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From the wealthy to the coroner’s office, Ed Bond has lived a lifetime of stories
By Kathryn Deen
LONGWOOD, Florida -- Unlike most others his age as a child on New York’s Long Island, Edward J. Bond grew up around American royalty.
And, in turn, that “American royalty” helped him grow up. Literally.
“My brother, Ray, was a friend of one of the Vanderbilt children,” Ed recalled, thinking of his family’s connection with the famed Vanderbilts – Cornelius and Grace Vanderbilt, who made millions in the shipping, rail road, and real estate industries.
As for Ed, he grew up knowing the famous Dupont family. The Duponts, in fact, had a chauffer who would pick Ed and Ray up for school. It was a unique life event, for sure, especially for a modest family that, themselves, were considered working middle class. But it was thanks to his parents – Alfred, a butler; and Laura, a cook for many wealthy families in their native England – that the opportunities arose to be with such American dignitaries.
Both Alfred and Laura worked for the famous John D. Rockefeller – the oil tycoon considered one of the all-time wealthiest Americans – and, of course, the Vanderbilts.
That, by itself, could be the story of a lifetime. But for Ed, his lifetime of stories was just getting started.
Getting Tough in the Coast Guard
Born May 28, 1935, in Glen Cove, Ed loved wandering the large estates and camping out in the woods with his younger brother, Ray, as members of the Boy Scouts.
But beside those adventures, Ed felt a bit sheltered.
So after graduating in June 1953 from Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, he sought to expand his horizons. A flip through the encyclopedia gave him his answer. He joined the U.S. Coast Guard that October and served aboard Coast Guard Cutter Zinnia out of Gloucester, NJ, until 1957.
“I thought of it as a way to mature, to grow up, to become a man and to understand what was going on in the world,” Ed said, from his cottage home in Central Florida. “From the moment I hit Cape May [for boot camp], there were four-letter words every sentence,” he said. “I was scared to death. They said, ‘Stand the f**k up,’ and I just did it.”
Ed was a boatswain's mate, and some of his rescue tasks tested his limits. During hurricanes, he helped civilian sailors trying to fight the storm on their boats. “We had to go in and rescue them,” Ed recalled.
He also has memories of servicing navigation aids in the wintertime, climbing 12 feet up rocking buoys in the snow to change the lanterns. But perhaps most frightening was being engulfed in fire. The Zinnia pulled inside a fully involved cargo ship to fight its fire, set off by an explosion below deck. “Most men in the service say the same thing,” Ed said. “They really loved the service, but they wouldn’t do it again.”
Finding a Spouse and a Career to Love
Upon leaving the service, Ed had a woman waiting in the wings — Sylvia [Sandy]. They met while working for the United States Junior Chamber in Willmington, Delaware, also known as the Jaycees. She oversaw the Delaware beauty pageant, and he sold ads for Jaycees Magazine. “We just worked so closely together, and how things often happen, you fall in love,” he said.
Ed’s career path bounced from horseback riding instructing to the insurance business to college. He enrolled at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, where Sandy became the director of nurses at a small hospital there. But after four years of school and raising five children [three from Sandy’s previous marriage - Dana, Nancy and Tracy - and two of their own - Phil and Susan], Ed decided that becoming a doctor was too hard with five kids and no high school chemistry background.
Instead, he used his associate’s degree in business and went on to ECU for four years, where he majored in psychology. From college, he went into nursing home administration.
He made history at the first nursing facility he managed by dissolving segregation there. “They had separate dining rooms for blacks and whites,” Ed said. “Being from up north and not knowing any better, I integrated them and the KKK burned a cross on our front lawn.”
He later landed in Greensboro, NC; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Macon, Georgia, for other nursing home administrator opportunities.
Ambitiously, in his mid-30s, Ed started his own company, Bond & Associates, managing nursing homes. That included running seven nursing homes across Georgia for Charter Medical Corporation as their vice president.
He advanced his involvement to launching nursing homes from the ground up. He’d buy land, hire builders and staff, get everything set up inside and start finding residents. “I liked it so much that if they would’ve put food and a roof over my head, I would have done it free,” he said. “I began to see that I had leadership qualities. I liked making the decisions.”
