J: My name is Ray Jones, and I am interviewing Tax Collector Jim Bishop for the Oral History Program of the Matheson Historical Center on June 8, 1999, in Gainesville, Florida. Mr. Bishop, would you please give your full name and birthdate for the record.
B: James F. Bishop, Jr. My birthdate is July 13, 1925.
J: For the record, would you kindly give the Matheson Center permission to use the information in this interview for their needs?
B: I am more than pleased to do that. I really think this is a great idea.
J: Thank you. To begin with, please tell us about your family, its origin, and what you know about how and when they came to Gainesville.
B: My family originated in Reddick, Florida, in Marion County. My dad grew up there, and there were eight children in the Bishop family and the Ralph family. They were all relatives. My dad moved here in 1924, I think it was, or late 1923, just prior to me being born, and he came to work here for Mr. Hal Batey. Batey Fleming Company was in the beef business and my dad was a butcher by trade. He got a job with Mr. Batey and that's how he came to be in Gainesville. The Batey family is a longtime Alachua County family. My mother was born in South Georgia. They were a Dekle family, and there are some Dekles today that live in Lake Butler, Florida. They are distantly related to us. She was a school teacher. She managed to go to the University in Tallahassee at that time, which was a woman's college totally, and she went there two years, got her teaching certificate, and taught a year or thereabouts in Quincy, Florida, and then moved to Lake Butler and taught there a short time, and then taught a little while in Reddick after she and my dad were married. When they moved to Gainesville, she didn't teach any longer and she was just raising our family.
Later on, probably in 1925 or 1926, my dad opened up his own neighborhood grocery store, and he was in that business for over thirty years, the whole time we were growing up and going to school and everything. The large grocery stores pretty much put him out of business when they started -- the Winn Dixies, and so forth -- and he later was the meat market manager at Piggly Wiggly for a length of time. That was his life. I am very proud of my dad and the things that he accomplished, as well as my mother, being able to go to college back in those days.
My wife was Fay Harris. She was born and raised in La Crosse, Florida, going to elementary school in La Crosse, and to Alachua High School from there. She graduated from Alachua High School. The Harris family is well known in this county. There are a number of Harrises and some still live out there. We were married in 1949 at the First Interview with Methodist Church here in Gainesville, and Dr. Holmes was the minister at that time. We will have been married fifty years this year.
We have three sons. The oldest one is Tom -- James Thomas Bishop -- and the second son is Larry Ed Bishop, and the third son is Allan Jim Bishop. Tom lives in Boca Raton, Florida, and is in the insurance business with the Florida Farm Bureau. He is married and has three children.
Larry is the Assistant Principal at this time at Gainesville High School. He is a former football coach, was Assistant Principal at Newberry, and now at Gainesville High School. He has three children, one of them by a second marriage.
Allan is living now in Palm Harbor down near Clearwater, Florida. He started a new venture and a new life and has just remarried recently to Andrea Chesborough. They don't have any children at this point, and he has one child and one stepchild by his former wife.
So, that's pretty much the family. We've been here quite a long time.
J: Thank you. You were born in Gainesville.
B: Yes, I was born in Gainesville right after they moved here.
J: Where did you first live?
B: Do you know where the Cone Building over on S.E. Second Avenue, down toward the railroad track? They first rented a house in that area. Really it was just in recent years that the house was torn down. It was there a long time. Later we moved to Boundary Street, which is now N.E. 8th Avenue. We rented a house there for several years until we later built a home out on N.E. 8th Avenue in the 700 block, and the home is still there today. After my folks passed away, we sold that house but they lived there probably fifty years -- the two of them. When that home was built. Boundary Street was just a dirt road from 1st Street, which used to be East Main Street, along in that area, to Waldo Road. It was only a dirt road back in those days.
J: Who were your friends when you were growing up, and what schools did you attend?
B: I went to Kirby-Smith School -- that's the name of the school now and it is, of course, the school board office now -- but it was called Eastside School back in those days, I think. I went there until about the fifth grade and then went to P.K. Yonge School up through the 11th grade and then to Gainesville High School in my senior year, graduating from Gainesville High School. That was during the war, of course, and most of us were eighteen years old or thereabouts and we went into the service in World War II. I served thirty months in World War II and came back and went to the University, worked with the University a while, and worked in Sears, Roebuck, and I was called back into service during the Korean War. I had remained in the Reserves, and I served ten months in the service that time.
