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Ed Hess, Beverly Beach Commissioner and Walter Brennan Alter Ego, Died in A1A Wreck

| August 3, 2012

Ed Hess performed on various stages for half a century, and was a Beverly Beach city commissioner since at least 1996. (Ed Hess)

First it was just the news of another wreck on State Road A1A, after a two-car collision shut down the highway in Beverly Beach. Then word started spreading in late afternoon Thursday.

Ed Hess. Click on the image for larger view. (Courtesy of John Sbordone)

The elderly man at the wheel of the Ford, whose front was pulverized in the collision with another car, was Ed Hess, the long-time Beverly Beach city commission, the electrician for the city of Flagler Beach, the eternal resident, with his wife Marjarie, of Surfside Estates, and the an actor known for his humor, his Scrooge and Santa Claus at Christmas, and his unfailing imitations of Walter Brennan. As with many actors, his age fluctuated: it was officially recorded as 79 in the FHP report, but he’d told a reporter in 2008 that he was 65, and those who knew him in Beverly Beach and Flagler Beach hadn’t seen him as a man approaching 80.

“Ed was very much dedicated to the town, and serving the town,” Beverly Beach Mayor Gerry Gersbach said this morning. “He never hesitated to speak his mind on town issues that he was passionate about—fire hydrants, the wastewater treatment facility. Ed had a great sense of humor. He was a bit of an actor, he also did a great imitation of Walter Brennan. In all cases, Ed has put the town people first and politics second. Ed was extremely popular not only at Surfside Estates but throughout the town of Beverly Beach. He was loved and he will be missed.”

Click on the image for larger view. (Courtesy of John Sbordone)

At Surfside Estates, Hess was called on to officiate at social events, to entertain, and to call Friday night bingo. On the city commission, he had a mind of his own, and like any other elected official, he had his quirks, his lines in the sand, his tenacities. But his good humor was a bridge to solutions, too.

“As far as I can remember working with him on the commission was always a fun and entertaining opportunity,” Frank Gromling, a current member of the Beverly Beach City Commission, said, “because we often would disagree yet worked out what the differences were.” The two commissioners worked together for about five years.

It’s not entirely clear how long Hess has been on the commission. The town’s earliest records show him serving on the commission as far back as 1996. It could be longer.

He was an electrician for Flagler Beach until the budget crunch hit. “When we got our budget one year, we had to cut some positions and he was one of them,” Alice Baker, the former Flagler Beach mayor, said. “It’s not that he didn’t do a good job, he was a very good worker, very dependable, he worked as a head electrician. And he did these imitations, and he did a really god job. He always had a smile on his face, very jovial guy.”

Kari Cobahm, the former writer for the News-Journal and now a FlaglerLive contributor, had profiled Hess in 2008, summing up a career in theater stretching half a century. Hess, Cobahm wrote, “is quick to slip into entertainment mode, insistently plucking a jaw harp — a tiny old musical instrument — or regaling listeners in an almost natural Western drawl of his own adventures portraying Brennan. Like the time he was in Tennessee a few years ago and convinced two female Brennan fans he was the real deal. He even posed for a picture with them. ‘I says, ‘You just take a look-a here now. Of course I’m Walter Brennan!’ ‘ he recalled with a gruff Brennan chuckle.”

Hess had moved to Flagler Beach a quarter century ago, and often appeared on the stage of the Flagler Playhouse, in such plays as “All My Sons,” “Too Soon For Daisies” and “Scrooge and Such.” He acted in commercials. He performed at churches and nursing homes.

ed hess flagler beach beverly beach

Click on the image for larger view. (Courtesy of John Sbordone)

“I was talking to him the other day, my God,” said John Sbordone, the theater director who’d worked with Hess over the years at the Flagler Playhouse and now runs the City Repertory Theatre in Palm Coast. “We were talking about bringing his Walter Brennan act to City Repertory for some intermission fun.” The two men had run into each other at Walmart, Sbordone telling Hess how well he looked. “He was a sweet man who loved, absolutely adored, playing Walter Brennan.”

He had five children (a daughter lived with him at Surfside Estates) and at least nine grandchildren.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Hess was traveling east on Osprey Point Drive at 12:30 p.m. Thursday and was beginning to make a left turn to go north on State Road A1A, crossing the path—and right of way—of 34-year-old Mary Dullea of Philadelphia, who was driving a 2012 Dodge Avenger, going south. The collision sent both cars spinning. Hess was not wearing his seat belt. His head struck and shattered the windshield on the passenger side. He was flown to Halifax hospital, where he died.

For the Beverly Beach City Commission, the loss of a commissioner is the second in less than a year. John McDonald, who had been the town’s longest-serving commissioner at the time, died last October, at 76, of cancer.

