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Memory, by Evelyn Rose

posted Jul 22, 2012, 7:23 AM by Largo Gold

Throughout my adult life, I have maintained excellent attention to detail, a skill that has been extremely helpful in my career as a clinical pharmacist monitoring medication use in patients, and now in my medical information role in the pharmaceutical industry. In a period of post-9/11 introspection, I was considering how I acquired this skill in the first place. Suddenly, it struck me like a bolt out of the blue – because of the Largo Band of Gold.

I had been out of touch with the Band of Gold and its alumni for a quarter century, and it had been a very long time since I had even thought about the band. But, for some reason, a memory of the BOG suddenly flashed into view.

I was a Flash Flag in the Band of Gold Color Guard in 1973, and was Section Leader my senior year in 1974. We were practicing for the 1974 World Music Contest in Kerkrade. It was May and I recall it was a particularly hot and humid day. Rather than being in Largo High School Packer Stadium, the Band was practicing in a pasture just east and across the road from the Pinellas County Fairgrounds in Largo (both the fairgrounds and the pasture are now long gone). I remember the starting line for the show was on the downhill side of the field. At the time, I thought the hill was enormous but now, after having lived in San Francisco for almost 30 years, it was probably only just a gentle rise.

The show for the World Contest began with The Stars Fell on Alabama fanfare, followed by Barnum and Baileys Favorites, at which time the band began marching down the field (uphill, for this particular location). Suddenly, our band director, Robert Cotter, who we affectionately called “The Boss,”waved his arms wildly, a sure sign for us to immediately stop in our tracks. He identified our misstep and told us to “Go back and do it again!” We all ran back to the starting line and lined up again. The fanfare complete, we started marching uphill. Again, his arms waved, we stopped to receive his critique and then heard, “Go back and do it again!” We ran back, lined up, and re-started the show. As before, we only advanced a few steps before we had to stop. This went on and on – I remember counting the number of times he sent us back to “do it again” and it was over 30. When we finally marched off the starting line and continued the show without having to stop and go back, there was an enormous feeling of not only relief but also of success in having conquered a major obstacle. As I remember, we were able to complete the entire practice show that day without stopping again.

Many naysayers in the local community criticized The Boss’ teaching style and the Band of Gold as being too militaristic, or as cruel and unusual punishment for teenagers, generating periodic letters to the editor of local newspapers. None of us felt that way. We knew The Boss cared deeply for all of us. He taught us that first impressions are everything and, if you’re going to do it, do the very best you can and when you do it next time, do it even better. These are probably the most important lessons I learned from Robert Cotter – persistence pays off, always strive for the best, and work hard at being the best. No one can ever be perfect, but we can endeavor to get as close as we can.

Not long after this recollection, I searched the Internet for information about the Largo Band of Gold and found the Largo Band of Gold Alumni Association. I was very sad to learn that The Boss had passed away only a few months before. Shortly thereafter, I rekindled my connection with others who lived this “once-in-a-lifetime” experience. I have since become an association board member, and have had the distinct privilege of interacting with both of The Boss’ children, Karen Cotter Roughton and Bob Cotter, Jr., in addition to Mr. Cotter’s right hand man, the Honorable Judge Joseph Donahey.

We were just kids in a little town called Largo. In music, largo refers to a musical direction. Primarily, it means “slow.” The town of Largo at the time was just that – it was a sleepy little community that was borderline rural, with quite a bit of open space in the area. We had a Future Farmers of America chapter at the school, and the feed store was just down the street. Our football team, the Packers, had adopted the warthog as their symbol.

In addition to slow, largo also means “stately” or “with dignity.” That is how this one man taught us to lead our lives. He made 16- and 17-year old girls and boys from the little town of Largo, Florida national and world champions. We were the antithesis of teenagers during an era of cultural rebellion – boys in the band were required to sport short hair, we were non-smoking, non-drinking, and did not use illicit drugs – and we were very proud of it! Bob Cotter taught us how to walk tall with shoulders high, with pride and dignity. We repeatedly heard from others that something about us was visibly different from other music organizations – whenever we marched on a field or in a parade, the pride we felt in the Band and ourselves was clearly evident.

Band of Gold alumni from the Cotter years have a deep bond like no other, a bond that people who were not lucky enough to have this experience are not quite able to grasp. My single regret is that, as an adult, I was unable to personally thank Mr. Cotter for all the things he did for us, and for teaching me important, lifelong skills.

Evelyn Rose, PharmD

San Francisco, CA