Longtime Public Works Director and former councilman James Snell passed away on Wednesday, October 28, 2015 at Bayview Center in Eustis after an extended illness. He was 81 years-old.
Snell came to Mount Dora from Pueblo, Colorado – hitchhiked here, as his son will tell you. He lived for a time at Mount Dora Christian Home and Bible (now Mount Dora Christian Academy). Snell served time in the Navy on the USS Chilton, a Bayfield-class attack transport. He was also a general manager at Eustis Sand Company, after retiring from the City’s employ. But, the majority of his adult life was dedicated to Mount Dora, his adopted hometown.
The longtime Public Works Director retired after 29 years with the city and then went on to serve several terms on the Mount Dora City Council. Judy Smathers, who worked with Snell, remembers him well, “Jim Snell was my first boss when I started working for the city in 1986. His love for this city surpassed his concern for himself. When we’d have storms, I remember he would jump in his city vehicle and ride around town, looking for downed limbs, stopped up storm drains, or downed electric lines,” she says. “Then, when he retired, he sat on the council and he was able to inform the other members about the workings of the city, he was so knowledgeable and informed. Jim Snell was first and foremost an honorable, kind and generous man. And, his sense of humor was never lacking.”
John Tremain agrees, “You just liked spending time with the man. We went on fishing trips all over Central Florida together. I enjoyed working for him. He was the kind of person anybody could work with, because he was always right there with you. He knew the streets in this town like the back of his hand. He’d be right out there working with us during any kind of weather, any conditions. He always helped people, too. Didn’t matter if you lived in a shack, or the finest house in Mount Dora. Jim treated everyone the same; he helped everybody who needed help.”
And as a longterm public works director, it may not be so very surprising that Snell advocated hard for the City of Mount Dora to build its second wastewater treatment plant. It’s what you might expect from a progressive, dedicated advocate for a sound city infrastructure.
Just telling that part of the story would sell James Snell short, though.
“I learned what a responsible civic leader is from watching and listening to Jim Snell,” says Larry Baker of Main Street Leasing, and former council member. “He rolled up his sleeves and sat at the council table during some tough times for the city and made quality decisions about what was good for Mount Dora. He’s the guy who told me to quit complaining about the things in town I didn’t like, said it was a waste of time. He made it simple, he said to look at an issue, consider what’s best for the city – choose that solution and move on.”
That sense of civic leadership led Snell to contribute to the community of Mount Dora in ways that far exceeded his role of public works director.
If you’ve walked along the sidewalk at Grantham Point to admire the lake at sunset, you owe a thanks to James Snell and “Dude” Grantham, to their vision and their determination to create a beautiful addition to the city’s parks.
If you have ever smiled over, or taken visitors by the city’s distinctive and cherished lighthouse at the end of Grantham Point, you owe James Snell a thank you. That lighthouse, that iconic city structure, was his brainchild and creation. The small, inconspicuous plaque at its base attests to that, with the simple, wry statement, “Snell’s Lighthouse.”
The sidewalk that runs from Donnelly Street, past the marina and along Simpson Cove was Snell’s work, too. When the City of Mount Dora had no funds available to build it, it was Snell who spearheaded the campaign to get donations from local civic clubs and organizations to make it happen.
There is more, of course. With a lifetime so well spent, there is always much more to tell. But for now, to his family, we extend our deepest condolences. And, on behalf of those of us who are privileged to enjoy the benefits of his generosity, leadership and vision – a sincere thank you and a heartfelt farewell to a rare gentleman who made an indelible mark on Mount Dora by bringing people together to build a better community for all of us.
He will be remembered and he will be missed.