Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'You've Got to Have a Reason to Get Up'; Former Neptune Beach Mayor Harriet Pruette Still Records Every Sunrise

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'You've Got to Have a Reason to Get Up'; Former Neptune Beach Mayor Harriet Pruette Still Records Every Sunrise

Article excerpt

Byline: Matt Soergel

NEPTUNE BEACH | The sunrise over the Atlantic one January morning was putting on a show for Harriet Pruette - miles-long slashes of pink, orange and blue, as if it was just showing off for the fun of it. Harriet was up early, as usual, with her little Canon camera, trying to catch it in all its glory, which she then shares each day on Facebook with people from California to England.

Five years or so she's done this, and barely missed a day, even with the many duties that came with being mayor of this little beachside city, population 7,000 or so, where she's been a one-name institution for years: Harriet.

Harriet left office in November, the month after her 70th birthday. Because of term limits she couldn't run again, even if she'd wanted to. She's more than OK with that.

"I did not realize the weight of the world would be lifted off my shoulders," she says. "It's really better than I thought."

She now has even more time to take those sunrise pictures, which she plans to keep doing. She lives alone, she notes, and it's easy for people in that situation to kind of drift and not do much of anything at all.

"You've got to have a reason to get up," she says. "My mother used to say, 'Harriet, you've got to be out and about!'"

She quotes her mother a lot, with a verbal exclamation point most evident each time: "Harriet, if you're going to be in politics, you better wear your alligator hide!"

Mattie Pruette was feisty, a native of Cedar Key who died in 2006, at 90. She was 4-feet-11 and maybe 75 pounds - "Mighty Mouse," some called her.

And when she and Harriet would go out together in the morning, she'd warn her daughter: "Harriet, I'm not going to eat politics for breakfast!" Even so, she often had to have some politics with her meal, since her daughter pretty much lived and breathed the stuff.

On this sunrise morning Harriet has a "Neptune Beach, Florida" ball cap over her short hair. She wears a windbreaker, pants with sand on one knee (from kneeling down for the picture) and a pair of rubber boots.

No nonsense, kind of like Harriet herself, who's been known for speaking her mind, with a strong Southern drawl, over the years - as a citizen activist, during eight years on the City Council, and all through eight years as mayor.

As she walks toward the water's edge, she scatters dry dog food out of a white plastic bag, something she does every once in a while. Seabirds quickly mob her as she marvels at the sky, where the sun is not quite above the horizon (her usual favorite time for a photo).

She's lived in Neptune Beach for a half century, the past 30 or so in the back of the 1930s triplex she owns a block from the beach. She's retired from a long career as a civilian employee for the Navy, much of it in accounting. …

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