In the meantime, I got married just prior to going back in the service and we had a son, Tom, who was born in 1950, so when I came back out of the service, for some reason I regretted, looking back at it now, because if I had tried harder and probably gone back and finished at the University, but I only had two years out there. I took the basic courses and accounting subjects that later helped me out in this position which I've had these years. Having an accounting background was most fortunate.
J: When you were growing up, you had a group of friends. Were they important to you and are they still around?
B: Oh yes. The town was small then. Everybody knew everybody, and we all played all the sports together. Whatever was in season, that's what we played! If it was marbles, we played marbles. If it was football, we played football. If it was baseball, we played baseball. Basketball, we played basketball. We all grew up together -- and by the way, I can mention that now -- we have a group that we call the Has Beens in this community, and that's all we guys that grew up in Gainesville together and went to school prior to World War II, during the war, and immediately after the war, and we have a monthly meeting and we usually have about sixty or sixty-five show up.
J: Can you tell us a few names?
B: Oh yes, I can tell you plenty of names. I'll just mention one who was here yesterday. Johnny Bynum. His name comes first because he was in the office here yesterday. Had a car problem that he was trying to get settled up. He sold a car that he had. Right now we try to play golf every Thursday.
We have a fellow named B.L. Burton. He is a merchant. His folks grew up in this county. He was a merchant in this town. He's retired. Most of us are all retired except me, and my time is coming.
There's a MacMillan, Beverly MacMillan. His daddy was in the restaurant business and he was, as well. He has a brother who's in the restaurant business still, or at least his family is. He has a hamburger place by the Publix out here on North Main Street. They were involved with us.
We had a Snowden -- Buck Snowden. His daddy was a merchant. He had a grocery store that he ran when we were all growing up. Interview with James F. Bishop, Jr. June 8, 1999 4 My best friend probably all my life was John Gibbs. He was the best man at my wedding, and I was the best man at his wedding. His daddy was in the insurance business with Allied Insurance Company of Georgia, and Mr. Gibbs lived to be over a hundred years old. He was real big in the Masons here, as well as my dad was. That was one of their main things. The Masonic Lodge was what they participated in a lot. That brings up another name: Tom Price, a good friend of mine. He's a little younger than I am, but he's a minister, a Methodist minister. His dad was a good friend of my dad's. It was kind of interesting here, not too long ago, Tom's dad, John Gibbs' dad, and my dad, were all good friends, and we were all out at a restaurant here sometime last part of last year, and we all walked down on the sidewalk and there we were. Tom Price, Jr., Jim Bishop, Jr., John Gibbs, Jr., all right there together, so it just seemed kind of strange that we had all been good friends all those years.
I've been blessed with friends. It would take me a long time to name them all if I could think of them as they came up. Being born here in Gainesville and growing up in Gainesville when it smaller than what it is today, we had a lot of friends. In fact, Gainesville High School is having a reunion this weekend of four grades -- the graduation classes of '44, '43, '42, and '41 I believe are the years.
J: Which was your class? B: 1943.
J: You've mentioned some of the things you did -- sports and the like. Were there any particular kinds of activities in school that you were fond of? B: Well, back in those days you didn't have as much as you have now. At P.K. Yonge, we had a wonderful music teacher over there. Her name was Cleaver J. Carson. Everybody loved here and she had a choir and she put on some plays at least once a year, so those are fond memories. When we get together sometimes, we talk about those times and what a job she had trying to instruct us to sing. We didn't have very good voices. Of course, a few did, but that was something very good. I primarily went over to Gainesville High School because P.K. didn't have a football team and all my friends were playing football and so I wanted to go over there and play football before I got out of high school. That was the primary reason I went to Gainesville High School. They had a few plays. They had an orchestra. I had taken some violin lessons back when I was in high school, and pretty much like a lot of other kids, when I got out of high school, I gave it up. I don't say I could play a note now, but I did play in the Gainesville Interview with James F. Bishop, Jr. June 8, 1999 5 High School orchestra on graduation day. Most people wouldn't know that. That's the first time I've told that in a long time.