Selling Vacations, Seeing the Dead
But money wasn’t quite pouring in from the nursing home industry, so Ed moved on. His son, Phil, approached him with an idea after graduating college, telling Ed: “Dad, you always said you can’t make money for working for the other person. What business are We going in?”
Ed’s ideas churned, and a backburner passion surfaced: travel. Together, they launched a travel agency, Worldwide Travel in Macon, GA. Phil ran it, and Ed backed it financially and worked on sales.
But yet another career found Ed, one that starkly contrasted the happy, lively vacation industry: Dealing with the dead. His morbid job opportunity came like this:
Ed was the president of Macon’s Rotary Club and had invited the sheriff to speak. Afterward, the sheriff approached him about filling a vacancy for coroner. Ed had no experience, which ironically helped him beat out the other five people being considered; they owned funeral homes that were deemed a conflict of interest. So Ed agreed to the odd new job. But it certainly was a new adventure.
His role as coroner was to learn the cause and manner of someone’s death. He worked closely with the sheriff. “My first case that we had, I’ll never forgot, a man died sitting on the toilet straining. He had a stroke,” Ed recalled. “I walked in and he was sitting on the toilet dead. Every time I go into the bathroom, I think I hope th is isn’t my time.”
He had encountered death working with nursing homes. But nothing could prepare him for every scenario, not when seeing approximately 2,240 corpses on the job – 160 a year for 14 years.
“One was emotional,” he said. “Sandy and I were at the movies and I got a call that someone had died on the highway. An elderly couple coming home from dinner hit a deer that hit an oncoming car with a young girl. When I pulled the curtain back, it looked like a carbon copy of our daughter. That stayed with me for about two weeks. That was the most emotional.”
It was a far cry from the days of camping with Ray and friends. It was a long way from Glen Cove, Long Island. It was a reality truer to life than the surreal times of being with the wealthy.
But for Ed Bond, it was just another chapter in his amazing life story.
Ed Bond finds success in meeting the world’s most powerful leaders
By Kathryn Deen
LONGWOOD, Florida -- Growing up around the rich and famous sparked Ed Bond’s desire to hit the jackpot, too.
He had tasted how millionaires like the Duponts and Vanderbilts lived, rolling into school in a limousine with their kids. So instead of serving the wealthy like his parents, Ed wanted to be wealthy.
“I had this innate believing that the way you become successful in life is to hang around people who are successful,” Ed said. “I always looked for ideas.”
Those included not just American royalty, per se, like the Duponts and Vanderbilts. But American – and, thus, world – leaders.
A friend to the Carters
Ed’s first such interaction was with Jimmy Carter at a Rotary Club meeting around 1970. Ed was president of the Club and Jimmy was the guest speaker, at the time campaigning for Governor of Georgia.
Ed offered to help Jimmy campaign, and Jimmy was appreciative. Ed used his leverage as president of the Nursing Home Association/Georgia Health Care Association, and vice president of the American Health Care Association to call state presidents, asking them to “support a friend of mine, Jimmy Carter.”
After Jimmy won the governor’s race, Ed and his wife, Sandy, were flattered to be invited to the Governor’s Mansion for breakfast. “I always laugh because I thought there would be four of us for breakfast,” Ed said. “Well, there must have been 60 people there. Governor Carter came out and he said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I think you’re looking at the next president of the United States,’ and I thought, ‘this is very optimistic.’”
The Bonds and the Carters kindled a friendship. Once, the then-governor’s wife, Rosalynn, and two of their children even joined Ed and Sandy for an Elvis Presley concert and visited with the Bonds at their home. Ed and Sandy also received front-row seats to one of the armories in Washington for Jimmy’s presidential inauguration.
“When the door opened, he came right over,” Ed said. “He kissed Sandy, and he shook hands with me, and he said, ‘You take care of things in Macon,’ and I said, ‘You take care of things in Washington.’”
