The Way We Were: Alice Coughlin

The Way We Were: Alice Coughlin

By Laura JanePittman

It says a lot when someone who has experienced the metropolitan worlds of Houston and New York City is happy to call Jacksonville home. Alice Coughlin wouldn’t dreamof living anywhere else. Even though she smilingly admits to crying for her first two years here while she adjusted, she considers herself a true Floridian and “absolutely loves Jacksonville.”

A former (and occasionally current) fashion model who grew up in Houston,Coughlin and her husband Warren moved to Jacksonville from New York City in1958, after he purchased the “little tiny franchise” first known as FloridaWired Music, later becoming Florida Sound Engineering Company.

The popularity of Muzak soared during the next few decades, so the Coughlin’sfranchise didn’t stay little for long. The company eventually bought other franchises and installed sound systems throughout the state and in such localbuildings as Independent Life, Southern Bell, and the original GatorBowl.

Meanwhile, the couple was busy raising children Mark and Cyndi – who were 12 and eight atthe time of the move.

“We first rented a house in St. Nicholas on Palmer Terrace, and the children could walk to school at Assumption,” recalled Coughlin. “Mark would get up early in the morning and walk down to the river to go fishing. I told him I was NOT cleaning fish, so when he cleaned what he caught, I would cook them for breakfast.”

From time to time, Mark would watch Jacksonville artist John McIver painting on thebanks of the St. Johns River. And although the family loved the convenience ofSt. Nicholas – there was a medical clinic close by on one corner of Atlantic,an A&P (now the site of Curry Thomas Hardware) on the other, and adrugstore at the site of Mudville Grille – some bulldozers in the San JoseForest area caught Coughlin’s eye.

“I developed the bug for designing and building houses when we were in Houston. SoI asked around and found out they were building a new neighborhood. We wenttromping around in boots and work clothes to pick out our lot,” she smiled. “Webuilt on Saragossa and were the third house in the neighborhood.”

The family sat down to dinner together every night and shared events from the day,a tradition that both parents and children treasured. They also frequenteddowntown and loved to attend fashion shows at the hotels. Daughter Cyndi wouldride the bus downtown with friends to go shopping and to the movies.

Coughlin remembers when Epping Forest was mostly woods, and she recalls how much easiertraveling to the other side of the river became once the Buckman Bridge wasbuilt in the early 1970s.

During the 1970s, Coughlin served on the symphony board and also volunteered with theAmerican Cancer Society, whose office used to be at the Koger Center on BeachBoulevard. She still works with the organization today.

After their stint in San Jose Forest, the family built a house in Deerwood. On aNovember 2, 1975 visit to Jacksonville, one of President Gerald R. Ford’sstops, as memorialized in his daily diary, was the Coughlin house. Cyndi andher husband Kent Schmidt were on hand to meet him.

Coughlin grew tired of big houses, and the couple lived for a time at 6000 On The Rivercondominiums in the San Jose neighborhood, before biting the bullet once againand building a house in Mandarin where they lived for 12 years. Nine years ago,they built another home on Sorrento Road in order to be within walking distanceof the San Marco community.

The greatest tragedy in Coughlin’s life was the loss of son Mark at age 48 tocancer. Shortly after his death, she and Warren sold their company. Another sadevent occurred four years ago with Warren’s death.

Thoughshe misses Warren every day, Coughlin, now 84, enjoys a full life with friendsand family, including six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren (theyoungest one was born in March).

“Warren and I had 62 amazing years together, and we were able to travel all over the world,” she said. “We were very fortunate, and I am very blessed!”

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