“We talk, we cuss, we have a good ole time,” said Sam Rogers, who was admitted in the early 1980s.
The group formed in the 1940s and membership included Black businessmen and leaders, most of whom were descendants of Bahamians.
“Back then, no one was rich but the Old Timers were men who were successful,” said Rogers who is 87.
Garth Coleridge Reeves Sr. was one of the original Old Timers. Before he died Nov. 25, Reeves was the group’s oldest and longest member. He was 100 years old before he succumbed to pneumonia. His next birthday would have been Feb. 12. He had one employer apart from the U.S. military – The Miami Times. He was its publisher and he used the newspaper as his bully pulpit to beat down injustice and elevate Black people.
Reeves hosted one of their meet ups about a month ago at his home. He made the boiled fish and grits. The guys arrived at 10:30 a.m., and the camaraderie continued until dinner time, sometimes 10 courses, around 2:30 p.m.
“We have dessert, and everyone has their favorite drink, whether it’s strawberry soda or Jack Daniels. I am not going to say how much they had to drink,” said Rogers, who is the de facto president of the unstructured organization. Still, they meet every third Sunday of the month, sometimes to head to a sporting game, to gallivant in Las Vegas or to share meals and spirited conversations. The thin-skinned needed to quickly develop a thick layer over their egos or, perhaps, move on.
John Williams is the oldest member of the Old Timers at 90 years old. Williams owned Band Box barbershop. He was Reeves’ barber. He remembers Reeves as a regular who gave advice and camaraderie.
“He will surely be missed by everyone,” Williams said.
Today, the group of 16 includes older and younger men (You have to be 50 years old to be a member.), some even from Broward County. Women can join the men on trips and some occasions. The only way into the Old Timers circle is by invitation.
“We have lost our leader,” Rogers said. “Of all the organizations that [Garth] belonged to, this was his favorite.”
Reeves was not the only newspaper man in the Old Timers. Westside Gazette newspaper publisher Bobby Henry is one of the younger members admitted. He remembers Reeves as someone who loved life and did exactly what he wanted to do.
“Imagine a 100-year-old 30-year old; that’s Garth,” said Henry, who is 64 years old. “He could hang and lie with the best of us. There was no shame in his game.”
The Old Timers group has lasted six decades because amid the fun is always a serious look at the Black community.
“We spend time talking about the history of Miami-Dade and Broward. That’s the glue. There is so much rich history and we get to talk to people who were there, who were a part of it. And every time you learn something new, you hear something you missed,” Henry said.
While Reeves played hard, he understood he had a mission to level uneven playing fields. He and others led the way in desegregating golf courses and beaches in Miami-Dade County. He used the newspaper to demand equity for Black people in Miami-Dade County. Moreover, he was an astute businessman who took risks and had considerable foresight.
His father, Henry Ethelbert Sigismund Reeves was a printer, who emigrated from the Bahamas. He started a business in Miami, The Magic Printing Co., which printed “envelopes, books, invitations, programs, funeral programs, you know, everything. My dad's motto was, ‘We print anything from a card to a newspaper.’ And we did. We used to do the school newspaper too, print that too,” Reeves said in a 2013 interview with the HistoryMakers.
H.E.S. Reeves founded The Miami Times in 1923. When Reeves joined the business after serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, he found some printing services were underpriced and the newspaper a loss-leader. He corrected the printing jobs pricing and the business thrived.
“The newspaper was getting, was getting along, but it wasn't making any money. But the job printing office was making the money, and so we didn't worry about that. Whatever they were short over there, we'd pick it up. And things went quite well there. …The new machinery was working well. And we bought a new press, a bigger press,” Reeves said in the interview.
When the newspaper became profitable, he sold the family’s printing business.
In 1970, he was named publisher and CEO of the Miami Times when H.E.S. Reeves died. Later, he passed the reigns of the paper to his son Garth C. Reeves Jr., who died in 1982 of cancer. Reeves returned to work for another decade, continuing to advocate for the Black community and altering outcomes of elections. In 1994, his daughter Rachel Reeves assumed the publishing role. She preceded him in death on Sept. 12, 2019.
Reeves’ grandmother was from Haiti and his grandfather, was from Jamaica. They both migrated to the Bahamas and had Henry E. S. Reeves. Henry E. S. Reeves was trying to buy a printing press in New York City, when he was told of entrepreneurial opportunities in Miami. Reeves was four months old when his family brought him to Miami. Henry E. S. Reeves found a voiceless Black South Florida and gave it a loud voice by starting the Miami Sun newspaper, which became The Miami Times, a weekly newspaper that has never missed a publishing date.
Reeves, raised in Overtown, graduated from Booker T. Washington High School and Florida A & M University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in printing in 1940. He held three honorary doctorate degrees from Barry University, Florida Memorial University and the University of Miami. He was a member of Sigma Pi Phi and Omega Psi Phi fraternities.
He lived through 17 presidential administrations, starting with Woodrow Wilson, and witnessed America twice-elect African-American president Barack Obama. He saw the results of Brown v. Board of Education, which paved the way to integration; the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the end of the Jim Crow South.
Reeves was associated with so many firsts in Miami-Dade County and the nation. The centenarian was the first Black person to serve on the governing boards of Miami Dade College, Barry University, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Dade County. He also served as chairman of the board of the first integrated bank in the state, National Industrial Bank. Northwest Sixth Street in Overtown was co-designated Garth C. Reeves Way in November 2017.
He was a bold supporter of both Black newspapers and publishers throughout the country, serving organizations that championed the Black Press and its demands for equity in advertising. Garth Reeves has been the president of the Amalgamated Publishers of New York City and served as president twice for the National Newspaper Publishers Association.
In August 2017, he was inducted in the National Association of Black Journalists’ Hall of Fame. The same honor was extended in 2018 by the Florida Press Association’s Newspaper Hall of Fame.
Cheryl Smith, NABJ’s secretary, felt sorrow when she heard of Reeves’ death. Smith presented the nominating documents to the NABJ Hall of Fame on behalf of FAMU's Miami Dade Chapter. Smith said she was first introduced to Reeves by the late Miami Commissioner Arthur E. Teele Jr.
“I will always treasure the times I spent with him and was looking forward to seeing him in January 2020 during the next NNPA meeting,” Smith said.
When he was inducted, Reeves encouraged Black publishers, media executives, journalists and others to let nothing silence them.
“Black journalists and the Black Press are up against formidable foes and we have to keep fighting and not give up,” he said at the time.
Henry said Reeves was not just a brother he was a leader. The Old Timers’ Christmas Party was planned to be at Reeves’ home in North Miami. Henry and Rogers say the party will go on because that’s what Reeves would want. He even shared the boiled fish recipe. Just in case. Reeves even knows how long he wanted to be on the earth. He is survived by his grandson, Garth Basil Reeves, other relatives, the Old Timers and numerous friends.
“He always said, ‘I just want to live to be 100 years old,’” Henry said.
PAY LAST RESPECTS
Litany Service will be 6 p.m. Thursday at Church of the Incarnation, located at 1835 NW 54th St., Miami. Memorial services for Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity and the Links Inc., will follow immediately after the Litany. His service will be 10 a.m. Friday, Dec. 6 at The Historic St. Agnes’ Episcopal Church, 1750 NW Third Ave., Miami.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in Garth C. Reeves’ honor to either Booker T. Washington High School or The Black Archives Inc. Services entrusted to Range Funeral Homes.