A bouquet of flowers marked the back pew seat at Fort Lauderdale's First Presbyterian Church, where almost every Sunday for decades the booming voice of Bill Markham rang out even above the choir.
Markham, Broward County's longtime property appraiser, was buried Friday. The church's small chapel overflowed with hundreds of mourners as Broward's rich and powerful joined Markham's family, staff and friends to pay their final respects.
Markham died suddenly last week of a massive heart attack at his home. He was 64.
For 36 years, Markham oversaw the office that sets the tax value on every home and business in the county. Much of west Broward was swamp and farm when Markham was first elected in 1968, but by the time he died the tax base totaled $100 billion.
"Bill Markham defined what it means to be a public servant," the Rev. David Berry, First Presbyterian's senior pastor, said during the funeral services.
Markham was the consummate showman, and the funeral kept to that tradition.
Workers with the Broward County Fair gave red roses to mourners, the kind Markham wore each day in his lapel. Sheriff Ken Jenne escorted the family down the aisle behind an honor guard of Marine veterans carrying the casket. A long line of deputies on motorcycles led the procession to the gravesite.
The audience included some of Broward's biggest land owners, the Forman family and Ron Bergeron, as well as former state Attorney General Bob Butterworth, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle, Hollywood Mayor Mara Giulianti, state legislators, county commissioners and local judges.
Many cried as a video flashed scenes of Markham's life. There were pictures of him singing the National Anthem before a Marlins baseball game, attending a college football game with family, fishing on vacation and attending a reunion of the rock band he led in high school.
Jenne and County Commissioner Jim Scott, both longtime friends of Markham's, praised him for his work as property appraiser while also commenting on his love of life.
Scott cited how Markham set the tax base year after year with little hint of scandal and how he campaigned to enlarge the state homestead exemption and limit annual increases in property assessments. Scott and Jenne said that although Markham carried a massive responsibility for setting Broward's tax roll, he remained at heart the boy who once sang with the Jesters as they played at dances across South Florida.
"Bill Markham was a great man, a great public servant, and now in the words of that great Eagles song, he can take it easy," Scott said.
Markham, one of Florida's longest-serving officeholders, won nine elections and was preparing for another campaign this fall. He followed in the footsteps of his father, C. Robert Markham, who also served as the county's property appraiser.
His longtime lawyer and childhood friend, Gaylord Wood, told mourners it was Markham's engaging personality that attracted people to work and vote for him. Wood said few expected Markham to win in 1968, but he ran the grass-roots campaign of an underdog and came up a handful of votes ahead.
Markham's style impressed people across party lines, and his funeral drew those of all political leaning. He came from a Republican family and won all his elections as a Republican, but recently switched to the Democratic Party to keep pace with Broward's changing culture.
"He was so vivacious. He just filled up the room. He cared about everyone," said Rose Marie Cossick, a Republican activist from Hollywood who attended the funeral.
Frank Pumilia of the Margate Democratic Club shared those sentiments. "It's a real shame to lose a man like him because he had done so much good," he said. A meeting of Pumilia's club was among the last events Markham attended before his death.
In the Property Appraiser's Office, Markham cultivated a staff of loyal employees that stayed with him for decades. Those workers came early to First Presbyterian to honor their former boss and filled the front of one side of the church.
Markham's death has left them in limbo. Gov. Jeb Bush will appoint a temporary replacement in the next couple of weeks to serve until voters elect a new property appraiser in November.
"He inspired and motivated the people that worked for him," said Mike Pratt, a longtime appraiser and community relations liaison. "As a boss, he was second to none."
Markham is survived by his wife, Sherry, and two sons, J.R. and Robert.
Scott Wyman can be reached at email@example.com or 954-356-4511.