I have come to realize over the past eight-plus weeks that the thing I dislike most about the coronavirus pandemic is not the isolation, social distancing, mask wearing or the challenge of a suffering local economy. It is the fact that many of us have lost friends, family members or colleagues over the past two months and we have not been able to gather together, mourn and say our goodbyes.
You see, during a time of loss, we are creatures of finding comfort in one another. We come together, offer warm embraces, break bread, share stories and find ways to remember better days. These are moments of tears, laughs, bowed heads and quiet reflection. But right now, none of the rituals of one’s passing are possible. In fact, they are forbidden. There are no gatherings, no hugs, no shoulders to cry on, no opportunity just to be of comfort to one another.
And now, with the passing of our beloved friend, Arva Moore Parks, I am yearning to be with her admirers to say a proper goodbye. I am sure many of you are feeling the same exact way. Arva was a force of nature, a beloved community leader and it seems inappropriate we are not huddled together sharing our grief.
I first got to know Arva nearly 20 years ago when she was involved with the Olympia Theatre at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami. She had been the leading lady in this grand dame’s reimagination and restoration when I came on board. She helped find the money, the architect, the original plans and even brought to the forefront the imperative that we must save our beloved Olympia. I mean, she once saw Elvis Presley perform there as a teenager.
We honored her upon the project’s completion for her stalwart support, sage advice and enduring passion. It was a night I will never forget as we gathered to celebrate two great ladies, Arva and Lady Olympia, on the theatre’s 80th anniversary. To this day, when I walk through those doors, I often tell the story of how we worked collaboratively to bring this atmospheric theatre back to life. Arva is the central figure in each of this conversations – then and now.
Our paths would cross many times over the next few years, including seeking out her research acumen on a project I was working on in Coconut Grove – or as she reminded me, Cocoanut Grove. I never wanted to be at odds with Arva, so I was a good student, ardent notetaker and passionate devotee. A fellow Gator and quintessential Miamian, Arva traced her own roots back to the early days of a burgeoning, post World War II Magic City.
She loved to tell me about her days at Edison High School (the boys went to Miami High, after all) and her life-long friendship with former Senator (and Governor) Bob Graham. Her best friend Adele dated and fell in love with him and Arva encouraged the relationship. I used to ask her, “why didn’t you two date?” She would smile, shake her head softly and say, “oh no, Bob and Adele were made for each other.” That was our Arva; when she knew, she knew.
I came to our Chamber nearly fifteen years ago, and early on in my tenure, Arva asked for a meeting. I was thrilled to pick her brain about The City Beautiful as I knew she was an expert on all things Coral Gables. She had helped save another great dame, The Biltmore Hotel, during her time on the burgeoning historic preservation Board. Over lunch at the old Chispa, she was glad to regale me with stories of George Merrick and our planned new museum. In fact, that lunch was more expensive than expected as she asked me for a donation right there, before dessert and coffee. She hugged me, thanked me, offered her gratitude – and left with a check! That has never happened before – or since – that I donated on the spot. Arva was that convincing and that compelling. I shall miss that beguiling charm and relentlessness forever.
A few years later, we honored her as the inaugural George E. Merrick Award of Excellence winner, a partnership between the Allen Morris Company and our Gables Chamber. She was one of twelve distinguished finalists in that first year and won the award in a landslide. That night, gracious as always, she asked the other eleven honorees to join her on the stage for a photo. She not only shared the spotlight, she eagerly shone it brightly on others.
That was our Arva. A class act, a grand dame, a captivating storyteller, a tireless advocate, a passionate volunteer and a Miamian through and through. She lived all of her final years in a gorgeous home in old My-ama adjacent to Simpson Park surrounded by our collective history and a lifetime of personal treasures.
This past week, we all lost our personal treasure.
Rest in peace, dear friend. We will miss you and long for the day we can gather and mourn your passing as a grateful community.