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Jimmy Dean-Sausage King & Boater

Published Tuesday, June 22, 2010 7:00 am
by Van W. Snyder, CAE

I was saddened to hear of Jimmy Dean's death on June 13, 2010. Most young people think Jimmy did only one thing- own a sausage company. He did; he founded the Jimmy Dean Sausage Company with his brother Don in 1969 and the company was sold to Consolidated Foods in 1984 which was renamed Sara Lee Corporation; yet the products still bear his name.

For those who are seasoned, we know Jimmy as a country and western singer, actor and television host. In 1961 he had a huge music hit with the song Big Bad John which earned him a 1962 Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Recording. Both Patsy Cline and Roy Clark started their music careers with Jimmy. He was also an actor. He had a supporting role in Diamonds Are Forever, a 1971 James Bond thriller, as the Las Vegas billionaire Willard Whyte. He appeared in several episodes of Daniel Boone in the later 60s and in two episodes of Fantasy Island in 1981-82. He had his own TV show in the mid-60s called The Jimmy Dean Show. He was, indeed, a man with diverse talents.

But I remember him as an avid boater. In the late 70s one of my positions was managing the marina at Bahia Mar Yachting Center in Fort Lauderdale, FL. This today, is the primary location of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show held in October each year. Jimmy Dean was one of our slip renters. One of my joys was to welcome new boaters to the marina and one way of doing so was to personally deliver a bottle of the resorts best scotch. So, not to miss an opportunity, I headed to Mr. Dean's yacht Big Bad John (what else would he call it?), knocked on the hull, asked for permission to come aboard and got to set in the yacht's salon with Mr. Dean. I welcomed him to the marina, had a diverse conversation for about ten minutes and thanked him again, as I departed, for choosing Bahia Mar. Meeting someone of his fame, my memory of that experience was how down-to-earth he was. He didn't have to let this young whippersnapper on board, but he did and graciously welcomed me and spent time with me. I'm sure I never missed a chance to tell family and friends that I met Jimmy and "even had a conversation on board his yacht."
Back then, Florida attracted celebrities as a result of the cruising opportunities and the proximity to the Bahamas. The island of Bimini is only 49 nautical miles from the coast. In addition to Jimmy Dean, other celebrities boating in the area, I recall, were Neil Sedaka, Roy Clark, Joe Namath, and Evel Knievel. I'm sure there were more.

Jimmy Dean's yacht then was a 53 Hatteras motor yacht. A 53 Hatteras was considered a good-size yacht back then. I suspect Jimmy got infected with two-foot, or 10-foot or 20-foot-itis. Yacht Magazine published an article written by Dudley Sawson published in October, 2007 reporting on Jimmy Dean's Christensen 140. Yes, it was named Big Bad John as had all of his boats before it. Mr. Dawson noted: "At 140 feet, Big Bad John is one of the longest yachts in memory to utilize a raised pilothouse. Dean ... wanted something more evocative of motion and made a deliberate choice to go long rather than high to achieve the space he wanted." He continued by saying, "Her interior is warm, comfortable and upscale without being pretentious. Rather than being stored in some remote marina, the yacht is moored behind the owner's home, where she will receive constant attention. Perhaps best of all, she is owned by a yachtsman who will cruise extensively, providing a great deal of pleasure to himself, to his family and friends and to all those who might be fortunate enough to spot John cruising by. Big, yes. Bad, no way."

Jimmy Dean obviously found tranquility by boating and cruising. We all can learn from Jimmy by providing pleasure to not only ourselves but family and friends through enjoying recreational boating and sharing the experience with others. My memory of Mr. Dean reminds me that some celebrities are not pretentious and really are nice people. We are lucky Jimmy Dean found boating and boating found Jimmy Dean.

Written By: Van W. Snider, Jr., President
Michigan Boating Industries Association & Boaters' Association of Michigan

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