Alphonso "Al" Giles

Alphonso "Al" Giles passed peacefully from this life at the age of 93 during the afternoon of September 11. The previous day, September 10, was the 66th anniversary of his marriage to his dear wife, Ruth Yvette Taylor Giles. Al was surrounded and supported by his loving family and friends when the Lord called him home.

Al was an early member of Mt. Hermon AME Church during the 1930s, when the Reverend Collins was pastor. A dedicated Christian servant, Al later became a member of Harris Chapel United Methodist Church in Fort Lauderdale, where he sang with the Men’s Choir and served as a trustee. His name is engraved on the cornerstone of the church. During recent years, he rejoined Mt. Hermon AME Church to serve with his wife, Ruth, a longtime member.

Al was born on May 2, 1922, in Pine Mount, Florida (near Live Oak), to the late Willie and Anna Jerrido Giles. The family moved to Fort Lauderdale when Al was two years old. Siblings included a sister, Annie Mae Giles Owens (deceased), and brothers Albert Giles (deceased), Harry (Hattie) Giles, Bernard Giles (deceased) and infant James Giles (deceased).

Despite growing up in Fort Lauderdale during the Great Depression and racial segregation, Al was a true Fort Lauderdale pioneer. Living in historic Fort Lauderdale meant life without electricity or indoor plumbing. But he fondly recalled many enjoyable life experiences, such as visiting his favorite swimming hole, “Dillard Ville,” along the North Fork of New River, where he learned to swim at the age of 12. Al attended the Dillard School from elementary grades through high school and worked at numerous jobs in downtown Fort Lauderdale each summer prior to graduating in 1941.

As a teen, Al unloaded bananas from Cuban barges docked at Port Everglades and worked as a short order cook, frying ham and eggs to make sandwiches for workers at the Port. He picked vegetables on area farms during summer months, like so many young people of color during his day, and he worked as a porter at a downtown hotel. Al also delivered groceries for a kind Canadian lady grocer, who treated him to delicious apple strudels to take home at the end of each work day.

Al was the first in his family to attend college. He often expressed gratitude that his father, who constructed roadways and bridges, understood the value of education and proudly sacrificed to send his eldest child to Florida A&M College (“FAMCEE,” now Florida A&M University) in 1941.

During the summer of his freshman year, Al was hired by Chicago, Duluth & Georgian Bay Transit Lines to work as head busboy onboard the SS Alabama. Al hired and supervised a team of bussers to work on the ship, which sailed out of Chicago for five-day and weekend cruises on the often-turbulent Great Lakes.

Shortly after Al returned for his sophomore year at FAMC, he was drafted for WWII service in the United States Army. Because Al had good grades in chemistry, he was sent for water purification specialist training at Fort Belvoir, VA. He used these skills in the Pacific Theater of the war at an outpost by a fresh-water stream in the sweltering jungles of New Guinea, near Australia. He later served on Leyte Island in the Philippines and was on the Japanese island of Okinawa when atomic bombs devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945. 

After the war, Al returned to FAMC to complete his education.  He joined the Beta Nu chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity in 1948 and graduated that year with a major in biology and minor in chemistry.

Al entered the education profession as a science teacher at Roosevelt High School in Lakeland. Not long thereafter, he decided to pursue graduate-level studies at Howard University (Washington, D.C.) and then at Temple University (Philadelphia), where he earned his master’s degree.

In 1949, he married the love of his life, Miss Ruth Taylor, who had recently graduated from Bethune Cookman College and was teaching home economics at Braithwaite in Deerfield. Based upon a tip from his lovely wife, Al secured a post as science department head at Dillard High School. He later accepted similar posts at Wingate Junior High School (which later became Everglades Middle School and is now William Dandy Middle School) and Lauderdale Lakes Middle School.

During the 70s and early 80s, Al was also an instructor in the Upward Bound Program at Florida Memorial College, earning the distinction of “Teacher of the Year” in 1974, after coaching his students to win a state championship in the “College Bowl” academic challenge tournament earlier that year.

In 1954, Al and eight other visionary men founded Fort Lauderdale’s Zeta Alpha Lambda graduate chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Al’s fraternal affiliation covered a span of 67 years. He was honored by the fraternity and the National Panhellenic Council of Broward County with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014.

Al and his wife, Ruth, became the parents of one daughter, Yvette, who was blessed to honor both parents as their full-time loving caregiver during their sunset years. Al considered himself richly blessed to believe the last years of his life were the best years of his life.

Al pursued post-graduate studies at North Carolina A & T. And in 1962, Al was among a small group of Broward County teachers who were the first African Americans to attend the all-white Florida State College (Tallahassee, now Florida State University). The teachers were selected by the Broward County School Board to study graduate-level math and science on a National Science Foundation grant, inspiring the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper article titled, “Education, Not Agitation.”

Al’s teaching career spanned more 30 years. He took great pride in knowing that his love of learning, enthusiasm for teaching science and strong work ethic influenced the lives of his many students in meaningful ways.  Al’s two younger brothers, Albert and Harry, followed in his footsteps by becoming science teachers, as well.

A lifelong boating enthusiast and wildlife conservationist, Al was the first African American member of Broward County’s Marine Advisory Board. Navigation courses provided him with the skills to successfully pilot his yacht, “Sea Hunter,” across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas in 1970. Al was a longtime member of Fort Lauderdale’s Jolly Anglers Boating Club and an early member of the Power Squadron. After Al retired from teaching, other affiliations through the years included the Broward County Kampers Klub, the Keenagers, the Trailblazers of Broward County, the Retired Rollers Bowling League, the Broward County Retired Educators Association, the NAACP and the National Wildlife Federation.

Al leaves to mourn his passing, a devoted wife, Ruth Taylor Giles; a doting daughter, Yvette M. Giles, Ed.D; one loving brother, Harry (Hattie) Giles; one sister-in-law, Georgia Mae Johnson; one brother-in-law, Raymond Allen; several special nephews and nieces, Pastor Russell (Joyce) Giles, Johnny (Ann) Taylor, Deborah Mizell, Charles (Rosa) Taylor, Rick (Carol) Anderson, Joseph “Joey” (Beverly) Owens, Gwen Hayes (and siblings), Sharon (Lloyd) Sanders, and Frederick (Connie) Taylor — and their children, several with whom “Uncle Al” developed special relationships through the years: Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., Esq.; Vennis “Vince” Taylor, Lavenia Giles, Jackie Taylor, Dawna Taylor (Andre) Thornton and their children, Jamal and Morgan; and Tracey Taylor (Vincent) Chadwrick; several cousins, the Reverend John (Doris) Giles, Lucher (Ann) Giles, Leveorn (Laura) Giles and their siblings; a dear longtime friend and former Dillard classmate, retired teacher Catherine Pratt; the son of Al’s lifelong friend and fraternity brother, Ellis Miller, Sr., Ellis (Elizabeth) Miller, Jr.; two goddaughters, retired Attorney Thajauna Miller and Ceaniel Priester; and a host of former students, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity brothers, former colleagues, association members and friends.