Florida Keys News
Monday, February 4, 2013
A tireless Pais: Longtime AIDS Help employee retires

Joe Pais has left the building.

The AIDS Help assistant executive director and grant writer brought down the curtain on his notable career Friday, when he formally retired from the agency.

"They had a little party for me today," Pais said Friday afternoon. "It was nice."

Originally from Westfield, Mass., Pais moved to Key West in 1981, and held a dizzying array of posts, mostly in the public sector, over the past 32 years.

"My first job here was working for Telecommunications, Inc., which was better known as TCI," Pais said. "I helped to rebuild the cable system, and set up satellite systems on various properties around the Keys. I also helped build the local Channel 5 station. That's where I got to meet a lot of people in the arts community. They wanted to promote me, but I would have had to move to cold Schenectady, N.Y., so I passed."

Next, Pais, got a job as a grant writer, and assistant director, at the Key West Art Historical Society, a position he held for the next 13 years.

During that time, Pais was a key figure in the $2 million restoration of the Key West Lighthouse Museum and Keeper's Quarters, as well as all the other outbuildings on the property. Pais also coordinated the restoration of the East Martello Tower, and the purchase and restoration of the Custom House, a $10 million undertaking, which is now a museum and the headquarters of the Key West Art Historical Society.

Beginning in 1986, Pais and his partner owned and operated an art gallery in the 1000 block of Duval Street, a venture that lasted six years.

Branching out into politics, Pais was elected city commissioner at large in 1991, an undertaking that required him to campaign and win in all districts of the city, not just his own.

"It was a bit like running for mayor," Pais said.

During the tenure of former Key West Mayor Richard Heyman, from 1983-85, and again, from 1987-1989, Pais served on the citizens' advisory task force, a state-required committee for Department of Community Affairs funding.

"In that job, we helped build the Mallory Square dock, and the Frederick Douglass gymnasium and property," Pais said. "We also did many commercial revitalization programs throughout the city, for about six years. We worked very closely with the Key West Housing Authority."

For the last 12 years, Pais has been happily ensconced with his work at AIDS Help, where he has helped with the construction of Seebol Place, a Catherine Street housing complex, as well as the Poinciana Royale project, on Duck Avenue.

For a short time last year, Pais served as executive director of AIDS Help, but he missed his old job, and asked for it back after just a few months.

"I'd rather be grant writing," he said.

Though Pais is moving on from full-time work, he expects to maintain a busy schedule.

"I'm still on the Firehouse Museum committee, and was appointed to the city's Citizen Review Board, overseeing complaints against the Key West Police Department. I was also elected to the Anchors Aweigh Clubhouse Board last March. I'll stay active. I still have plenty of things to do. I want to volunteer and give back to this wonderful community, that's given so much to me. It's the most wonderful place to live in the U.S.A."

Former colleague John Mikytuck, who worked for Pais for four years, and helped him found the Richard Heyman Key West Archive, at Cornell University, is effusive in his praise for Pais.

"[He] was a huge force at AIDS Help. He pushed me and everyone else at the agency to be more than we would have been without him. He was the best boss I've ever had, and a great friend today."

There is no word yet on who will replace Pais at AIDS Help.


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