PBSC reflects on legacy of Reynolds
Paul Cassidy, Palm Beach State College’s chief building official, was a football player at Forest Hill High School from 1969 to 1970 when he says the late actor Burt Reynolds appeared at some of his games.
“Occasionally, he would show up wearing a trench coat with the collar pulled around his head so that no one would see him and recognize him, and he’d sit on the bench with us,’’ said Cassidy, who has worked at the College since 1977. Cassidy says Reynolds was there to see Jim Nicholson, an assistant football coach who, according to Cassidy and a 1979 People magazine article, was like a brother to Reynolds.
Reynolds died Sept. 6 at Jupiter Medical Center at 82. “I was sad to hear that he was gone because, for a good portion of my life, we crossed paths every once in a while,’’ Cassidy said, noting that a good friend, who was a pilot, had flown Reynolds and his then-wife, Loni Anderson, around. As a building official, Cassidy also has been involved in the construction of almost every building at the College, including the Burt Reynolds Student Center at the Palm Beach Gardens campus, which was built in 1985.
Cassidy joined PBSC colleagues in their recollections of Reynolds, whose career began at the College in 1956 when he made his acting debut in the play “Outward Bound.” He credited the late professor Watson B. Duncan III for encouraging his career. “It’s that large leprechaun’s fault that I’m an actor,” Reynolds once said of Duncan, whom he considered a mentor and friend.
Reynolds, a high school football standout, attended Florida State University on a full football scholarship, but his career was derailed by an injury in fall 1955. He attended Palm Beach Junior College in spring 1956 and enrolled in Duncan’s English class. Duncan encouraged him to try out for the play. His performance landed him the Florida State Drama Award that included a scholarship to Hyde Park Playhouse in New York. His career took off from there.
“Burt had such a great influence on the northern part of Palm Beach County and, of course, on education because he was a Palm Beach Junior College student and his legacy, as far as we’re concerned, will live on through the building being dedicated in his honor,’’ said Scott MacLachlan, interim provost and dean of student services at the Palm Beach Gardens campus.
Nancy Denholm worked at the former Burt Reynolds Institute for Theatre Training from 1991-1993 before leaving to take the job as manager of the Eissey Campus Theatre, which opened in 1994 on the Palm Beach Gardens campus. She worked at the College for 22 years in this position before retiring in 2016.
“Burt was a really genuine person. He loved students and loved teaching kids about acting,” she said. “He was a teacher of life. He knew how to handle Hollywood. He put a lot of students from the program in his movies and helped them when they moved to L.A. He was a good guy. He will be missed.”