’ll enjoy having had the pleasure of John’s company. Those who knew him, and the city he loved, will miss John Shuff.