Michael Elder was known for his big, basso profundo voice that commanded attention and caused a rumbling in the belly when you heard it up close.
Elder put that voice to good use in his days as head of operations for Windjammer Cruises.
A Naval veteran who served in Vietnam, Elder died Dec. 27 of lung disease. He was 67.
His distinctive voice is among the many memories that could generate a knowing chuckle from friends and family.
“Oh, good Lord!” said his wife, Jane Reilly Elder. “He used to do voice-overs. Booming. He was chivalrous and was a Renaissance man in every sense of the word.”
At one point in Elder’s tenure at Windjammer in the 1970s through the mid-1980s, the organization had one of the world’s largest fleets of authentic tall ships. Elder would go on to organize the Miami leg of the International Tall Ships Regatta, which began in South America and ended at the Statue of Liberty in New York on Independence Day 2000 .
He was modest about his achievements. His wife found out, by going to the VA, that Elder had been awarded the Bronze Star but never bothered to mention it to her.
“That was so typical of him,” Reilly Elder said. “He never bragged about anything. He could speak three languages fluently, English, French, and German, but he never bragged about any of those things.”
Reilly Elder met her husband five years ago when the two served as volunteers at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. The couple married in Sept. 2012, and Elder became stepfather to Jessica, Michael, and Buck Reilly.
Elder, an Ohio native, held his volunteer post at Fairchild for 12 years. There, he proved an expert on the park’s 14,000 or so plants and he delighted in telling tales of the trees, the majestic Madagascars and Baobabs, among them, along the two-mile route he would drive his tram.
“He loved talking about the Garden and sharing stories about its history with the visitors,” said Arlene Farris, director of volunteer services for Fairchild. “He knew all the plants in the Garden so he never ran out of material.”
More than 100 friends and colleagues turned out at Fairchild this month for a memorial service.
“I’d known about his illness the last few years but he had this constant optimism and a desire to continue with his tram guiding without letting his illness interfere,” Farris said. “I’d never seen something like that before. That represented a tremendous amount of strength and love for the Garden.”
Elder also was a fencing instructor with the Miami Fencing Club, a group he established in 1987. Along the way, he also volunteered at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and New World Symphony.
But the King Mango Strut, Coconut Grove’s satirical parade, was a favorite. Elder was involved in planning the 32nd edition of the strut. He died two days before the Dec. 29 parade, which was dedicated in his honor. His widow and sons dropped the customary banana to launch the floats and parade participants. As soon as the banana hit the pavement, the rain that had misted all morning, turning that Sunday dreary, ceased.
“Mike was the gamekeeper. He’d direct the traffic. He had this great booming voice and I tried to give him a bullhorn once and Michael just looked at it and said there’s no way he’d ever need it,” said Mike Lucas, King Mango Strut president.
He would speak and people would automatically hit their brakes, Lucas said.
Farris believes Elder’s reach was even wider.
“There are people that hold the community together that no one knows about, but they do hold the community together. And he was one of those people.”
Elder is survived by his wife and their children. Services were held.