Richard Johnson, left, in Bailey's General Store
Richard Johnson, left, in Bailey's General Store

EDITOR'S NOTE: One of a series of personal accounts from the historic landfall of Hurricane Charley on Sanibel and Captiva on Aug. 13, 2004.

Today, Richard Johnson is the general manager of Bailey’s General Store. In August of 2004, he was in Jacksonville, where he worked.

Says Johnson, “I rather blew in with Hurricane Charley and I talk about that a lot because I was in a 30-year career in corporate America and my specialty was disaster recovery.

I worked for a large insurance company and information technology and disaster recovery were my two specialties. So I had a feed into the National Weather Service because of my job responsibilities and Florida was my territory.

I’m keeping an eye on this thing and as I’m sitting at my desk, I see all of a sudden it makes sharp right turn heading right for Captiva and Punta Gorda,” says Johnson, who is married to Mary Mead Bailey Johnson of the Sanibel Baileys.

It's no big deal

So I call my father-in-law, Francis Bailey, because he and his brother Sam were operating the store at that time. I said to him, ‘Are you ready for the storm that’s coming. And he said it was just another storm and it‘s no big deal.’”

I said, “Frances, it’s changed!” What had happened was there was a communication lag and Charley’s rapid change in direction had not been disseminated.

Francis Bailey had had time to prepare and batten down the hatches at the store and make what preparations could be made. So I told him to call me once the storm was over.”

After the storm had come and gone, Johnson didn’t get the expected phone call. He began calling phone numbers and finally talked to his father-in-law and his brother. They were OK.

I told them I would load up my tools and stuff and head their way,” says Johnson. “I packed up generators, tarps and tar paper, water and food, and headed for Sanibel.”

Meanwhile back on the island, the Bailey brothers secured the building and checked the generators. Most of the employees were sent off island. There were no blown out windows or roof damage.

Take it now, pay me later

The store lacked power because the rain had shorted out the ignition system on the generators, but Sam Bailey unlocked the doors. About that time, people started coming to the store. Sam met everybody at the door and gave them a flashlight, a note pad and a pencil and told them to come into the store. The lights weren’t working and the registers weren’t working, but he told them to take what they needed, write it down and pay when they could.

When I arrived,” says Johnson, “I worked with Sam and Francis to recover the store and take care of people. We made arrangements for ice and water out in the parking lot and people took what they needed. The city lined up portable bathrooms at the end of the parking lot. A church group from out of state arrived with a trailer that contained showers. We hooked them up with water and sewer behind the restaurant and there were hot showers for whoever needed one.

By then the food that was packed away in the coolers was beginning to warm up. We had gas appliances here for cooking, so everybody who was here ate really well for the next three or four days. We donated food to those who needed it, like the emergency crews and members of the fire and police departments because it was going to go to waste.”

Advice: When told to leave—leave

Johnson has high praise for the city’s administration. “While some people were caught by surprise,” he says, “I would urge people that when local government says there is bad weather coming and it’s time to get off the island– it’s time to get off the island.”

Once life on Sanibel resembled back to normal routine, Johnson returned to Jacksonville and resigned his position. He's been on Sanibel and at the store since.


About the author

Bob McCarthy has written for regional, national, and international magazines, and was the editor for two business publications. He has written numerous video scripts for marketing and public relations, one of which won an industry award.
Bob co-founded and is the co-author of 
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Bob is a member of the Gulf Coast Writers Assoc. and the southwest Florida chapter of ASTD.