The surname as synonymous with Key West as Hemingway represents a legacy of leadership, innovation and community dedication, and those who capably carry the name today continue the tradition.
Today’s elder Spottswood leaders — Jack, Robert, Bill and their sister Fawnie — grew up on Caroline Street with a father who thought fervently of the future while working also to protect Key West’s people and preserve the island’s valuable past.
John M. Spottswood, who fathered and raised Jack, Robert, Bill and Fawnie, with their mother, Mary, is often remembered for his eight years in the Florida Senate. But before that, he served as Monroe County sheriff from 1952 to 1963 and held statewide leadership positions within the Florida Sheriffs Association and served on the editorial board of the Sheriff’s Star monthly newspaper.
John Maloney Spottswood will be inducted into the Florida Law Enforcement Hall of Fame at a May 16 ceremony in Tallahassee, said Bill Spottswood, who prepared a biography and career highlights about his father. Bill Spottswood’s sister, Fawnie, also discussed her father at length when a bust of him was dedicated at the Key West Historic Memorial Sculpture Garden next to Mallory Square in the late ’90s.
“Our father would regularly tell us, his children, to think in terms of generations, lifetimes, to look to the future and to plant oak trees,” Fawnie said during that dedication. “He used to say that no one plants oak trees any more because they take 100 years to grow. My father planted oak trees, for he saw the future and that’s what mattered to him.”
Bill Spottswood was in his early 20s when his father, John M. Spottswood, died in 1975 at the young age of 55.
“He’d had heart surgery in Miami,” Bill said. “Today, it would be an in-and-out procedure, but back then there were complications. Imagine what else he could have done if he’d another 20 or 30 years.”
Sheriff and Senator John Spottswood managed to build an impressive resume in his relatively short life.
He was born in 1920 and entered adulthood just before World War II, during which he served as a U.S. Army captain. Upon returning to Key West, he was elected sheriff in 1952 and helped establish the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch in Tallahassee. Spottswood also proposed and brought to fruition the first-ever statewide law enforcement standards to set the bar equally high for all such protectors of the public.
Spottswood’s interests were as diverse as his hometown. One of his first business ventures was the establishment of WKWF radio station in Key West in 1947. He was able to connect a network of radio stations from Key West to New York that enabled President Harry S Truman to hear his daughter’s radio debut from the LIttle White House in Key West.
Bill Spottswood recalled his father telling the story of how he was invited to listen to the broadcast with the president.
“My dad used to say, he sat on one end of the couch with the president and a Navy admiral. They listened to the broadcast, and when it ended the president asked my dad, ‘John, how did you like that? Did you enjoy yourself?” And my dad replied, ‘No sir, I didn’t. Because if there was any sort of interruption or disconnection between here and New York, I was afraid you’d kill me.’”
Ten years later, in 1957, Spottswood privately funded the construction of the transmission towers that brought cable television to the Florida Keys.
“He saw cable changing the future of our lives,” Fawnie Spottswood said. “He would say, back in the early ’60s, ‘You think I’m crazy, but one day, you will be reading newspapers on TV. You’ll be ordering groceries on TV and more.’”
Spottswood also used his influence in the Senate to put Key West on the map, literally. The island chain was often left off of Florida maps. When Spottswood introduced a bill to authorize commercial air service at Key West International Airport, he did so only after securing agreements from the commercial airlines that they would agree to put Key West on the maps that hung behind all airline ticket counters at every airport in the nation.
John Maloney Spottswood put his beloved hometown on the map in more ways than most can count and the generations who succeed him proudly carry on the family’s traditions and their father’s motto: “Some people like to fish; some people like to hunt and some people collect objects. I don’t have a hobby. I have a town. My hobby is my town.”