By Tim Kelly
In a town filled with local legends, John McDermott Jr. stood out.
“His name was John McDermott but everybody called him ‘Fat Jack,”’ said Ian Ciseck, a longtime friend of the Sea Isle City resident who passed away this week.
If you lived or vacationed in Sea Isle, you probably knew who Fat Jack was, even if you didn’t know him personally.
A 65-year-old native of Southampton, Bucks County, Pa., McDermott was an indelible part of the local scenery with his wide grin, salt and pepper goatee, a wisecrack for everyone, and usually an exotic bird on his shoulder.
“I met him over a liar’s poker game at the Dead Dog (Saloon),” said Ciseck, a friend for more than 20 years. “Like countless other people, I met him in a tavern.”
McDermott passed away suddenly and unexpectedly Wednesday morning. His death left a huge void in the lives of his friends and relatives.
“If you became his friend, you were going to spend time on his back deck of his house on 40th Street,” Ciseck said. “That’s what I’m going to miss the most, just sitting on that deck, having a beer and listening to his stories.”
Ciseck said a late afternoon on McDermott’s deck meant a steady parade of people stopping by, many of whom he did not know.
“You’d be sitting there and thinking ‘Who is this person coming up the steps’ and the person would sit down for a few moments, have a cocktail and move on,” Ciseck recalled. “That would happen a lot. If you were anywhere in the area of 40th Street, he probably knew you.”
Joe Bisciotti, a friend of 37 years, said of McDermott, “He was one of the greatest guys you could ever hope to meet. The world is not a better place with Jack not in it. I feel like I lost a brother, a father and a best friend. It’s like three people died.”
According to younger brother Mike McDermott, Fat Jack landed in Sea Isle permanently after vacationing here as a youth.
“He came here for the bands and all the great music,” Mike McDermott said.
And then Fat Jack just became part of the town.
Ciseck said many people who did not know Jack would stop him to inquire about his pet birds. One, an African gray parrot named Mojo, could learn to whistle a new song over a weekend.
“From spending so much time with Jack, he learned how to speak just like him,” Ciseck said of the parrot. “It was amazing. If a siren went off he could imitate it perfectly. You would think your phone rang and answer it and nobody would be there. It was the bird.”
McDermott was also known for ambling about downtown Sea Isle with one of his two macaws, Maggie and Boomer.
Music was a big part of Jack’s life and he was always attending concerts and listening to tunes. He also booked local bands at various clubs, his friends noted.
About four years ago, McDermott married his longtime companion, Priscilla Cullen, after the pair had been together for approximately three decades.
“On a trip to Mexico, they broke the news to some friends on the trip,” Ciseck said, “and they got married there.”
“Many of us were shocked they got married after all that time,” he added. “It’s great for those guys they were able to do that.”
Mike McDermott said the couple married a second time shortly after returning from the trip so that other friends could share their joy.
In the mid-1990s, he operated Fat Jack’s Dollar Store on Landis Avenue.
“He used to have a lot of fun with Pop Welsh,” who owned Welshie’s, a sandwich joint previously located on Landis, according to Mike McDermott.
“They would take a quarter and Super Glue it to the sidewalk and laugh hysterically when people tried to pick it up,” he said.
Jack McDermott’s earlier career was as a constable in his native Bucks County, which also brought a chuckle to his friend, Ciseck.
“If you really knew Jack, you wouldn’t think that Jack and the field of law enforcement would go together,” Ciseck said.
However, Mike McDermott said his brother was excellent at his job.
“Even the prisoners loved him,” Mike said. “He treated them like people. He made sure they had cigarettes or whatever they needed. He knew they were human beings deserving of decent treatment, and they loved him for it.”
Once he settled in Sea Isle City, there was no doubt it was his adopted hometown.
“He loved Sea Isle,” Mike McDermott said. “Before he lived here (permanently) I would call him and tell him (from Pennsylvania) I was coming down to his house, and that I hoped he didn’t mind. Every time I did that he was either already there when I arrived or got here within an hour after I did. He couldn’t stand it if I was down here and he wasn’t.”
In recent years Jack McDermott purchased a pontoon boat and spent many pleasurable hours cruising around the bays and lagoons, friends said.
He also loved to travel. In recent years he traveled not only to Mexico but also Costa Rica and Cuba.
According to McDermott’s Facebook page, which is loaded with tributes, he described himself as “Realtor Extraordinaire at Farina and Boesche Real Estate and at Edward Langel.”
In addition to his wife and his brother, McDermott is survived by a sister, Patti Ann Wills of Ocean City.
Plans for memorial services are incomplete, Mike McDermott said.
“There will be a life celebration for him at some point,” he noted.