“We will ask for resumes to fill his vacated position,” Gersbach, the Beverly Beach mayor, said. “The commission will review the resumes, make a selection, and the individual selected will serve as an appointed commissioner until our elections in March 2013.”

16 Responses for “Ed Hess, Beverly Beach Commissioner and Walter Brennan Alter Ego, Died in A1A Wreck”

  1. Judy V says:

    This is such sad news. As manager of Surfside Estates, I looked forward to Ed popping into my office. No matter how he was feeling, he would ask how I was and would make sure that I answered loud enough and enthusiastically enough. He has been Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny around here for a long time.

    I won’t forget the twinkle in his eyes or his zest for life. My thoughts and heartfelt condolences go out to his family. RIP Ed.

  2. Patti Bissonnette says:

    So sad..please be careful driving..slow down..Prayers to the Hess family and for the other driver’s recovery


    RIP Ed you will be missed by many!!

  4. PalmCoast says:

    Very sad!
    This loving man will be missed!
    Prayers to his family!

  5. blondee says:

    Such a tragedy.

    • Karen and Mike says:

      Ed was a special type of guy , always cheerful and positive , He will be missed especially by all his Friends on Lookout Drive.

  6. Nancy Walsh says:

    It was both my pleasure and my honor to have served with Ed Hess on the Beverly Beach Town Commission. My heart is aching for his wife, Marge and his children. Ed truly loved his family. This is a great loss to all who knew him. He was such a important part of the town and he served it proudly. I will miss him at the meetings, but more than that, I will miss his happy and impish smile. RIP Mr. Hess, we will all miss you.

  7. Deneen Wilson says:


  8. Robbie says:

    RIP Ed, we will miss our Santa.

  9. John Shields says:

    I had the good fortune and pleasure of hiring Ed Hess to work for our company about 15 years ago and he has worked on and off for us throughout that time. I grew to know Ed as a very caring and fun-loving person, as well as an honest, competent worker. When Ed gave you his word, it meant something. We shared many laughs over the years. I know I will miss Ed and I am sure many others that have been in Ed’s life will miss him as well. RIP Ed.

    John Shields

  10. Kari Anne says:

    This is really sad. He was quite a guy.

  11. Raymond M. Sautner says:

    He was one of the nicest and funniest people I have had the pleasure of meeting . I looked foward to seeing him every day on my mail route.
    My heart goes out to his family and friends .
    We are all going to miss ya Ed

  12. Jake says:

    I will always remember Ed’s giant smile and rock solid hand shake. In the 6 years I knew Ed I never once saw that man NOT smiling. I think my fondest memory will be the Christmas parade when Ed would dress up as Santa for the kids. He brought thousands of smiles out of thousands of kids. From his impersonations to his laugh, firm hand shake to his smile, I’ll forever be proud to say I knew such a great man. Rest in peace Ed, we’ll miss you down here!

  13. Steve Wood says:

    I would like to just say the people of Flagler Beach and the county have lost a very valuable asset to there lives by the loss of Ed Hess who was killed Thursday afternoon in a auto accident. To know Ed was to really love him for who he was and I feel there was NO person that I know of who cared for the happiness of everyone including children at Christmas time by being the best Santa that anyone could have ever imagined because he could convince you he was Santa and you would never think otherwise.He was our Santa on the Fire Dept in Flagler Beach when we would have our childrens parties and the parades for the town. Last year Ed had fallen and hurt his ribs so he could not be Santa and I will tell you that Ed was upset and very upset over disappointing the kids at Christmas. I was thrilled and honored to have escorted Ed while he was riding up in the platform of our Tower 11 Fire Truck waving to everyone and making them all excited about Christmas coming. I was so amazed to see the faces of not only the children but the adults who were excited to see Santa and it was Ed that was bringing that to them.
    Ed rest in peace my friend you will always be up there in the platform in spirit and be deeply missed this holiday season by everyone who will come to Flagler Beach for christmas.

    Steve Wood

    • Gerry Gersbach says:

      I have known Ed since I came to Florida 10 years ago. He was my friend and I will miss him. I loved his “Walter Brennan” impersonations. They always cheered me up and made me laugh. Ed was a real “people person”. He got along with everybody, and I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone. Ed was a good commissioner and he served the Town of Beverly Beach long and well. We will miss him at our Town Commission meetings. Thanks to the Hess family for sharing Ed with us.

  14. we just heard this sad news last night. Ed was always cheerful!! We will miss that sweet smile so much! Our hearts go out to Marge,Lisa and the rest of your family. Sincerely, marcy and bruce

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