J: You mentioned your military service. I know you went in twice. Could you tell us a little more about what happened to you in the military service? B: Well, we were all young at that time and back in those days, it was an honor to serve and a lot of people volunteered to go into the service before they graduated. Some came back from the war and received their diploma. They went to school and they gave them their diploma with another class or something like that. They graduated people early but they came back to have a diploma put in their hand, like you did, but I went in and I graduated in June of 1943. My birthday was July of 1943, and I went in the service in October 1943 and was sent to Camp Blanding for a couple weeks and then after that to a camp in Oklahoma, Camp Gruber, Oklahoma. You never know why you were assigned to this, that, or the other, but the group I was assigned to was a combat engineers group that was just formed. We went through basic training out there and got all prepared to go overseas. The group that I was in went to Japan and over in that area, so that was one piece of good luck, I guess. It turned out that when we got into Germany, that was the coldest winter they had ever had up until that time, so we almost froze to death in some cases out there. It was very cold. Anyway, the D-Day Invasion was in June of 1944 and the unit that I was in went over in December of 1944. We were about six months behind them, and we landed in Le Havre, France -- went to England, then to France -- and on Christmas Day of 1944 we were on a boat in the middle of the English Channel, so that is something that I've always been able to remember. We landed in Le Havre and from there we processed on through and when we arrived over there, if you remember or maybe somebody will remember, the Battle of the Bulge was going on, so I was involved in that. That's when we first realized how cold it was over there. We weren't actually in hand-to-hand combat with anybody. We were behind the lines. Our job was to open up communications and build roads and bridges. We went all through the Battle of the Bulge, and when they were driving the Germans back towards -- where they were driving them to I don't remember now -- but we were involved in a couple other battles, but the next to largest thing that we were involved in was when they captured the Remagen Bridge across the Rhine River. The 9th Armored Division captured that bridge before the Germans could blow it up. It was stated back in those days that that probably shortened the war by about six months because the Americans were able to go across that bridge and cross the Rhine River. Our unit repaired it. It had been bombed so much by the Germans and shells and planes flying over and trying to destroy it, and eventually after about nine days, I think, it eventually fell in because of the weakness of it, but in the meantime, it gave them a chance to put up some other bridges in that area. That was the last major thing we were involved in. We were lucky. I was lucky. I was very fortunate. Very good friends were on that bridge when it fell in. We were out there working on it and doing repairs. Some of them fell in the water as the bridge fell. In fact, our company commander almost Interview with James F. Bishop, Jr. June 8, 1999 6 lost his life there, and he was fished out of the river. One of the bridges that had been built across there, a foot bridge, so some of them were able to, instead of staying in the river, float down and when they were fished out of the river alive, the Germans were still trying to bomb that bridge, so there was some real action right there, so I guess it's good putting that in the tape here. I was able to come home. I did get hurt over there, but it wasn't from that. It was from an accident we had on a motorcycle and didn't have anything to do with the war.
J: Is it considered service-connected?
B: No, that was on a free day and we were riding some motorcycles that we found over there and got them running. Actually, it was either the day before or the day the war actually ended there. Everybody was sort of celebrating. I didn't get a Purple Heart for that but I did get to come home early!
J: How about Korea?
B: Well, when I was called into the Korean War, that was such an unknown. Of course, our oldest son had just been born and it was very traumatic. We were just starting to get our lives together and Tom wasn't even a year old at that time. When I left to go, you know, it was such an uncertain thing. Of course, many young men and women have faced that over the years. I was sent to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and went from there to Fort Bragg in North Carolina to be processed again and do some training to see where we would go, so it was just about ten months and some orders came down that if the service could be replaced by regular army people or volunteers, then we could be discharged. There were a lot of volunteers because they had heard that our unit was going to Germany rather than Korea, so that filled up in a hurry with volunteers so I was very fortunate and did not have to go overseas again. I was one of those that was able to get out because I had a replacement.
J: How long did you stay? B: Ten months -- a little less than a year. Then we came back home, and in the meantime I was able to have my wife and son up there in Fort Bragg for several months before we got out. If I remember right, we had already brought them back home because we thought we were going to Germany, but at the last minute we were able to get ourselves a replacement.
J: When did you start your first job?
