IF YOU HAD the pleasure of knowing Jack the Bike Man, you know he always seemed like an unstoppable, if at times cantankerous, tour de force — whether fighting slumlords, advocating for local Guatemalan immigrants or, as he’s most famously known, operating the beloved bicycle charity that bears his nickname.
That’s why it’s so hard to accept the news that he passed away this past Friday from a heart attack. He was 81.
Jack admitted himself to JFK North hospital on Monday with pneumonia and seemed to be improving within a few days, said Alex Hernandez, the bike shop’s director of operations.
“I saw him Thursday and he seemed like business as usual considering what he was going through because he has had ailments and heart attacks in the past and I thought he was going to get through it,’’ Hernandez said.
“He was like, ‘I might be here for a few more days but I’ll be out of here.’ I spoke to him Friday morning and everything seemed fine.’’
A few hours later on Friday, Hernandez said he received a call from the hospital that Jack had suffered a fatal heart attack.
Sure, 81 can be classified as getting up there in age. But Jack was an unflinching young-at-heart fixture who did so much good for the community that it was always hard to imagine a West Palm Beach without Jack the Bike Man.
So ubiquitous was his nickname that mention of his birth name — Samuel “Jack” Hairston — was often met by people who knew him with a puzzled “who?” expression.
Jack’s loss is devastating, and rather than me take up space trying to explain why, I encourage you to read the story I wrote a few months ago about Jack’s life and how he wanted his legacy to be realized in his latest mission: Giving his nomadic bike charity a permanent home.
The story, which you can read right here by clicking this link, was the result of several interviews Jack gave about his quest to raise $5 million so his self-named charity could renovate and move into its new home.
The bike charity has a temporary home, right next door to its empty in-need-of-renovations new home, but the landlord wants the charity out by the end of the year.
At the time, Jack said he hoped the story would help spark the fundraising campaign and maybe catch attention from major local media outlets to shine a spotlight on his plight.
On June 7, the last time I checked in with Jack, I sent him a Facebook messenger question asking how the campaign was going.
“We seem to be at a stalemate right now. Fundraising is very difficult,’’ he wrote, adding that he wasn’t sure where the bike operation would move to come Jan. 1.
“I do not understand why things are so slow right now. Rumor is that I am rich. Not rich enough,’’ he wrote, and I could almost hear the giggle that always followed his many quips.
Hernandez said the charity’s board of directors plans to have an emergency meeting to discuss the bike shop’s future. All indications are that the board wants the shop to stay in operation and for the fundraising campaign to continue.
“That’s what he wanted to happen, that's what we want to happen and that’s what the board wants to happen,’’ Hernandez said.
“We’re going to try to make his vision come true and get in that building, even though financially we are in a very hard place.’’
When I heard Jack had died, I thought back to a comment he made during one of our interviews in April, a comment that haunted me at the time even though I know he said it to emphasize his goal:
“Right now, I’m a young 81 but in September I’ll be an older 82,’’ he said with a laugh. “I’m determined to get in that building and I don’t want to run out of time.”
Here is a post about Jack’s passing from the Jack the Bike Man Facebook page:
It is with profound sadness and deep regret that we announce the sudden and untimely passing of Jack Hairston, our esteemed Founder and President of Jack the Bike Man, Inc., a Non-Profit Organization. Jack suffered a fatal heart attack on Friday, July 7, 2023, leaving us all shocked and devastated.
Samuel H. “Jack” Hairston III was an extraordinary individual whose unwavering dedication to our organization and the communities we serve has left an indelible impact. The Organization’s origins can be traced back to 1999, when Jack was inspired to help a young man in need of bicycle repairs. Jack the Bike Man, Inc. was founded in 2007 with a mission to strengthen our community through bicycle education and safety programs, and a vision to create a community of healthy, active individuals by providing hope to the less fortunate through support, training and access to bicycles. Under his exceptional leadership, the Organization has grown and flourished, positively transforming the lives of countless individuals and families.
Jack’s commitment to our cause was unparalleled, and he tirelessly devoted his time and energy to advancing the Organization's mission. His heart for helping extended beyond the borders of Palm Beach County into Guatemala where he personally visited often throughout the years while contributing towards the futures of countless children. His many charitable efforts in Guatemala included donating textbooks, computers and supplies to empower the education of children in impoverished communities.
Jack’s loss is immeasurable, and the void he leaves behind is overwhelming. We are eternally grateful for his invaluable contributions, and his legacy will forever be cherished within the fabric of Jack the Bike Man. We are committed to honoring Jack’s memory by carrying forward his vision and ensuring that his work continues to uplift and empower those in need.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Jack’s family and loved ones during this incredibly difficult time. We extend our deepest condolences to them, and we hope they find solace in knowing how much Jack was admired and respected by all who had the privilege of knowing him.
In light of this tragic loss, the Board of Directors of Jack the Bike Man are actively working to ensure a smooth transition of leadership. We will provide further updates regarding the leadership transition in due course.
In the midst of this untimely passing, Jack and the team were implementing a capital campaign to raise $5 million to allow the Organization to continue serving the surrounding community by providing the support, education, and training to those who need it most.
Half of this amount would allow us to begin initial renovations to move into a building purchased in 2021. It is the full intention of the team to fulfill Jack's vision and passion for impacting the lives of children and the less fortunate in Palm Beach County. We appreciate the encouragement we have received and thank everyone for their continued support.
Donations in Memory/Honor of Jack can be made to Jack the Bike Man Inc. via check to PO Box 17565 West Palm Beach, FL 33416 or online via Paypal on www.jackthebikeman.org/donate.
To inquire how you can help with continuing the mission and vision of Jack the Bike Man, contact Alejandro “Alex” Hernandez.
© 2023 ByJoeCapozzi.com All rights reserved.
About the author
Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.