Meet the Humans of the Keys

Meet the Humans of the Keys

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Reagan and Susie Ptomey, Islamorada


Reagan- “I always loved the Keys. When I was in college and law school, every chance I got I was down here; in an old Volkswagen, camping. Then after I had been out of law school a few years, an opportunity presented itself here, and I moved to Key West in 1980. I knew Susie from Pensacola; she came down about a year later, and we got married. I was with the state attorney’s office then.

We lived on a houseboat for several years in Key West, at Murray Marine. I remember it was right next to the dump. Funny story about our wedding…We got married on our houseboat. The marina really was next to the dump, and the methane was burning off during the ceremony. In the pictures, people think that it’s torches burning in the background! Also, Susie was working for the sheriff’s office, and the prisoners in the jail made our wedding cake! Then we moved up to Big Pine where we had our first child, Josh, in 1984.“

Susie- “Josh was the last baby born at Fisherman’s Hospital!”

Reagan- “I knew I wanted to be a judge, but I never thought I would have the opportunity. I thought you had to be part of the system, play the politics game, and I just wasn’t political. I really was in the right place at the right time. It was 1986 when Allison DeFoor, the first county judge in the Upper Keys, announced he was not going to run again. It was a new position at the time. So, kind of on a lark because I knew I could do a good job, I qualified… And nobody ran against me! I didn’t know anybody up here in the Upper Keys. Our Keys life had been in the Lower Keys up to that point. I just went around and met all the lawyers up here; told them I was going to run. Nobody ran against me, so I became county judge of the Upper Keys.

I’ve only had to run for office one time in all these years; only one opponent in over 30 years. I actually had to do the political thing in 2010. I had to campaign and run, and I realized that I absolutely hated it! Some people love it, but I think they are from outer space. I didn’t like it at all.”

Susie- “We met a lot of people and made a lot of good friends through the campaign. People we wouldn’t have met otherwise. It wasn’t all bad.”

Reagan- “My last term was 6 years, and it’s up at the end of this year. I retire in December. It’s definitely been tough being the judge in a small town. As you know, it doesn’t take long before you know everybody. When we order take out, we never give our real name! I’m worried about the extra sauce!”

Susie- “But, really, in all the years, there has only been one time where a guy came up to us somewhere and was angry. There have been a lot of people that have come up to him and thanked him for saving their life or saving their families, but only that one guy who came up to us in a parking lot and was angry with him. Well, then there was that time the guy shot at him…in court!”

Reagan- “Yeah, he didn’t like me! That was in 1991. This guy was standing in front of me and we were doing arraignments. He came up to me and he was suspicious to me right away because he was wearing a 3 piece suit! Why would you wear a 3 piece suit in the Keys?! Well, he pulled a gun out of a shoulder holster. The bailiff got him down in a bear hug, but the gun went off and shot my bailiff in the hand. The bullet hole is still in the wall there in the courtroom. That was an interesting day! At that time there was no security to get into the building; no metal detectors, no pat downs, no wands, nothing. There just wasn’t any money in the budget down here then. But, it was kind of nice in one way, because after that happened, people in the community started collecting money to buy metal detectors for the court house.”

Susie- “It was tough on our sons, Josh and Luke, growing up the sons of the local judge. But they were such great kids. I’m so proud of both of them. They are both here living and working in the Keys now; they went off to school and they both came back!"

Reagan- “The only time they ever got in trouble with the law was with me, and it was for things at home… “Ok, who colored on the couch?” That was Luke by the way.”

Susie- “Then there was the time Josh came home from school, in the first grade, and he had cut his pants off into shorts. They were obviously cut, straight cut…but he told us that he had fallen on a rock and they had gotten torn like that!”

Reagan- “On the door of our house, we have one of those little chain locks that you put on the inside of a door. Except ours is way up high, because when Luke was little, he figured out how to undo that latch and get out. So I had to take it and put it up at the very top of the door, and we still to this day refer to it as the “Luke Latch.”

Susie- “Overall, they were just great kids. And, we always had kids at our house. Some of them had parents who worked so much they were kind of on their own. I always made sure they got something to eat, and had a safe place to come. We had 3 rules: no smoking, no alcohol and no bad words. It was nothing for there to be 8 or 9 kids hanging around the house.”

Reagan- “One thing that amazes me about our community is how many great musicians we have down here. I mean, really amazing musicians. Many of our local musicians are every bit as talented as people who are booming in the music business. We love going out to see live music when we can. And, of course, we always go if Luke is playing anywhere. His mother makes sure we never miss one of his shows!”

Susie- “We have always been involved with all the music down here. We’ve worked all the Bay Jams. It’s nice to have it at Founders Park. Founders Park was my one foray into the political arena. I got up and spoke about the new amphitheater. A lot of people didn’t want it. They said we didn’t need it, that it was a waste of money. But, I thought it was important and I helped fight for it.”

Reagan- “And, it’s not just the amphitheater or Bay Jam and music festivals. Before Founders, Harry Harris was where the kids played soccer. I remember there was exposed cap rock on the soccer field. We had several kids get hurt. That’s when we, Susie especially, starting pushing for the improvements at Founders Park. Any parent with kids who played soccer was behind it. Now it is such a gorgeous place. We should be really proud of it.

The Keys are our home. I’m retiring in December, and everybody keeps asking me, “Where are you going? Where are you going?” And I say, “Nowhere!” This is home. This is where I’ve lived most of my adult life. I’m not leaving this community.”

Susie- “We have great friends down here, and both of our sons. It’s a great place to live. The community comes together and helps each other. It’s important to treat everybody like you want to be treated, because it’s a small community. It’s a caring community, as you know from all the fundraisers.”

Reagan- “That is an amazing thing about the Keys. When somebody gets sick or has a tragedy, or needs help in some way, I have never seen a community get together to help like they do here. There are so many benefits here. It is really something to be proud of. So there again, where would I go when I retire? Nowhere! I have arrived! Once I retire, I plan to have a lot more time to fish. As a matter of fact, when we leave here, I’m going to buy tackle! If I’m not on the boat, I’m sitting at the house tying fishing lines and knots and rigging poles. I love to fish.”

Susie- “He has to get a job! He can’t stay home. No way. He has to find something to do. You can’t go out fishing every day.”

Reagan- “You watch! You just watch!”


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