B: Well, my dad owned that grocery store and I worked for him in high school and Saturdays and during the week, so he kept me working down there at that grocery store and I never did really mind that. He was good about it if I had something I had to go to, but I learned how to deal with the public and that was good training for me. In fact, out of my sister and my brother I probably liked working down there the most. He taught me to cut meat and he Interview with James F. Bishop, Jr. June 8, 1999 7 taught me to do things in the store -- grind sausage, make hamburger meat, and all those kinds of things. I didn't mind doing that. He had a young man who was working for him at that time and I thought he was a lot older than I was but it turned out later on, I found out he was only about four years older than I was. But in those days things didn't come all packaged up like they do now, and he used to get grits, rice, and things like that, in 100 pound bags, and during the week we'd have to weigh that up and put it in -- of course, it seems ridiculous now but we weighed up 50 pound bags of rice for 10 cents and a quarter -- and we used to have a lot of fun trying to take a scoopful of rice and put it in a bag and try to hit it right on the line. We got pretty good at it, guessing. It was a good way to spend the day. Then on Friday afternoons those kind of stores back in those days had hand bills. They'd go out through the neighborhood and put on people's porches to show what specials they were having that weekend, and I found one of those one time in an old tackle box and my son, who was so proud of that that we framed it and he has it hanging in his house. It says Bishop's Grocery, and it shows the prices for different things.
J: You don't have a second copy for the Matheson Center?
B: No, I don't. But a while back, when we had the Pleasant Street Historical Society Meeting down here, I carried it down there and showed them. You see, my dad's grocery was on Pleasant Street, right across the street from the Friendship Baptist Church that's still there. That's where his store was. Other than selling groceries, as I mentioned earlier, he was a butcher by trade and he specialized in having a meat market. A lot of people traded with him because of that. Anyway, that was my first job.
J: When did you start really into your work?
B: I didn't get into that until after the war. When I came back from World War II, I went to school off and on, on the G.I. Bill and then worked some at Sears, Roebuck, which I guess was the first job that I actually put in an application for and was hired to work for Sears. I worked there a while. I worked for a finance company, too, for a while, collecting delinquent accounts which goes along with this in the tax collecting business, so I got some training there. Then I was called back into the Korean War, and when I came back from there, I worked for an insurance company for Mr. Gibbs, who I mentioned earlier. His son was working for the Life of Georgia Insurance Company, so they said they would give me a job up in High Springs, so I tried that for a while but I wasn't really good at that. My older son sells insurance now and he is really good at it, but that just didn't set right with me, so I came back to Gainesville and went back to work for that finance company that I had worked for once before. They needed somebody so that worked out pretty good. Interview with James F. Bishop, Jr. June 8, 1999 8 The Tax Collector at that time was a man by the name of Shelley McKinney, whom I had known for a long time. One day I was in the court house here, and just talking with him and I said, "Shelley, if you ever need somebody, I'm interested in working somewhere else and I'd love to come to work for you if you have an opening or something." Back in those days, they only had about six people working in the Tax Collector's office. He had a young man who had been to college and got his degree and he already had his C.P.A. so he decided he wanted to get out of the office -- and by the way, he was real good in that office, too. He set up some bookkeeping that we've used a long time. Anyway, when they found out he was leaving, I ran into Shelley somewhere and he told me to come see him. So that's how I got started in the Tax Collector's office. That was in the old building, the old court house. It was in June 1954 when I started working for him. I worked for him nineteen years as an assistant tax collector. We didn't have computers and everything was done by hand. Pay checks were done by hand. Everything was done by hand. If we got in a hurry, sometimes we'd even writing out tax receipts by hand because typewriters were slow. We had a very good relationship. He was like another father to me really. He passed in January 1974, and Governor Askew appointed me to take his place. McKinney had been sick -- he had cancer -- and he had written a letter to the governor in case something happened to him that he wanted me appointed. So that did take place in January 1974. So anyway, that was in January 1974, I was appointed to be the Tax Collector and that was in the mid-term. You see, you're elected for four years but because the first two years were up that I was appointed, that meant I had to run that year for his final two years and then run for four years after that so as fate would have it, I guess you would say, I didn't have an opponent for that first two-year term so I ran unopposed and have been unopposed ever since. I've never had an opponent. I've been very fortunate.
J: And you are the senior constitutional officer for the county now?
B: Well, I guess Sheriff Lou was here a little bit longer than I was, but he's been retired now about six years so I've been in office longer than the rest of them.
J: Would you share with us some of the historical changes or the changes in Gainesville that you've seen as reflected in your position and your responsibilities. Of course, there has been a tremendous increase in the population in things taxed, and so on, and in the area of information technology and so on. We would appreciate your comments.