The two kept in touch. In fact, when Jimmy was gearing up to run the second time in 1979-80, he reached out to Ed. The Bonds were vacationing on Longboat Key, Florida at the time. Ed was swimming when his son, Phil, came to tell him he had a phone call from “some Boy Scout camp.”
“I thought it must be a wrong number, so I didn’t pay any attention,” Ed said.
Later, when he went up to the condo, he found a note: “Please call Mrs. Carter at Camp David.”
Some Boy Scout camp, huh? The laughs continued when Ed’s mother and wife returned from shopping.
“I was talking to Rosalynn, and she said, ‘Could you come to Washington? Jimmy wants to see you.’ I said, ‘Just tell me when and where, I’ll be there.’ So, my mother and Sandy came in and my mother said he’s always on the telephone; he’s probably talking to the president. I laughed and said, ‘No it’s his wife.’”
Rosalynn invited him to see the president in the White House. Ed waited outside of the Oval Office and out came the vice president, secretary of state, and several other top leaders. “[Rosalynn] said to them, ‘Oh come on over here. I want you to meet a friend of ours from Macon, Georgia.”
Sharing a pen with a world leader
Ed soon returned to Washington to see yet another leader. He had a meeting with “good friend” and senator, Sam Nunn from Georgia, chairman of the Armed Service Committee. While waiting in the hall for Senator Nunn, all of a sudden, the door opened, and Senator Ted Kennedy came out. “Meeting Ted Kennedy was most interesting because I had seen the Kennedys for so long on TV every night,” Ed said.
It wasn’t the only Kennedy he would interact with. Ed corresponded on several occasions with Robert Kennedy, working on his campaign for senator by making phone calls and handing out brochures.
Most people go their whole lives without meeting top politicians. But Ed was just getting started.
As an elected official [coroner], Ed was invited to airports to greet dignitaries and presidents arriving. Twice, he met President Bill Clinton, once asking to borrow a pen. Ed chuckled at the memory.
“Sandy had given me two of these $200 Montblancs,” Ed said. Ed took one out, and President Clinton started writing, and as he did, said, “this doesn’t write on pictures; do you have a Bic pen? And the president signed it with a Bic pen.”
The third president he met was George H.W. Bush. And later he met George W. Bush. When President Bush’s campaign manager, who was a friend of Ed’s, brought he and his son Phil to watch the president speak, Phil was mistaken for a threat when he jumped up to snap a picture mid-speech. “The Secret Service was just a little concerned,” Ed recalled.
Ed also wrote to many other politicians in his lifetime. He has a library of autographed books and photos, including from Harry Truman and President Carter’s mother, Lillian, that are displayed today in his Longwood cottage’s self-proclaimed “Presidents Room.”
Ed’s fascination reached far beyond presidents though. He liked meeting other successful people in a variety of fields, such as The Brothers Four and Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps.
And when a chance arose to have lunch with Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, and, on another occasion, Geico insurance president Warren Buffet, he used that time to ask about their strategies and advice for success.
“Unfortunately, I met most of them in my 50s, so it was a little late in my career,” Ed said. “I’d likely be a millionaire if I’d done what these people had suggested.”
One accomplishment tops them all
Ed was successful by many measures. He co-owned a quarter-million dollar, 48-foot motor boat with a friend. He owned four homes. He traveled the world. He and Sandy both drove Lexuses. His company made over a million dollars a year in his travel agency of 14 years. He was sworn in as a deputy sheriff. He was known by everyone in his town. He was very active in Christ Episcopal Church.
But what he is most proud of is his relationship with his wife.
“My biggest successful accomplishment is marrying that lady,” he said, looking over at Sandy. “She was senior vice president of a large medical center, and had 1,200 nurses working for her. When she retired, she became executive director of the Georgia State Board of Nursing, which she did for 10 years. She went back to college at age 50 and got a masters in nursing and business with a 4.0 in each. She was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. And together we raised five kids and have eight grandkids and five great grandchildren.”
In retrospect, the pageantry of politics and presidents and American royalty and leaders was a thrill -- but no one measures up to his sweetheart.
“I think it’s important to have someone to love,” he said. “We have a strong relationship.”