of them while Kathy fights a long-term drug addiction. Kathy
later moves there and reunites with her children during her
recovery. Around the same time, Debra says, Jo Ann gives up
drinking after a health scare.
Debra says the opening of the trout farm doesn’t solve the
family’s financial problems. TL had overspent on building the
farm — his raceways were too big for the carrying capacity of
the small creek — and leveraged too much to clear any profit.
She recalls TL playing a shell game with various banks.
“He’d go to one back to borrow a couple hundred thousand
dollars and when that was due he’d go to another bank
and borrow another amount of money. He never figured out
how to run an enterprise to make money.’’
In early 1991, TL’s mother,
Honey Sloan, was diagnosed
with ovarian cancer. The prognosis
wasn’t good, and Debra
drove down from Franklin to
spend time with her. After the
death of her husband, Aubrey,
in 1979, Honey had moved
from their home on Rosedale
Avenue in Fort Pierce into a
home TL had renovated for her
inside the compound.
Honey was the matriarch of the family, the glue that held
everyone together and kept things on a light note. Though
her given name was Catherine, her granddaughters bestowed
the name Honey on her after hearing their grandfather call
Honey also provided Kathy and Debra the affection they
say they weren’t able to get from TL, who was focused more
on his own pursuits, and Jo Ann, who was raised not to
Debra recalls one night during her visit with Honey when
the subject of TL came up.
“I just went down there to visit her because I knew she
didn’t have long,’’ Debra says. “She popped me some homemade
popcorn that you pop on the stove. She delighted in
doing things like that for people. We were sitting in her TV
room, and she just looked at me with a really sad expression
and said, ‘Your father’s not the man I raised.’ ’’
In his 58 years of life to that point, Thomas Leighton Sloan
had risen from a meager beginning, the son of Aubrey Sloan,
a disabled railroad inspector, and Honey, who spent many of
her years as a newspaper motor carrier. Money and power
had changed him since his beginnings with Honey and Aubrey
in tobacco country in south Georgia.
“I think they were pretty poor because when he would talk
about growing up in Georgia he’d say that they had all those
tobacco houses,’’ says Darren Robertson. “When he was a
kid, he said they made him catch rats coming into the tobacco
houses. He hated rats. I think him being poor he always
wanted more. That’s just the kind of guy he was. He always
wanted to be out front.’’
Aubrey, Honey and their only child, Tommy, eventually
move to Melbourne and in 1948, Tommy’s junior year, they
move to Fort Pierce, settling in a modest home almost on the
railroad tracks on Avenue E. In just two years he had become
a star on the football team and class officer and was voted
Most Popular Boy in the 1950 class at Fort Pierce High School.
As he grew up, Honey had imbued in her only child a
sense that the world was at his feet and that he could accomplish
anything. His good looks and self-assurance extended
to his relationships with women, where he declared in his
senior yearbook that he was a “creampuff for the ladies.’’
As Honey approached the end of life and looked back, TL
had been her main accomplishment, rising from a clothing
store salesman to marry Jo Ann, St. Lucie County’s richest
eligible young woman.
Honey had loved her son unconditionally and instilled an
incredible sense of confidence. Along with confidence, he
had the gift of charisma and achieved much as a young man.
“Tommy was a dynamic personality,’’ friend Bill Yates says.
“You couldn’t help but like him.’’
But along the way, TL’s success, access to money and selfconfidence
manifest itself as narcissism. He not only believed
that he could achieve anything, but he also believed that he
could have anything: yachts, planes, the best lifestyle, women
besides his wife.
“I believe that Honey raised a person that had manners and
who was kind and caring — that’s what she tried to instill in
him,’’ Debra says. “But I believe his good looks, his charm
and his lust for women were his downfall, and the other was
he had no idea how to run a business.’’
Nevertheless, TL’s narcissism was tempered with heavy
gestures of generosity toward his friends and family. When
Deroy got married and was working at the grove, TL built a
house for the couple at the grove. When Will’um came down
with a mysterious lung ailment, he and Jo Ann arranged to
fly him to Duke University Medical Center to be examined.
TL and Jo Ann always made sure their ranch hands had three
meals a day provided by the ranch and paid them wages
above other area ranches. They also allowed some of the
hands to keep their own herds at the ranch.
Buddy Mills says raising the herd and selling it enabled his
father, Junior Mills, and mother, ranch cook Betty Mills, to
purchase property where they could retire and keep cattle.
“People may throw down on Tommy Sloan, but I tell you
this, he was good to my mom and dad,’’ Buddy says.
As Honey approaches death, she is confronted with what
her daughter-in-law had lost over the years at the hands of
her son. Because of his unfettered spending, Jo Ann had been
forced to sell her beloved Cow Creek and she had lost her
husband in all but name. Worst of all, in the months before
her death, there were concerns that her son and Jo Ann were
in danger of losing the compound to the bank.
Jo Ann was more than a daughter-in-law to Honey. She
was a best friend. In the early years, because of their close
relationship, many people mistakenly thought Honey was Jo
Ann’s mother. Later, as Jo Ann’s hair turned gray and Honey’s
stayed dark, people began mistaking them for sisters.
The two were almost inseparable, with Honey stopping
by the house on Orange Avenue almost daily after completing
her motor delivery route for the afternoon News-Tribune.
They sewed shirts together for the Cow Creek ranch unit at
the annual Cattleman’s Day Parade. They drank cocktails
together. When Jo Ann began spending most of her time in
North Carolina, Honey would travel up there to stay with her
So as Debra’s visit with Honey ends, Jo Ann soon travels to
Fort Pierce to care for Honey, spending the next nine months
with her. Jo Ann is at Catherine Bailey “Honey’’ Sloan’s bedside
when she dies May 30, 1991. >>
Honey Sloan, the matriarch of the
Sloan family, died in 1991.