B: Well, I'm known as Alachua County Tax Collector. However, we do as much or maybe more for the State of Florida than we do for the county. We collect the taxes. Property appraiser lists the property and we get the information from them and we create the tax bills that we mail out to collect the taxes, and we collect the taxes now for all of the cities in Gainesville, as well as county, of course. There is a Library District who we collect taxes for. There are two Water Districts in this county that we collect for. Plus, we collect the Interview with James F. Bishop, Jr. June 8, 1999 9 refuse tax now, the garbage tax for everything that is outside the city -- the city collects theirs but we collect it for the outlying areas -- so that's all changed over the years. To go back to the beginning, when I first started working for the country, as I said a few minutes ago, most of it was done by hand. We mailed out the tax bills from an old Addressograph machine. An Addressograph machine was a big old clanker and it made all kinds of noise. You had to put all these things on a little metal strip-like thing and you would run the bills from that. It took time. Of course, everything was smaller then. The population was smaller, so you could get it done, but we would run those bills but we'd then have to type the money in each one of them. You couldn't put that on the Addressograph machine. You'd get that from the property appraiser, how much the value and the money was going to be, and we'd have to verify amounts several times a day to get the amount of the tax. So all that has changed over the years with computers and everything. The old court house housed the Property Appraiser, the Tax Collector, the School Board, and the County Judge back in those days. That's what was in the old court house on the first floor. On the second floor we had the courtroom and we had a vault up there and I had a small room in the back that the commissioners met in. It was very small. I think in those days we had only one janitor and a lot of times that was somebody that was a trustee who was out of jail. We had a lot of problems with the old heating system. Some of the old rooms didn't even have an air-conditioner. They later started putting window units in, but there was always a problem with the heat. Every once in a while, they'd have to stop it up because water was leaking out of somewhere and they put oatmeal in it to stop up the leaks, so the whole building smelled like oatmeal. About 1960 or thereabouts they added the first unit to this new court house. It's on the north side. Later, they tore down the court house and built the rest of it. Now, this is known as the County Administration Building. Of course, the court house is across the way there where they hold the courts and records for the court's officers. Of course, that has taken a lot of years. In the meantime, we are getting very sophisticated with computer systems, which save a lot of time. Basically, we do the same thing that we always did but we just do it differently. We still sell automobile tags and transfer titles, collect sales tax, issue hunting and fishing licenses, boat registrations, trailer parks. We do more, I think, than we used to do, not only because of the population but there are just extra duties that we've acquired along the way. It keeps us busy.
J: One final question. Has the Tax Collector's responsibilities changed very much in relationship to the state government?
B: In a sense, it has. We have what they call now the Department of Revenue. Years ago, they had the Comptroller's Office. The Department of Revenue, when that was created, took over a lot of functions that the Comptroller's Office used to do. We used to, years ago, send our budgets every year to the State Comptroller, and it was just a matter of sending it up there Interview with James F. Bishop, Jr. June 8, 1999 10 and they would stamp it and send it back, and we'd go about our business. Now, we send our budget to the Department of Revenue. They compare it to other counties of like size and they really give it a good going over. They will question it and they will call the County Commissioners to see if they can prove this or prove that, and we really have an option every four years on election year to have our budget approved by the state or by the county. I used to do mine by the county but when I had an option, I decided to go with the state level. I know other Tax Collectors do because of the comparison. They can compare me with Leon County, for instance, or Lake County. It's the same size, so when I request something they can look at these others and see if I'm really sincere about what I need by comparing it with other counties. When it goes through our local county, they don't have that ability to do that, so it's working out fine. I'm not having any problem with that at all. Also, you can compare the number of employees that you need. Or more computer equipment. All that sort of thing.
J: I want to thank you on behalf of the Matheson Center for an excellent interview, and to tell you how much we appreciate your sharing your family history as well as work history and how important your work has been in the history of this region. Is there any final word you that you want to say for the tape?
B: I would like to add one thing. I think this is a great idea to do this and I appreciate your doing it because I know it's a volunteer thing for you to do this, but being in the Tax Collector's Office, the only thing that we can really give is service. We try to give good service because the public has to come to the Tax Collector's Office for one thing or another and I tell my employees all the time that customer service is what we're all about and we try to go the second mile a lot of times to help people who have problems, and that's what the Tax Collector's Office is. It's a public service place. Of course, we have to keep the records. We have to collect the money. We have to distribute it properly, and we are audited each year to be sure that we're doing that right, and I'm very proud of the office staff that I have at this time and I think they do a good job, and based on the fact that I've not had an opponent all these years, I feel like I've done the job that they asked me to do when they first appointed me to this job.
J: Thank you very much.
