Tampa Bay Legends

Jim Fair

Every town has at least one...Jim Fair counted for ten. This decorated World War II hero returned to Tampa after the war to start Tampa's premier discount "Get It For You Wholesale" Center on South Franklin Street, just north of where the Crosstown Expressway would eventually pass by. That was long before skyscrapers made their appearance downtown.

Jim was Tampa's beloved eccentric and political gadfly, a nut who started the Salvation Navy at the three story brick building on the east side of Franklin Street. There, Fair sold novelties and useful items to people who didn't have much money...and he gave street people a place to hang out for the night. He was friendly, always had a smile on his face, but was quick to file lawsuits about almost anything. He often said he "never met a lawsuit he didn't like."

Fair was often jailed for contempt of court for mouthing off at judges and witnesses in open court. If he had something to say, he'd say it no matter what the rules were or who was present...and he was always willing to accept the consequences and sue to have them changed.

He ran dozens of advertisements in every issue of The Tampa Tribune with his famous phone number, 2-2222 which later changed to 229-2222. He had to sue the phone company to get that particular number. He tried to get the courts to give him 1-1111 but didn't get a favorable ruling. Each advertisement he placed boasted that FAIR could "Get It 4 U Wholesale," whatever it was you wanted.

Ironically, he filed many lawsuits against the newspaper for not getting its facts straight and his love-hate relationship with reporters was legend. If there was a slow news day, and there often was in the fifties and sixties, Fair could always be counted on for a weird turn or two that would entertain readers.

Jim Fair was part of the local and well-respected Farrior family of lawyers and doctors but changed his name in the fifties as a symbol of his disowning the establishment he felt they were a part of. He despised anything "government" yet ran dozens of times for everything from mayor to county commissioner to state senator.

One year, he ran for Tampa mayor and as a publicity stunt rode his bicycle off the Platt Street bridge before a crowd of hundreds who came to see if he would drown. "Not a chance of that happening," Fair declared.

When he ran for each office, he always sued to have the filing fees declared unconstitutional. Failing at that, he found other loopholes to get his name on the ballot. After multiple failures at office seeking, a tired electorate finally voted him into the Supervisor of Election's Office in 1964. By 1966, he had screwed the operations of the rather obscure office up so bad that then Governor Claude Kirk had to remove him and appoint a successor. But he did put it on the map.

Fair spent nearly a decade of his post political years in Tampa filing lawsuits, many directed at the Florida Public Service Commission and local utilities alleging corruption and lack of public interest.

In the mid-seventies, Hillsborough County took Fair's Salvation Navy property by condemnation to make way for entrances to the soon-to-be built Crosstown Expressway. He sued to keep his property but lost. In protest, he never picked up the check for nearly $300,000 in payment that remained for him with the Clerk of the Circuit Court. He once directed WFLA-TV reporter Tony Zappone to go pick up the check and then called the clerk not to release it to him.

In 1976, as part of an agreement with a local court who had held him in contempt for numerous violations of conduct, he left Hillsborough County for the state capitol.

He wasn't in Tallahassee five minutes when he became the same center of media attention he had been in Tampa. He made speeches everywhere people would listen and sometimes he even made sense. In 1980, he ran unsuccessfully against State Senator Dempsey Barron (D-Panama City), again protesting the qualifying fee.

Fair remained in Tallahassee, fighting the utility companies and big business in local and state courts. He lived modestly in an apartment until his death in the early 90's.

He seldom made sense, he was weird but he was loved and his passing left a big gap in the collective souls of Tampa and Tallahassee when he was around no more.

Left: Jim Fair speaks to the Tallahassee Tiger Bay Club, 1979

Above: Jim Fair relaxes outside Tallahassee courthouse after filing lawsuit.

* Photos Courtesy: UPI, Don Dughi, Bob O'Lary and Tallahassee Democrat.


Copyright © 2004 By TEDD WEBB • All Rights Reserved