The community is mourning a lifelong New Smyrnan whose legacy as mayor persists and whose family today remembers him as “a wonderful man and a wonderful father.”
“The entire community is saddened by the loss of Mayor Vandergrifft,” said New Smyrna Beach Mayor Russ Owen. “He was a respected servant leader that served the citizens of New Smyrna humbly for over two decades.”
Vandergrifft began his 21 years of municipal public service in 1985 as a Community Redevelopment Agency advisory board member prior to successfully campaigning for a seat on the City Commission in 1988.
He twice served as vice mayor in 1991 and 1995 before winning the mayor’s seat from 1996 through 2007.
Pam Vandergrifft said she was proud to see her husband serve as mayor for just over 10 years.
“He was so happy to fill that role,” she said. “He loved every minute of it — he really did. He often said that ‘it’s who you know’, ‘we have to keep in touch with the state government and even Washington, D.C., even though we are a small city.”
She said the former mayor wanted the city’s name to be “known.”
“He knew how to network and get things done,” she said. “And he never quit — once he had something in his mind, he would see it through. He was very good at what he did.”
During his time as mayor, one of Vandergrifft’s highest achievements was working behind the scenes to help make the Marine Discovery Center on Barracuda Boulevard a reality. He spent years working with the center’s founder, Bruce Jaildagian. The nonprofit is focused on protecting the Indian River Lagoon and coastal ecosystems through education and restoration activities.
“Jim started that, and again, it was something that he persisted at until it got done,” she said.
Knowing the big “land owners” West of town was a major virtue for the former mayor, his wife said.
As surrounding cities like Port Orange and Edgewater started to grow during his time in office, Vandergrifft was keen on ensuring New Smyrna didn’t fall behind.
“He was responsible for annexing 5,000 acres into the city,” she said. “He went door to door with (land owners) and had meetings with them so that we could get west of town before (other cities).”