B: Thank you, Ray.
Addenda: June 11, 1999
B: Good morning, Ray. Thank you for coming back by. This is the 11th day of June 1999, and I have thought of some other things I would like to mention so thank you for the opportunity to do this. One of the things that I have thought about that I should have mentioned before Interview with James F. Bishop, Jr. June 8, 1999 11 but I didn't make notes so I was just talking off the top of my head, but I wanted to mention the Scouting program in Gainesville and Alachua County. This is one of the strongest counties in the State of Florida as far as the Scouting program goes. It always has been. The First United Methodist Church, of which I am a member, has had a Scouting program from way back in the late 30's, I would guess, maybe the early 30's. Mr. B.W. Ames was the Scoutmaster for over thirty years. I don't remember the exact time he started, but he was known as Mr. Scouter in this area for a long time. There are some buildings named after the scouthood at the First United Methodist Church named in his honor. Plus, out at the Shands campsite and Alachua County/Putnam County, there's a building named after him over there. His wife was such a very important part of his program, in our Scouting program, that one of the buildings out there where they come in and have fellowship and have the eating and all of that, there's a place called Effie's Kitchen. That was his wife's name, Effie Ames, so they named the kitchen after her because she was so involved in putting on the banquets for the Scout troops. I am an Eagle Scout. Was made Eagle Scout just prior to going into the service, when I went into World War II in 1943. In 1942 I was made Eagle Scout along with a couple friends of mine at that time, and since that time years gone by and all that, I have three sons who were all very active in the Scout program at the church and two of them made Life Scout and one made Eagle Scout, of which I am very proud. Anyway, all these years, one way or another, I've been involved in the Scouting program at the First United Methodist Church as well as Alachua County, and I feel good about working with the youth all these years. In addition to that, I am very involved in the Boys Club (originally called Boys Club, but has now been changed to Boys and Girls Club) and, of course, all three of my sons were involved in the Boys Club program as well. Therefore, I was involved and served on the Board one way or another all these years. I have been President of the Boys Club two different years in earlier times, not recent times, but I still serve on the corporate board. I've always been involved with youth activities: Little League, coaching, and various other things. It has been one of the things that I've just enjoyed doing and have carried that on all my adult life. There's a couple other things, too. Being involved in charities, etc., I was on the original board when the United Way was started. When that first kicked off in Alachua County, I was involved in that due to the fact that along in those times I was very active in civic affairs and was past president of the Junior Chamber of Commerce, later President of the Lions Club. Of course, all these civic clubs were very active in getting the United Way started. That's one of the things that it is good to mention on this tape. Of course, I've been involved with the Masonic Lodge, the Gainesville Lions Club, and various other organizations through the years. Interview with James F. Bishop, Jr. June 8, 1999 12
J: Not only have you participated in all these activities, but you've been president of a number of them in addition to being on the board. Am I right? Of what groups have you been president?
B: As I mentioned a minute or two ago, I am Past-President of the Junior Chamber of Commerce as well as the Gainesville Lions Club at one time, and down at the First United Methodist Church, I've been active over all these years. I've been chairman of the official board and the Finance Committee and a lot of the other committees at the church. I've tried to stay active and my family, especially my wife Fay, has supported me in doing all these things, missing a lot of suppers, not being there on time and various things, so she has been most helpful to me in supporting me in all these charitable things.
J: Did you have some time for hobbies, your own personal hobbies? B: Well, that sort of is a hobby for me to do those type things. I have always loved to fish and play softball. I've played softball for many years. That was one of my main hobbies. In fact, I played up until I was probably too old to really play. We played in a church league. The last time I played was a slow-pitched softball game and we also had the ladies play on that team, and that was a most enjoyable experience being involved in a church league with men and women on the team. That was a lot of fun.
J: You mentioned previously that you played golf. Are you still playing?
