“You can’t sneak the dawn past a Lebanese rooster,” Ed Eissey would say.
His high-energy, hand-shaking, joke-telling, limelight-seeking style alienated some but won him legions of loyal supporters. He didn’t care either way. He was a shameless cheerleader for the place where he was both a student and its third president: Palm Beach State College.
Edward Michael Eissey died Thursday night at 89, his son Michael confirmed Friday.
“He was the best father that anyone could ever have,” Mike Eissey said. And daughter Lynn Ciklin said, “He was just so kind and sweethearted and loving. His family meant the world to him.”
Under Eissey’s leadership from 1978 to 1996, the place that was Florida’s first junior college sprouted campuses in Boca Raton and Belle Glade and changed its name in 1988 from Palm Beach Junior College to Palm Beach Community College. (The change to “state” came in 2010.)
In 1990, the school named its Palm Beach Gardens campus, and a theater there, for Eissey.
“We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Dr. Ed Eissey,” said Ava L. Parker, president of Palm Beach State College, said in a statement. “Palm Beach State would not be what it is today without the vision and dedication of Dr. Eissey. He pioneered the pathway we continue to build upon. That is to make higher education accessible to every citizen of Palm Beach County.”
Eissey also was an elected official in the village of North Palm Beach from 1998 to 2012, serving at times as both council member, vice-mayor and mayor, and served on the Northern Palm Beaches Chamber of Commerce.
“It seems to me,” Eissey said in 2001, “that if we were to love one another more, respect each other more, be truly a friend to those who need a friend, wouldn’t this be a better world?”
“To call him a character would be like calling Michael Jordan a basketball player or ‘Star Trek’ a TV rerun,” a 1989 Palm Beach Post article said. It said Eissey “starts work before 7 a.m., usually skips lunch for a 2-mile walk on the gym’s treadmill and pummels the phones during and between meetings.”
During his time at the school, his walls were covered with more than 100 pictures and plaques showing him glad-handing with local notables; bankers, judges and politicians; athletes, ministers and actors.
Born in Boston to Lebanese immigrants, he came as a toddler to West Palm Beach with his family and never left. He came out of Palm Beach High, then graduated from Palm Beach Junior College in 1948 and earned graduate degrees from the University of Florida and Florida State University.
Eissey started as a kindergarten teacher, then was principal at Greenacres Elementary and Palm Beach Gardens High School, among other schools. He became vice president at the college in 1974 and four years later was appointed its president.
Over the years, Eissey made both friends and enemies by pressing for increased taxes for his and other community colleges. He had made an unsuccessful run in 1964 for Palm Beach County school superintendent — now an appointed post — then made a brief run in 1974 for state secretary of education. He had on his wish list runs for president of Florida State University and state education commissioner but never seriously pursued either.
When he retired from the college at 67 in 1996, he said he wanted to spend more time with his wife, children and grandchildren. When asked if he wanted to pursue higher elected office, he said he wouldn’t rule it out. Behind him, his wife, Faye, shook her head, “No.”
He also served on the board at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, traveling there often to meet with children battling cancer, and at one point was its chairman. He met comedian and St. Jude’s founder Danny Thomas, also a Lebanese-American, many times, his children said.
At times, Eissey coached athletics. He wrote a book called “Swim the Eissey Way.” He played tennis and claimed to be the world’s best snook fisherman.
“No one gets kicked in the fanny unless you’re out front,” he would say.
“He makes me tired just watching him,” then-college trustee Bettye King said in 1989. “The bottom line is it’s always in the best interest of the college, not Ed Eissey. And the students are crazy about him.”
Eissey died 11 months after he lost his high school sweetheart and his wife of 67 years, longtime schoolteacher and community volunteer Faye Johns Eissey, at 88 on Jan 24.
He is survived by children Lynn Ciklin, Edward Michael Eissey Jr., and Mark Eissey, as well as four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Services were tentatively set for Thursday at the Eissey campus on PGA Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens.