By Charles Morgan III
Bill Ming spent most days since 1969 at Destin Marina, watching the world of Choctawhatchee Bay unfold.
In what must have seemed like slow motion at times and what had to have been high speed at others, Mr. Ming’s view changed from an actual Crab Island to a bizarre, colorful, carnival right in front of his perch at Destin Marina.
Crab Island might have changed, but Destin Marina looks like it did 50 years ago. It’s tucked away by the Marler Bridge, down an oyster shell road, It’s always offered a little boat ramp, cold drinks, fishing tackle and gas and diesel. Mr. Ming didn’t change much either.
Bill Ming grew up in Graceville, Florida. He went to Troy State and received a Master’s Degree in Mathematics. He taught math for 30 years at Eglin Air Force Base.
Mr. Ming’s wife Weleska died two years ago. They raised a family—Jimmy lived in California (he died last year), Skip and Bruce grew up in Destin— mostly around the Destin Marina.
Bill Ming was a veteran, and when he came back from Germany following the Korean War, he got busy making a living. In addition to teaching math, he operated a tropical fish business, an oyster shell company, and he opened a Tastee Freeze in Destin. He helped start the Community Center and the volunteer fire department in Destin.
He helped his family farm and raise cattle in Graceville, and he hunted in the woods where he grew up.
He raised goats. I visited Mr. Ming in Graceville to buy some goats one day a few years back. The goats didn’t show much interest in being sold. They had already been fed, which made them difficult to catch.
There were about a dozen cut, baby goats following Mr. Ming around.
“How about those?” I asked.
“Nope. I’ve fed them from a bottle, I couldn’t sell them,” he said.
On the surface, Mr. Ming didn’t look like the kind of man who’d feed baby goats from a bottle.
He’d sit on a stool at Destin Marina, and to my knowledge, always had a cigar in his mouth. But they were never lit.
“In my entire life I saw him smoke a cigar less than 10 times,” Bruce told me. “He just chewed on them.”
He also almost always had a cup of Early Times in his hand. Early, like mid-morning. I do know that he used that for its intended purpose.
In the old days of fishing out of Destin, all the boats communicated by radio. First it was CBs and then later VHFs. We’d be fishing on the Hey Baby, and we would hear Mr. Ming call the Miss Destin to check on Bruce or Skip and see if they’d caught fish. As the day progressed, and as Mr. Ming would enjoy his Early Times, his voice would climb to a higher pitch.
By the end of the day, it would get squeaky. We loved hearing Mr. Ming’s voice on the radio.
Bruce told me two things about his father that seem to fit.
“We always got anything we needed or wanted’,” Bruce said. “But we had to work for it.” He also told me that his father never got in a hurry.
In a town that seems to get gaudier and faster paced by the day, Mr. Ming carried himself with a quiet dignity and stayed out of the carnival that swirled all around him. Mr. Ming meant the world to my family and to many others.
There is something to be said for not always being in a hurry.
Bill Ming was 91 years old. He went to the doctor last Tuesday with a cold, and he died on Friday. Just like he handled everything else in life—I think that’s the way you’re supposed to do it.