Goodbye and ‘God bless’: Herb Savage remembered

Lance Shearer

The celebration of life for Herb Savage ended the only way it could have.

After hearing from family and friends with reminisces of the larger than life architect who designed much of modern Marco Island, after prayers, a celebratory video, a flag presentation and rifle salute, the 120 or so well-wishers gathered to say goodbye to Herb Savage joined in a rousing rendition of “God Bless America,” his signature song.

Savage died on Jan. 1, five days short of his 100th birthday, after complications from a fall. What had been planned as his 100th birthday party at the Hilton hotel became on short notice a celebration of life, with about 30 family members in attendance from as far away as Sweden.

More:Herb Savage dies after a fall; Marco Island icon was five days short of his 100th birthday

Emily Savage, Herb’s wife of 68 years, said in January that they would hold a second event so that those who were unable to attend the sold-out luncheon in January would have the chance to say their goodbyes. During Sunday’s celebration at the Rose History Auditorium adjacent to the Marco Island Historical Museum, Emily, who often sang the verse of “God Bless America” before Herb joined and conducted his audience, whoever they might be, was joined by their son Herbert Savage Jr. and granddaughter Alix Guillotte in leading the singing.

Guillotte’s husband Malek Baker, a specialist in the elite U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division, knelt to present a flag to Emily after it was ceremonially folded. The full military honors accorded to the elder Savage, a retired colonel who served in the Army Corps of Engineers in World War II, included the Presentation of the Colors by an Army Reserve honor guard, three volleys of rifle fire (outside the auditorium in the courtyard, with the doors open to bring the sound in,) and “Taps” by an Army bugler.

The ceremony was upended and improvised, a little spontaneous in a way that would probably have appealed to Herb Savage, as the honor guard had to return to their homes scattered around South Florida, and a scheduled vocal soloist didn’t show. Police Chief Al Schettino notified his department ahead of the gunfire, to tamp down “active shooter” reports.

Herb Savage Jr., who bore a striking resemblance to his father, also did a convincing impression of the elder Savage’s booming voice and commanding presence, in leading the song and also when he took his turn sharing remembrances of the departed. He recounted coming to Marco Island to be with his parents during Hurricane Andrew, and again during Irma, when they refused to leave their home and go find shelter elsewhere.

Marco Island attorney Craig Woodward served as master of ceremonies and also shared his memories of Herb, including Savage’s well-worn line when asked what key he would sing in: “the Florida Keys.” Additional anecdotes came from Jim Prange, Jim Lang, Debra Shanahan, Bill Hughes, Bill Filbin, and several of Herb’s family members, out of about 20 who attended.

As the video presentation displayed, Emily Savage was a ravishing beauty in her time, and was honored decades ago as “Mrs. America,” as well as a performing musician, but willingly took a backseat to Herb, an unstoppable force of nature, in public. She spoke last, saying this was her last chance to thank everyone for the consideration and outpouring of kindness she had received.

“Now it’s my turn,” she said. “I use my walker – I want to be here. Herb would not,” which contributed to the fall that led to his untimely death.

Pastor Kevin Koenig of Marco Lutheran Church offered scripture, prayers and a “commendation,” beseeching the Lord to “accept your servant Herb Savage,” and perhaps to understand if he was singing a bit too loud in the celestial choir.

Savage’s trademark cowboy boots were on display in the lobby, along with other memorabilia, including some of the many hats he wore as Army officer, architect, commodore, and sailor. After the proceedings, attendees helped themselves to a virtual “taste of Marco,” with refreshments provided by Davide Italian Café, Joey’s Pizza & Pasta, the JW Marriott, Marco Island Brewery, Ristorante DaVinci, Sami’s Pizza & Grill, and the Speakeasy of Marco Island.

In addition to Emily, Herb Savage is survived by three children, Charlene, Sharon, and Herb Jr., six grandchildren, including Herb III, and two great grandchildren – and really, all of Marco Island. He was a true island original.