B: Yes, I play golf. However, back in the early days I didn't play golf that much because I seemed to be busy with other things, but I am trying to play at least once a week now. I've improved my game, but I think I've reached a standstill. I'm not out there to see what a great score I can get. My score reaches somewhere between 95 and 100 or 102, and I'm perfectly satisfied with that. It's a relaxing thing and it's a lot of fun, and we play with this group that I mentioned earlier. Some of the old Gainesville crowd I went to school with, and we call ourselves the Has Beens. We'll get out there and still have a lot of fun playing. There's a lot of people -- I mentioned a few names the other day when we were talking -- people in this group. I didn't mention Coolidge Davis, who's been a longtime business man in this area. He grew up in Gainesville. Bill Harlan - he's ex-swimming coach at the University of Florida. Buster Bishop - he's an ex-coach and golf coach at the University of Florida. Bill Willis was in the surveying business for many years here, and he was the one who really helped start up this Has Beens group. Some of the Douglas boys, who have been in real estate and various things in the community for all these years. So there's quite a group, and we have some attorneys and lawyers and doctors that belong to this group who went to school here. You look back over the years and Gainesville has produced a lot of educated people who are really doing well in their life as physicians and attorneys and school department principals Interview with James F. Bishop, Jr. June 8, 1999 13 and assistant principals, coaches. Gainesville really set a mark on this community with people who grew up here.
J: You mentioned beforehand that because of good means of your office, you had to make innovations during the years. Related to this whole idea of producing educated citizens, you also were part of developing an education program for the greater professional aspect of tax collecting. Would you comment on that?
B: Thank you for mentioning that, Ray. Yes, probably ten or twelve years ago now, the Tax Collectors Association wanted to become more of a professional type person. Basically, to be Tax Collector and still that way today, if you can get elected to the job, then it's your job. However, now you have to attend four different type classes to be certified as a Tax Collector. It makes it more professional. You have to complete these courses within two years, so you can take two one year and two the next year, or if you happen to get in three you still have to take the fourth the next year. Those are courses that relate to our type business. We have one on duties, tax collectors, the statutes, management, and on the collection of fees and the distribution of fees and where the money goes, and what we have to do. There are a lot of rules on what we have to do about that. We can collect money but we can't hold it a long time. We are required by law to distribute that money by a certain period of time or we can be penalized for that. So as many rules and regulations as have come since the years that I have been in this year, we still do basically the same thing we always did. We collect taxes, we sell car tags and sell fishing licenses, register boats, and we transfer car titles and work with auto dealers in the county. It is a requirement that every car dealer in this county brings all their paper work to our office, so it goes on and on. Over the years, computer systems that we've used, some are outdated now but continue to improve so we can do our job more accurately and efficiently as far as giving that customer service so they don't have to stand in long lines like years ago you used to have to do. So, it's an ever growing industry collecting taxes in the State of Florida.
J: You mentioned the computer system. You've had to learn about a number of them and you've had to manage a number of them that are very complex. Any comments, additions, addenda that you want to add to this responsibility?
B: I sure would. When I started working for the county, we had Underwood and Royal typewriters, and that's what everybody used. If we couldn't type, then we'd handwrite a lot of things. We had five people working in the office back in the old days and we had three typewriters, so sometimes you had to wait to use the typewriter. But over the years, then we came in to electric typewriters, and people had to train themselves on that. That was an experience. Then all of a sudden typewriters started improving and you could type something in a typewriter and walk off and leave it just keep on typing. There was some kind of program in that typewriter. So we had some of those.
Interview with James F. Bishop, Jr. June 8, 1999 14Then we got into the computer age. That started out. It really looks like what you might call the horse and buggy days, because you remember, you probably had these in your business out at the Library at the University where they had these cards that were keypunched and you would run them through a machine and it looked like they'd be going ninety miles an hour, so we started out with that and then later on really got into the computer. I have been so amazed over all these years that the people in the counties and this office, Tax Collector's office, as well as Clerk and all the other ones, how well these people can pick up and use computers and understand it. It's amazing to me that people just seem to have an open mind to that. It's a good thing because if they had a closed mind, they really would have a problem today because everything is computerized now.
J: What would you say is the most difficult responsibility or the most challenging responsibility now as a tax collector?
B: As far as a tax collector is concerned, you still have to have the knowledge of what is going on and must be able to anticipate and look to the future at things that you will need but do not have right now. You want to plan to have some kind of enhancements and that sort of thing. The people that work for you, you have to be ever-mindful of their needs. Education for them is very important. We have meetings and we have instructions when anything changes to be sure that they are brought up-to-date. You have to be very careful in how you talk to employees now. Employees can talk to each other differently than I can talk to employees. I have to be sure that I talk to all of them the same. I can't show favoritism and if I do something for one employee, I've surely got to do it for another employee. I have to treat them fairly because I want them to treat me fairly. The customer service is what we hang our hat on and I'm always encouraging them to be very helpful to the customer, go the second mile when you have to, and give them the service that they are entitled to because they have to come here and so many people do not realize what they need to bring with them or why they need to bring it and all that, so we have to be cool, calm and collected sometimes to deal with the public and give them the service that they need. I talk to them all the time about not holding a grudge against anybody because they just may not understand the situation so we try to look at that. That might sound a little like sugar on the bread or something like that, but really that's what we try to do.
