Our Town with William Kelly: Author James Patterson opens his ‘Palm Beach diaries’ for local audience

William Kelly  |  Civic Association  |  Our Town  |  March 24, 2023

James Patterson’s love for Palm Beach shined through the author’s light-hearted and often funny appearance Wednesday before a Palm Beach Civic Association audience.

Patterson, who is originally from New York, moved to Palm Beach with his wife Sue in 1998.

“This is home for us,” he told an audience of 225 people at the Civic Association’s Annual Award Breakfast at The Breakers. “The first time I came here I thought Palm Beach was one of the most beautiful yet comfortable towns I have ever visited.”

Patterson is the bestselling author of books that span many genres and reach all age groups. He is perhaps best known for his thrillers and mysteries that include the popular Alex Cross, Michael Bennett and Women’s Murder Club series. He has sold an estimated 350 million to 425 million books, more than any other author.

On Wednesday, Patterson entertained the audience with his so-called “Palm Beach diaries” about life in this unusual island town.

Shortly after moving to town, Patterson went to a barber shop to have his beard shaved off in hopes of looking younger so people would stop assuming that he was the grandfather of his son Jack, who was then just one year old. He said it didn’t work.

“Palm Beachers were definitely starting to notice the Patterson family, though,” he said. “When Sue and I walked down Worth Avenue, the shopkeepers – particularly the ones that worked at jewelry stores – would say, ‘Hi, Sue. Hi, Mrs. Patterson. Hi, Jack’s granddad.’”
Patterson said he soon learned the futility of attempting to time his bridge crossings to avoid the lifting of the drawbridge spans. He also recalled the time he arrived at the Coconuts’ New Years Eve party wearing a dark suit instead of a tuxedo. “I did not get in,” he said.
Dinner reservations are another mainstay of life in Palm Beach. Patterson estimated he and Sue have, over the years, spent seven months of their lives waiting in an alcove for a table at a favorite local restaurant, the Palm Beach Grill.

Patterson said he has received his share of unsolicited manuscripts from would-be authors.

“Unpublished novels from complete strangers keep showing up in my life,” he said. “In my locker at the Everglades [Club]. Outside the gate of our house … one time somebody left a 500-foot manuscript on the roof of my car while it was parked at Publix.”

If there’s a downside to life in Palm Beach, Patterson said, it’s the traffic.

But he said there are many things to cherish and preserve in the town: “The vias on Worth Avenue. The Sea Streets. The gardens at the Four Arts. The Breakers. The Flagler. The Paramount. The kapok tree at the Royal Poinciana Plaza. And the Civic Association.”

Patterson said the Civic Association plays an essential role in preserving Palm Beach.

“We can’t stop change,” he said. “It’s coming fast. But we can manage it, and the Civic Association is really good at doing that.”

Wednesday also happened to be Patterson’s 76th birthday. Civic Association President Mary Robosson presented Patterson, who is an avid golfer, with a golf bag and led the audience through a surprise rendition of “Happy Birthday To You.”

Banned books

Patterson recently asked members of the public to “send a polite note” to Gov. Ron DeSantis after the Martin County School District removed his Maximum Ride book series from some elementary school bookshelves.

The Maximum Ride books were removed after a Stuart resident, who said she had not read the books, objected that that the nine-book science fantasy series doesn’t belong in elementary schools.

The Maximum Ride books are among dozens of books that have been removed from the shelves in Martin County after a state law took effect requiring all materials in libraries and media centers to be approved by a trained librarian or media specialist.

Critics say the law is too vague and has prompted teachers to empty their classrooms of books until they are approved; DeSantis has countered that the purpose of the so-called ban is to remove books that are sexually explicit, or that seek to “indoctrinate” children, from the schools.

In response to a question from an audience member at Wednesday’s breakfast, Patterson said of DeSantis, “I don’t like what he’s done with the potential for book banning because it’s too broad. Are there occasionally books that should be banned from schools? Probably, but not much. They just banned my Maximum Ride series from Martin County. That’s crazy. If the kids can’t read Maximum Ride, they can’t go to any Marvel movies or watch them on television. They’re harmless books. Thirty million kids have read them and they’re all fine.”

Brooks Award

Daniel Ponton, a businessman and philanthropist who owns and operates Club Collette and the Surfside Diner, received the Civic Association’s 2023 William J. “Bill” Brooks Award for outstanding community service. The award is named for the late Palm Beach Town Council member and general manager of WPTV Channel 5.

“He was a dynamic member [of the community] and a great citizen and I am honored,” Ponton said of Brooks.

Wednesday’s Annual Award Breakfast was sponsored by Florida Crystals.

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