The Way We Were: Rutledge Liles

The Way We Were: Rutledge Liles
Rut Liles, attorney

Rutledge Liles could have had a career in modeling or acting, but the San Jose native doesn’t regret choosing a college education over the opportunity to be in an Elvis Presley movie.

Had it panned out, that would have been his second encounter with “The King.”

“I was walking down Ocean Street waiting for my folks to pick me up and walked down the alley behind the Florida Theatre to look at this Lincoln Continental parked there,” said Liles, recalling the encounter that occurred when he was 14 years old. “Elvis came out the back door. I said ‘Hello,’ he said ‘Hello’ and that was that.”

A few years later, while Presley was filming “Follow That Dream” in Ocala and a few other Florida towns, Liles said he was offered a small part, most likely nonspeaking, but turned it down when it interfered with the beginning of the fall college term.

“I had to make a choice—give it a shot, or long shot, or forget about that unlikely career and stay with school,” said Liles. “I opted for school, fortunately.”

He did land a Dentyne chewing gum commercial in 1961 for $95 a day. The royalties from that commercial, plus working at the Pi Beta Phi house and the police station in Tallahassee, helped him get through Florida State University. “My cousin in Seattle would call and say, “Hey Rutty, I saw you on TV,” said Liles about the commercial.

Liles grew up on Lawrence Circle in the 1950s and, like numerous San Jose children of the time, said he is ‘guilty as charged’ of trespassing on the Jessie Ball duPont property, now Epping Forest Yacht and Country Club.

Rut Liles, 1940s

Rut Liles, 1940s

“We were never up to anything bad,” said Liles, in his own defense. “We’d sneak along the bulkhead, play in the woods. Sometimes we would see Mrs. duPont’s driver in her black Cadillac. Crabbing was a favorite pastime. We’d use some strong twine, attach some scraps from Clark’s Market in Lakewood – they were always happy to accommodate us – then we’d drop it in the river and use a net with a long pole to bring the crabs to the surface. Voila! Dinner! Life was fun and carefree and we lived it to the fullest.

“San Jose Boulevard was a two-lane road,” he continued. “University was called Longwood Road and where the Winn Dixie is now was just a jungle. There were big Live Oak trees. The old baseball field was on the side where the parking lot is now. We’d play Tarzan, Robin Hood and army; it’s a wonder we didn’t break our necks. We would come home all cut up, but we never complained. A little iodine and a Band-Aid, and we were ready for the next day’s battle.”

Liles also recalled there was King’s Pharmacy at Lakewood, and Jax Liquors was where the Tijuana Flats is now. “There were lunch counters at the 5 and 10 cent stores, but those days are gone,” he said. “All the guys in the neighborhood would go to Christopher Creek, drop our bikes, head to the bridge near Rosenblum’s to fish, cruise the docks and play all day in that heavily wooded area. Nobody would see us.”

A healthy respect for the value of a dollar was passed on to Liles by his parents. Liles’ father required him from about age nine until around 13 to do two hours of yard work every day before he could go on his neighborhood jaunts with his friends.

“I thought it was a very unfair rule, but he was teaching me a valuable work ethic that I adhere to today,” said Liles, a civil lawyer with Liles and Gavin P.A. “When I was old enough, I had summer jobs at Rosenblum’s and Furchgott’s as a salesman in the men’s department. I made $33 a week after taxes and gave my parents $10 a week for room and board. My parents always provided the essentials, but if I wanted something special they would advance me the cost and I would have to work it off. It made me appreciate the value of a dollar.”

Liles still shops at Rosenblum’s. “I was raised to wear a suit and tie every day – a professional needs to dress appropriately. Ladies used to wear high heels, gloves and a hat just to go shopping.”

College days

College days

Liles graduated from du Pont High School, and attended Florida State University “because there were so many pretty girls there.” It was at FSU that he met his future bride on a double date. However, Noel Doepke, a student at the University of Florida, was Liles’ fraternity brother’s date. Noel was so taken with Liles that she broke up with the fraternity brother, transferred to Florida State and went for a fate-filled walk with Rut.

“We spent our first date walking around campus learning how to spell each other’s names. I thought his name was ‘Ruddy Lowes,’” laughed Noel. Fast forward to December 28, 1963 and this “pretty FSU girl” from Ft. Lauderdale was walking down the aisle.

“I was a month shy of 22 and Noel had just turned 21,” said Liles. “We had to wait to get the marriage license.”

“There was no interstate highway then so we left Ft. Lauderdale and took the road in the center of the state – the old Woodpecker Trail – to New Orleans,” said Liles, describing their honeymoon trip. “We stayed at a motel on the Perry Highway for $4 a night then at one that was $7. We had $100 to spend in New Orleans. We ate at Antoine’s and Brennan’s and still had money left over.”

Honeymooning in New Orleans, December 1963

Honeymooning in New Orleans, December 1963

Liles graduated from University of Florida law school in 1966 and he and Noel, who had a nursing degree, moved to Jacksonville. “My mother and dad were here, and Jacksonville is a family-oriented town,” he said.

In the 1970s Noel’s parents sold their Ft. Lauderdale home and moved into a patio home at Epping Forest when it was first being developed. Ironically, after spending his youth skulking around Epping Forest, Liles represented a nephew of the duPont Estate, and later he and Noel went to a party hosted by owner William Mason. “I first thought the property should become a museum but I’m so glad that later owner [Herb] Peyton made it into a yacht club. We joined,” said Liles. “I am a past Commodore of the club. When they asked me, I said, ‘Are you sure you want me? I don’t even have a boat!’” Liles’ daughter, Hillary Almond, is currently in line to become Commodore.

Noel worked as a nurse, nursing instructor and travel agent, then helped Liles when he launched his own law firm. “After volunteering for three months, I said, ‘I want to get paid!’” laughed Noel. “I answered the phone, did bookkeeping – you name it. After 16 years I started writing letters of resignation but I ended up working for 20 years!”

In the meantime she and Rut raised three daughters. “I used to make all the girls’ clothes, including Easter dresses. I even made Cabbage Patch dolls and stuffed basset hounds the size of a real dog,” said Noel. “One year I made three prom dresses. Then I packed up my sewing machine!”

The Liles stay busy with their favorite activity – days out with their nine grandchildren. Noel belongs to the San Marco Garden Circle and a book club, and they are longtime members of St. John’s Cathedral where they have both volunteered over their 40-plus year membership. During leisure time from his practice, Liles also enjoys gardening and is a dedicated history buff and collector.

Noel and Rut Liles

Noel and Rut Liles

Liles also spent years serving in numerous offices of the Bar Association and volunteering at church and The Episcopal School of Jacksonville when his three daughters attended. Now he is contemplating a slightly less active schedule.

“I am slowly stepping back to allow younger minds to take over,” said Liles, who doesn’t have second thoughts about choosing law over the limelight.

“I don’t regret my choices. It would have been great fun to be in a movie, but I would have been a big flop!” laughed Liles. “My granddaughter has aspirations as a singer – so I can live through her.”

By Peggy Harrell Jennings

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