J: Well, you have been an unopposed tax collector for how many years?
B: I was appointed in January of 1974. The previous tax collector, Shelley McKinney, passed away, and we went to Tallahassee that day and we pretty much knew that he was not going to live too much longer and we sort of had it set up for me to be appointed and there was no controversy about that, so I was appointed immediately and have been tax collector since January of 1974, unopposed, and I am very proud of that. I feel like the office staff and what I've tried to instil in them to give the service was what has kept it that way. Interview with James F. Bishop, Jr. June 8, 1999 15
J: Do you have any plans for retirement? If so, would you share them with us? Are they something you can share with us? B: Of course, we all are elected on four-year terms and if you don't have an opponent, then you automatically have a four-year term. This is June of 1999 and my term will expire in January of 2001, so I have approximately a year and a half left in this term. More than likely, I will retire at the end of this term. I have a lot of people who ask me to run again, but you know you've got to look at the future and age-wise and all that, I would hate to go for another term and then have everything fall apart and wouldn't be healthy enough to do anything, so we will retire. My wife and I have a fine family -- three sons and eight grandchildren right now -- and we enjoy being with them. We get together quite often and are very fortunate with a good family. I have a church family, and I have a civic club family, and I still have an office family, so I am very blessed. We hope to do some kind of traveling. We haven't really made up our minds. We get a lot of brochures. My wife had always wanted to go to England and Germany where I was during World War II, and we may do that. There are a lot of trips that come along. You can go about anywhere, so we're going to look at that but haven't really made a plan to do that as yet. That's probably what we'll do for a while. Come back home and take short trips here and there, places we haven't gone, and just really enjoy what's left.
J: Will you continue your civic work in various clubs and so on?
B: I feel sure that I'll still do that, Ray. That's part of my life and it's something that I enjoy doing.
J: For the record, is there anything else you'd like to say because this tape will, of course, go into the vault of the Matheson Center and people studying representatives of the people and people in positions of power, dealing with money and taxes and so on, is there any final word or any word of advice that you would like to pass on?
B: Well, I would hope that whoever replaces me as Tax Collector will have as long a life here as I've had and will be as fortunate about it as I have and they'll go on up to the mid next century somewhere. Really, I would like to say this, that my family and my mother and dad -- now you knew my mother and dad, or at least my dad at the First Methodist Church where he was the head usher for over 30 years -- so that's dedication and I guess I inherited some of that from him. I know I learned from him how to work with the public when he was running the grocery store and selling groceries and cutting meat and that sort of thing and he had me working down there with him, so that was a learning experience, of course. They were good folks, my mother and dad, and they were Christian people and they were just the kind of folks that were what you would call "salt of the earth," and they had good parents. My Interview with James F. Bishop, Jr. June 8, 1999 16 daddy had a large family, and so did my mother. They got together when they could as time went along. I remember down in Reddick, Florida, my grandfather had a grocery store and back in those days it was all combined with everything. He sold farming supplies and a few groceries, and it was one of those places like people come to town on a Saturday and go there and get their supplies for the next week. I used to enjoy just going down there and being around when I was just a kid, you know. It seemed like something real nice to see everybody visiting and all that sort of thing. It was really nice. My brother, Jerry Bishop, and my sister, Iris Bishop Thomas now, we always got along real good, and that's been great. We still do. Of course, my mother and dad have passed away now, but they both lived a long time. My mother lived to be 91 and my dad was 86, I believe it was. They gave us a good life. I've often wondered how my dad managed to make a living out of a grocery store. Right after the Depression time or maybe even during the Depression time, he got started, but we never hurt for anything. They did good by us. We didn't have a lot of extra stuff, but we had enough. It has been a good life.
J: Thank you, Mr. Bishop. It sounds as if you've had a number of gifts, including a devoted family and a lot of interesting opportunities, and again, thank you.
B: Thank you, Ray, I've enjoyed doing this and whenever they get it together, I'd like to have a copy of it if that is possible. I don't know whether they are planning on doing that or not.
J: You may have several copies.
B: That would be great.
J: Thank you again.
B: Thank you, Ray.