BY: THERESA CAMPBELL | DAILY COMMERCIAL
Surrounded by dozens of cheering friends and elected officials, Marilyn and James Reynolds fought back tears at the sight of a new brown sign on State Road 44 that reads: Captain Jim "Malibu" Reynolds Jr. Road.
Designated by the Florida Legislature and the Lake County Board of County Commissioners, a portion of the road has been renamed in honor of the couple's late son, a decorated U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and long-time resident of Eustis, who was killed when his F-16 crashed at the Nellis Air Force Base Range on Aug. 10, 1993.
"When people drive down this road now, they're going to think of my son, and that really means the world to me," Marilyn Reynolds said, touched by the turnout Tuesday afternoon for the unveiling along State Road 44, between U.S. Highway 441 and County Road 44B.
Looming bad weather didn't stop state Sen. Alan Hays, a retired dentist, from remembering his former patient-turned-pilot.
"He was just an outstanding young man, an all-American young man that I would have been proud to have called him my own son," Hays said. "I think this is just a very small token of appreciation that Lake County can show for him and I hope we start calling this 'Malibu Reynolds Road."
The senator praised and thanked military mom and hairdresser Velma Dawson for "bringing it to my attention" that there needed to be some kind of honor in Capt. Jim Reynolds' memory.
"I felt like if he was my son, I would want somebody to honor my son in the manner which we are honoring Capt. James 'Malibu Reynolds, and this makes me feel exuberantly happy," Dawson said.
Lake County Commissioner Leslie Campione fondly recalled "Jimmy" Reynolds as being a good friend in her life.
"He was just an excellent individual," she said of her former prom date. "He was a perfectionist in everything that he did. And it was no surprise to me when he was accepted in the Air Force Academy. This is really an inspiration, especially for those of us that knew Jimmy. It gives us a chance to tell our kids, our neighbors and friends about him. He was the kind of guy that could definitely inspire you, because he put 100 percent and more into everything that he did."
"I knew Jimmy when he was a kid," added Carey Baker, who noted it was thrilling to watch Jimmy grown up and accomplish so much in his 28 years.
"Jimmy was the best fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force," Baker added. "And it's really important that we do remember our heroes. What these young men do to serve our nation, their willingness to put their lives on the line is a story that needs to be told and retold and never forgotten."
Capt. Reynolds was a member of the 414th Training Squadron at Nellis and had been stationed in Las Vegas since 1991. He won a number of wing competitions, including the low-angle strafe (LAS), Top Gun for both the first and second halves of 1990, and the Overall Top Gun for January to June 1990.
In 1991, Reynolds was selected to join the Adversary Tactics Division of Red Flag at Nellis, where he served as a mission commander, an instructor pilot, and was a member of the Weapons and Tactics Branch.
His military decorations include the Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Combat Readiness Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal, among others.
The road sign in the late pilot's honor comes on the heels of the Florida Legislature's approval of House Bill 7039 during the 2012 Legislative Session, which allows for honorary designations of various transportation facilities in specified counties.