Looking Back at 2017 with Gratitude


By Philip Sheldon

During that time of year when we stop to give thanks for our blessings, I’d like to offer my gratitude to Key West and the people who have made it so special for me.

After 21 years of living in Key West – fully one-third of my life – I’ve just moved to join our HE Travel West office in Salt Lake City. It’s an odd feeling to leave behind so much of my familiar world. But this isn’t a farewell as much as it is a graduation from a place which has nurtured me and given me a safe space, with close friendships that will transcend the locations where we each may live.

Living at the end of a very long road over 100 miles from the mainland has felt quite remote during hurricanes, but can also be comforting. That very remoteness breeds a unique self-reliance and commitment to looking out for each other.

I’ll miss my many personal connections. These include my long-standing dentist, doctor, accountant, insurance agent, banker and other professionals, all of whom I count as personal friends beyond our business relationships. Key West is a special kind of place that nurtures such ties.

I’ll miss the myriad of good restaurants that have provided nourishment over the years, along with providing the tables across which I’ve had uncountable conversations – sometimes solving the problems of the world (or our own worlds) and more than once looking across the table at someone and realizing how grateful I was that they were part of my life.

I’ll likely never again live in a place where I personally know nearly every public official, the leaders of our arts organizations, and the movers and shakers of our rich social justice tapestry.

But for each of these keystones of Key West life, it is precisely because I know that they remain in good hands that I feel confident taking my gifts and passions to a new community. I will always maintain the Key West spirit reflected in our city motto, One Human Family!

Key West (and my Key West friends and clients), thank you and Godspeed! I’ll be back for a visit when I need to thaw out or just chill out. And our Key West East HQ team will still be on the island to serve your travel needs.

Salt Lake City, here I am with lots of enthusiasm to explore the vibrant (and unexpectedly progressive) city, to hike the majestic mountain trails, to spend more time with my Western HE Travel family, and to make friends who will enrich my life in new ways.

I’m excited to see what unfolds next!

And to our HE Travel clients and friends, I wish you happy trails in 2018, wherever they may lead!



  1. Russell Lord
    December 23rd

    Avi and I wish you and our friends at HE travel a very Merry Christmas and all the very best for 2018. Your move from the Key West to the heart of America is definitely a change – and we know that the good people in SLC will soon realize that they’ve gained a wonderful person in the ranks of their residents. Wishing you good health, success, happiness – and a wonderful new and exiting chapter of your life.

  2. Douglas Grant
    December 23rd

    Would like the chance to meet you; thanks for sharing this. Will try to contact you if in Salt Lake City.looking forward to my next trip with HE.

  3. Dear Phil,
    You are a magical and brilliant person . You are a trustworthy and caring friend . You are part of the special creative fabric of key West. I will miss seeing you on Varela or Admirals Lane , but the world is your neighborhood and I hope to see you there . My heart to your yours . Kristin

  4. Mark G Matsin
    December 23rd

    Dear Phil,

    I am happy to hear from you, and share my best wishes to you as you embark on your next adventure.

    Sitting here in Sydney at this festive season reminds me of your beloved Key West, it’s stinking hot and humid! I am sure you are aware that moving to Utah will require some adjustments to your wardrobe. Flip flops and a sarong or sunglasses and a smile are not gonna cut it there mate.

    After my fantastic adventure on “Splash” rafting down the Colorado river, I called you from Sin City. I woke up in Las Vegas and was having a William F Buckley moment. It was time for me to leave Las Vegas. My next destination was unknown, my calendar was free and I was open to suggestions. Fortunately for me, you answered the call from the Keys.

    With thanks to your sage advice, passionate advocacy for your home town, and your travel expertise, I found myself within 12 hours on an American Airlines first class seat to EYW and shortly after sitting in a hot tub with liquor and men. Well done to your suggestion!

    It was clear to me, the next day when we met at brunch, that this was indeed a special place, and that you loved your home town. I too, discovered the magic of the town, and a planned 3 day stopover lingered to a 3 week sabbatical. All was going well. Then along came Hurricane Irma. At first it appeared as a red blob on the CNN weather cross, somewhere far far way. Being a tourist, I was distracted with far more important matters.

    Not one to prepare in advance, and being caught up in the whirlwind of Key West, I ignored, and indeed obfuscated from the daily warnings emanating from the weather channel. The sun was shining, the pool was cool, the men were hot and the gin was cold. What could possibly go wrong?

    It wasn’t until the bar staff locked up the liquor and began drilling sheet-rock to the exposed windows that I began to fret.They told us that the airport was closing that day. By that time, most Floridians had enacted their evacuation plan, the Key West aerodrome was closed, and calls to American Airlines to get a seat out of Miami were greeted with laughter and incredulity. Subsequent calls to Avis in the hope of securing an alternate escape from the Keys were to no avail. A sense of mild panic ensued, and I once again called you for help.

    So there you were, at 3 in the morning outside my hotel , loading my hat boxes and chattels into your car, in our desperate attempt to outrun the fast approaching storm. “We shall drive to to Tampa !” you said. And so we did. Buoyed by the promise of available airline seats out of TPA, we drove. And drove we did following the northward exodus of thousands fleeing the state. I sensed your anxiety at leaving your home and loved ones to the gamble of the weather. And I also thanked you for your help in helping me to evacuate.

    The next day you departed for Utah to begin your next chapter. I called Delta and luckily found a seat to Michigan (why not?) and continued my travels as well. My next destination, a few weeks later was Northern California. As I descended into SFO, the view of the city was enveloped in a blanket of forest fire smoke. Yes, the worst fires ever were ravaging the golden state. Natural disasters seemed to be following me.

    Phil, I want to take this time to not only thank you for your service, friendship, and help, but to wish you all the best on the next chapter of your life. I truly hope things go well for you. My sense is that someone with a passion for travel and adventure such as you, will always be happy and successful. I am glad that I shared but a small time of my travels with you, and I look forward to seeing you again on another journey, wherever that may be.

    With fondest regards,

    Mark G Matsin
    (Sydney, Australia)

  5. David McKenna
    December 23rd

    All the best in your new endeavors. A new chapter to be written. Season’s Greetings to you, Phil, and to all.

  6. Camille Kurtz
    December 22nd

    What a lovely holiday message. Thank you! Karl and I miss you — your professionalism, your competence, your helpfulness. We thought of you at Dennis and Bert’s party last weekend, where we met you. I enjoyed talking with you then and am sorry you’re not still here. Best of luck in your new situation. I’m pleased to hear Salt Lake City is more progressive than one might have thought! Happy mountains, happy trails, HAPPY NEW YEAR! Best, Camille Kurtz (and Karl Hess), Norway-mailboat-cruise-bound! 🙂

  7. Bill Myers
    December 22nd

    Best of luck, Phil! A dramatic move indeed, but one thoughtfully considered. I have a friend, a dancer, who left Chicago for Snow College, to head their dance department. Turns out he loves Utah, the West as well as his work. My guess it will be the same for you@ Merry Christmas! B