Gene Fant


Professor of English, Palm Beach Atlantic University


West Palm Beach, FL

“When I finished grad school, I landed my first teaching job in a small town on the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, not far from Williamsburg.  I rented the caretaker’s cottage on a waterfront estate that was surrounded on three sides by a riverbend. The property had originally belonged to George Washington’s great-great-grandfather, Augustine Washington, who was an ancestor of Queen Elizabeth II.  The estate I lived on was owned by a wealthy Polish count. I was fascinated by his easy style and his impeccable taste.

That year I taught 11th grade American lit by day and dreamed of the Jazz Age by night.  As I taught the literature of that period to my students, I realized that my life was a little like the character in one of those stories. I lived in the backyard of a man whose wealth I could only dream of, and I watched the night-lit parties up and down the little branch of water that was studded with docks that had flickering red and green lights. I met my wife that year and the first time I told her I loved her, we were on a pier at sunset with a whisper of an early spring breeze brushing past our faces.

Thirty years later, I now teach college, living in a waterfront community in Florida.  My office window looks out on the yacht harbor of Palm Beach. I often receive invitations to represent my university at charity events, lectures, or concerts where I find myself chatting with senators and socialites of the “island,” as we call it here.  I’m a college literature professor, but each time I attend an event, I wear a Brooks Brothers tie and a crisp white French-cuffed shirt with the eye-catching 6-pleat shirring.  I never leave an event without thinking that just because I don’t have their money doesn’t mean that I can’t have their taste and their style.”

Photo credit: Lighthaven Photography