Florida City's Main Man

Hubert Albury is a fixture in South Miami-Dade's political scene. He also cooks a mean pigeon peas and rice.

But in the early Sixties, Albury says, construction work was scarce, and he needed to find something more. "So I saw an ad in the Miami Herald that they needed a houseboy in Key Largo, the Anglers Club," he starts out. "So I put in for the job. They check your background and fingerprint you. Well, I got hired." He leans back slightly, cocks his head, and goes on with the story. "You want a clue about what I did? The name is Herbert W. Hoover. I worked for him. Every morning at 5:00 or 5:30 I had to get up and make a fire in his fireplace. He had seven or eight pipes and I had to clean every one of them. I had to pull out his chair. I'd say, 'Good morning, chief,' and he'd sort of make a noise. He was hard of hearing."

Hoover, an avid fisherman and frequenter of the Keys, stayed at the Anglers Club during the Fifties and early Sixties. The exclusive resort even had a "Hoover cottage" until the former president died in 1964. "He put that pipe in his mouth and started writing," Albury continues. "He'd sit there sometimes four hours writing. There'd be two guards there with him all the time. I'd leave and come back around 12:00. Bring his food over from the dining room. Then at 5:00 I'd have to go back and clean up."

Albury worked at the Anglers Club for two seasons, then found out about a construction job on Ramrod Key. It was on the set of PT 109, a movie-in-the-making about President John F. Kennedy's World War II experiences. Albury remembers building seven pieces of the PT boat for use in different shots and having to position some of them in the water for hours while the director and cameraman searched for the right shot. "I'd be submerged in the water, and I'd go to the stern and hold it exactly where they wanted it," he recalls. "It would make me so angry. One shot would take three or four days. Sometimes it would be a week. And then they blew the boat up anyway."

After that he returned to more commonplace construction work. "Warner Bros. offered me a job when we were wrapping up. They wanted me to go to Hawaii with 'em," Albury says, shaking his head. "They were making another movie over there. But I was young and dumb. I was married then, and my wife said, 'What you wanna go to Hawaii for?' I had a house and a car, I knew everyone here, and I just thought I should stay here. Believe it or not, I think that was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made."

He got divorced in the late Sixties and moved to an apartment in Goulds. By then he had fathered four children out of wedlock. He married for the second time in 1971 and returned to Florida City, where he built his present home and planted his fruit trees. It was during the Seventies that, in addition to his usual variety of jobs, Albury did some work for the Zion Coptic Church. The religious order became notorious in 1979 after several members were tried and convicted in Miami on federal marijuana importation charges. But for years before that the Coptics lived a virtually self-sufficient existence at a big agricultural operation near the Everglades. "He built all their food barns," says Lindsay Bell, who was on the crew and credits Albury with teaching him the trade. "He would draw in the dirt with a stick and say, 'Okay, just fill this in.' One wood barn on Howard Drive is still standing."

Albury knew what the Coptics did with marijuana, but he never saw anything untoward. "They were the greatest bunch of people I ever knew. They treated all their help like they were a part of them. When they killed a cow, like every other week, everybody had food. Whatever they raised they shared. They'd give you potatoes, malanga, eggs, chicken. Every employee went home with four or five pounds of meat," he says.

Bell was a young white kid from Miami who'd just gotten out of the Army. "Hubert just kinda pulled me in and took care of me," Bell says. "He taught me much more than construction, everything about construction. I love him way beyond anything I would feel for my parents." Later Bell and Albury worked several jobs together. Today Bell is a film electrician in Miami.

And Bell was the first person Albury saw the day after Hurricane Andrew tore through South Dade. Albury was alone at home during the storm and, like many others, didn't expect anything much out of the ordinary. The morning after, like everyone else, he was in deep shock. "When I got up that morning and looked around, I saw the house next door, bigger than this one, all in my yard. I've never felt like that in my life. I was so nervous, I grabbed Lindsay, and I must have squeezed the air out of him. He brought water, milk, food, gas," Albury recalls.

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