Florida City's Main Man

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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.

Sometimes on those clamorous Saturday nights at the Elks club, Albury, savoring his Bacardi as usual, remembers the opportunities he squandered when he was young. He waxes sentimental about the men, women, and children no longer in his life. He visualizes the pink sand and turquoise water in the pristine reaches of north Eleuthera. He shakes his head and brings his palm down on the table every few minutes for emphasis while he's talking. "I'm living a life I don't like," he laments. It's just his way of wondering whether he should have returned to Lower Bogue, back where he really belongs.

George Gibson, who gave up drinking a number of years ago, nurses a cranberry juice and listens. There's not too much to say after almost 50 years of friendship. The island music pounds away. Albury's fishing buddies stop by the table. One presents him with a Cuban cigar. He half-stands to shake everyone's hands.

"I love people that mean well," Albury decides, settling back down. He fixes Gibson with a look of pure alcohol-enhanced appreciation. Albury regards Gibson as closer than a brother. "I wouldn't take nothing for George Gibson," he says. After a while he spots a woman he knows. He'll have to get up and dance.

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Kathy Glasgow
Contact: Kathy Glasgow

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