Whether on the School Board or not, John Fischer was known for one thing even by those few who had no idea who this scrappy, upbeat man with the piercing voice was: he was anywhere and everywhere, from community functions to sick friends’ bedsides. At times he was the most conspicuously public person in the county even after his one term on the school board between 2011 and 2014.
He knew it and thrived on it. Asked how he’d prepared when he was running for another term on the school board in 2018, he said he was doing “what I am known for – to be everywhere but with a purpose. That purpose is to see and hear what goes on in our schools and our community.” Booster, cheerleader, mentor and often a friend to strangers in need, he hardly ever stopped.
Days before he was hospitalized, he wrote his friend Kim Gridley, a former teacher at Matanzas High School, with characteristic appreciation: “The Beautiful Creations that God gives us and you share are amazing. I wish more people would take a moment and see all the wonderful things God gives us and I think people would have a more Positive attitude to life.” It would be Gridley who, starting on May 6, would provide daily updates about Fischer’s condition after he was hospitalized for precipitous complication from a tooth infection and surgery.
On Friday, John L. Fischer died at a hospital in Ormond Beach.
He had been recovering and had been stepped down from the intensive care unit, according to Gridley’s update, and by Wednesday was looking forward to being discharged. By Friday he’d improved further. Then came Gridley’s Friday-evening update: “We lost our dear friend this afternoon, he had a stroke as he was attempting to walk and gain his strength back. I am so very sorry to be sharing this via Facebook. John’s wishes were simple: he was an organ donor; he wanted to be cremated and he wanted a celebratory Mass at Santa Maria Del Mar at a later date when his family could attend.”
In the same announcement, Gridley wrote that Fischer–ever the booster for a cause close to his heart–had seized on one last cause before his hospitalization: “just before John was hospitalized he asked me if I could help him drum up support for Whispering Meadows Ranch,” she wrote of the embattled non-profit on John Anderson Highway that provides horse therapy for veterans and the disabled. He said he’d worked with the ranch for 12 years.
Whispering Meadows had been the cause for his very last public appearance in Flagler County, on April 13 before the Flagler County Planning Board, when he walked up to the dais in his American flag mask, looking fit and sounding as unbowed as ever. “I’ve dealt with Special Olympics, Down Syndrome, autism, and one of the most favorite and passionate places I’ve been is Whispering Meadows ranch,” he told the board. “What they’ve done is superlative to what we’ve been seeing.” He then lamented the controversy that had suddenly erupted over the ranch while praising its achievements. “I’ve cried many times what I’ve seen here, and it’s amazing what they do with these folks and they come out there and they keep coming. They are making a positive difference in people’s lives.” It isn’t inconceivable that had Fischer been discharged, he’d have found a way to make an appearance before the County Commission on Monday, in person or by phone, to press his cause further. (See his appearance before the planning board here.)
Born on Dec. 22, 1944 in Cleveland to Beatrice and Carlton Fischer, the middle child with three brothers and one sister. According to his campaign biography, he took to baseball early, often and fanatically, to the point of trying out with the Cleveland Indians. In high school he was a football, track and basketball (yes, even basketball) athlete before attending college at Kean University in Cleveland and graduating with a degree in management and marketing. He was proud of his blue-collar background, including as an electrician, before he became a small business owner as a financial advisor and insurance agent for the Knights of Columbus. He moved to Palm Coast in 1999.
He first ran for school board in 2006 in a three-way race that included the late Frank Meeker, who would go on to be a Palm Coast City Council member and a county commissioner, and Evie Schellenberger, one of the most effective school board members of the last decades who’d subsequently go on to serve two terms, defeating Fischer narrowly in 2006. Fischer ran again in 2010, against attorney Raven Sword, winning with 58 percent of the vote.
He could be irascible and stubborn, even dogmatic and dismissive at times, as when he castigated “these self-satisfying political groups and special interest groups, and political correctness,” as he pushed for prayers in schools. But he also knew when to change his mind. He’d made a school district to a uniform policy–what turned out to be more accurately described as a dress code policy–a signature cause. His vote was key in getting it passed. But the policy seemed to cause more problems than solve them, and by 2018 he’d realized it. “In retrospect, my support for the uniform policy was something I would consider a mistake,” he said in an interview. “The concept might have been fine, but I did not take into account the amount of extra work it would create for the teachers and the deans’ offices as well as the amount of time that the students would be out of class so in hindsight, I would have gotten more input from the people in the schools who would be dealing with the ramifications of a uniform policy before supporting anything like that again.”
His first term was marred halfway through by his wife Jamesine Fischer’s arrest over her impaired hit-and-run collision with Francoise Pécqueur, a 76-year-old Palm Coast resident who’d been walking her dog. Jamesine Fischer was eventually sentenced to 25 months in prison, the case dragging over months and damaging John’s standing. His call to then-Sheriff Don Fleming, which raised questions of propriety and favoritism, didn’t help, and contributed to both Fisher’s and Fleming’s loss at the polls in 2014: Janet McDonald would defeat Fischer with 54 percent of the vote, and would do so again four years later, but by less than 1 percent. (John sued for divorce in 2019.)
The loss never stopped him. “When John visits the schools,” his campaign biography states, “he makes a point of seeing the support staff as well. Secretaries, para-pro’s, cafeteria workers, janitorial staff and bus drivers are all used to seeing his smiling face and hearing his words of encouragement and support.” He continued to visit, attend mass daily–he was an ardent Catholic–devoting himself to his three dogs (for whom he described himself as “a pushover”) and speaking his mind to local government boards whenever an issue seized him.
Last night the school board posted a brief notice about his death: “Flagler Schools is saddened to learn of the passing of Mr. John Fischer, who served on the School Board from 2010-2014. Board Chairman Trevor Tucker says, ‘You couldn’t find a bigger cheerleader for our kids, teachers, staff, and administrators in all of Flagler County. He will be missed by all.'”