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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Blue Fulford joining Hall of Fame
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Thomas "Blue" Fulford

Only one person from Cortez, only one fisherman, is in the Manatee County Hall of Fame. A second will join him tomorrow, and fittingly he is a protégé of the first.

Thomas "Blue" Fulford will be inducted into the county's Hall of Fame in a ceremony at a luncheon Thursday, Nov. 18. He will join Walton "Tink" Fulford, legendary commercial fisherman who was his uncle, mentor, surrogate father and as good a friend as separate generations permit.

The ceremony will highlight Manatee County's Farm and City Week, whose 2004 theme is "Commercial Fishing." It will be at noon at the Palmetto Woman's Club building, 1015 Sixth St. W., $8 per person, reservations 722-4524.

It is recognition of a lifetime of achievement, said John Stevely, Sea Grant extension agent for the county. All others so recognized have been agriculturalists, he noted, for it is the Agriculture Hall of Fame, but "there has always been a kinship between agriculture and commercial fishing: They share problems of dealing with the vagaries of nature and harvest and marketing, to provide food for the general population."

This year's honoree is "a strong, colorful, dignified gentleman," said Stevely, "very persuasive - when he speaks, people listen."

As well they might: He can overwhelm them with logic or disarm them with humor, his bright blue eyes sparkling with anything from glee to warning.

  Blue Fulford was a founder of the Organized Fishermen of Florida in 1967, Stevely noted, and among many other achievements pioneered development of the sardine and herring fishery in Manatee County. But Fulford is proudest of his commercial fishing heritage.

That started in 1941 at age 10 when someone put him to work cutting off planks at the then-abuilding Fulford Fish Co. It somehow triggered a work ethic that has never wavered or weakened. "I love to work," he says. "I love whatever work I do. I don't appreciate anyone who won't pull his load."

Tink Fulford could claim a lot of the credit for that, for Blue fished for 25 years with "Uncle Tink," learning how to find fish and how to work and how to live. "He had the Annadean, named for his daughter, and in my senior year of high school I wrote an essay about wanting to take over the Annadean.

"We'd lay 5,000 yards of net in 100-yard pieces, and one time we caught 100,000 pounds of mullet. He worked harder and longer than anybody I ever saw, and he expected the rest of us to keep up. One night I ran aground with the skiff pulling the net off the Annadean and Uncle Tink said, 'If you'd stay off the bunk you'd know where you are,' and we'd been up and working for two days and nights and he knew it. He thought he was being funny.

"He taught most of Cortez how to fish, without any instructions - you watched what he did and you learned to fish. He was like a father to me."

Blue's own father died when the boy was 3. The father and Tink were sons of "Cap'n Billy" Fulford, who helped found Cortez in 1882. Blue is humble at any comparison with Tink, but it is a parallel that flatters both.

When Tink died in 1965, Blue got the Annadean. By that time he had a wife and family - married another native Cortezian, Wanda Jones, in 1950: "I loved to fish and she thought she could be a fisherman's wife. She was right." They have a daughter and two sons, one of whom was with him that terrible day that Blue lost a leg when it caught in a pulley. "If it had to happen, better me than the other three people aboard," he said. Still, he fished until a statewide referendum killed inshore net fishing in 1995; since then he has handmade hundreds of castnets.   

He got into public life early, at age 19 in 1950 fighting development of land at the east end of the village. In 2000, as president of the Florida Institute of Saltwater Heritage, he helped arrange to buy what is known as the FISH Preserve.

Since that initial foray, he has been extremely active in public affairs involving commercial fishing and fishermen. As president and then executive director of Organized Fishermen of Florida, he fought against huge operations, commuting to Tallahassee as a lobbyist for eight years. He has served on many fisheries councils and advisory committees, all of them as a volunteer - "I had to fish sometime."

Always devout, he finds "the older you get the easier it is to do things God wants you to do, and mainly just be good to those around you." He certainly has kept one promise: "In '53 I went out on a new shrimp boat bound for Campeche and we spent three days in a hurricane. I tied myself to a winch and I promised the good Lord that if He let me get ashore, He'd never have to worry about me on blue water again."

He is deeply appreciative of the tribute being accorded him tomorrow, but he keeps it all in perspective. "This uses up most of my 73 years," he said, "which I have to admit have been the best years of my life."