BY CARROLL SWAYZE – It is with overwhelming sadness I share the news that my son, Capt. Shannon Lee Hoeckel, left us to fly with the angels on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, forever changing the dynamic of our family and our world. Shannon was born during a wild stormy night on January 21, 1979. When they placed him in my arms, he smiled that first amazing “Shannon” smile and it was love at first sight. He was my firstborn son and it seems like he was always by my side; the one constant in a world of continuous change. I’m not actually sure who raised who? I just know I was proud to be his Mama and I loved him to the moon and back.
When Shannon was four his brother Kai came along, and five years later his brother Jay Marlin. He couldn’t have loved them more. We traveled a lot during those years, doing art shows and going on grand adventures, and Shannon was always excited to explore new places and have fun with his brothers. I often thought he was a better parent than me.
Shannon went to Englewood Elementary, L. A. Ainger Middle School and graduated from Lemon Bay High School. Fishing was Shannon’s true passion, and by the age of 10 he had his own small skiff and was already a competent boat captain. His grandmother, Ruth Swayze, lived in the Hermitage at middle beach in Englewood and he kept his boat there. When he wasn’t in school, Shannon spent every waking moment on the water, fishing and exploring the bay. When he was older, his exploration took him farther to Boca Grande Pass, the islands of Charlotte Harbor and beyond, fishing and camping with his brothers and his island buddies.
It wasn’t unusual for the Dean of Students at Lemon Bay to call me to tell me that Shannon had towed the boat to school again. What that usually meant was that he would sign in to his first class and then take off. I wish I had a nickel for every time I drove to the boat ramp, made him hook the boat onto my truck and followed him back to school.
Shannon played sports but he loved football and played for Pop Warner and Lemon Bay. I remember one night in particular they were having an end-of-year dance. When the festivities were over I drove to the field to pick Shannon up and sent Kai across to get him.
As he walked across the field, a girl stopped and asked him a question. He shook his head “no” and then continued to get his brother. When they got in the car the boys were talking about it. The girl had asked Kai to dance, and he told Shannon he didn’t know how, which surprised me because we danced at home all the time. We all laughed and drove home.
It was late by the time we got there, and everyone went to bed. I was settling in for the night when I heard music playing softly from the boys’ room, so I snuck through the house and peeked in the door … and saw something so beautiful that it still makes me cry. There they were, Shannon and Kai, arm in arm, moving to the music. Shannon was teaching his younger brother how to dance so the next time a girl asked him he could say “yes.” I was very proud of my son that night.
I came to the realization that Shannon was probably going to be a fisherman, so at 17 I sent him off to get his Captain’s License. I was a little disappointed when he went through the whole course and didn’t take the final test, but I chalked it up to youth and continued to contribute to his college fund. He graduated from Lemon Bay the next year and went to work instead of continuing his education. A couple years later he walked into my studio and proudly announced that he had gone back to Sea School on his own and gotten his Captain’s License. I was so excited for him, and we immediately went boat shopping. A few weeks later, on May 4, 2005, we rode out to The Temptation where Danny Kahl was working and bought his 1971 Aquasport and the rest is history.
Shannon was a fixture in the Boca Grande community, having grown up between the island and Englewood. He was a long-standing member of the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association, a professional waterman, intuitive about the ocean and its creatures which made him a fishing legend. He started his fishing career first as a mate for many of the island’s established captains and later as the owner of Short Drift Charters, his own professional guide service. In high school he mated for Capt. Lou Baggott and later Cappy Joiner took him under his wing to coach him in the ropes of charter fishing. When he wasn’t fishing, he was scouting for new and unusual spots to thrill his clients.
I loved fishing with Shannon. It was wonderful to spend time with him and it was amazing to watch him on the water. He could literally “read” the water – he could see things that no one else could see. One day while scouting in Charlotte Harbor Shannon shouted down from the tower for me to turn around quickly and watch. Suddenly a huge school of giant tarpon came out of the water like galloping horses and circled the boat. I caught my first tarpon in Boca Grande Pass one evening when he surprised me with a special dinner under the stars for Mother’s Day. On another amazing trip I caught a huge grouper in Turtle Bay when Shannon showed me a crazy secret cave he had discovered just under the mangroves along the shore. There were so many trips, so many islands, so many memories.
Shannon was an enthusiastic outdoorsman, an avid hunter and fisherman. He traveled extensively and fished from Alaska to the Caribbean. He could cook a gourmet meal; he was a fine artist and photographer, and he was a fabulous dancer. He shared my love of books and travel, and he was an accomplished writer. He loved everything nature had to offer, and he spent his life sharing his love of adventure with his children, his friends and his family. Shannon was like a beautiful summer storm, very hard to handle, unpredictable, and strong with a huge heart full of love and compassion.
He had a larger-than-life personality and a smile that would melt your heart. Shannon was a son and a brother, a loving father and an uncle. He was gentle and strong, capable and smart. He loved his family and especially his children, Morgan, Gavin, and Jordyn. He was always ready to lend a hand or an ear when someone needed him. I always said if the whole world fell apart, you’d want Shannon there with you because he could catch your dinner, build a dry shelter with his eyes closed and protect you from anything on Earth making you feel safe always with that generous smile and that strong loving hug.
I can barely breathe right now. I have a hard time even thinking about life without him, but my son Shannon would want us to be strong and to stand together as a family and a community to keep his memory alive through the love that we all share. Every time we look at the ocean, we know we will hear his voice, see that happy smile, and feel his love. I feel fortunate to have had him for 42 years and will cherish the memories forever. I love you Shannon, give your brother Kai a big hug for me, be at peace and fly free.
My family appreciates the huge outpouring of love and kindness that everyone has shown us. We will be hosting a Celebration of Shannon’s Life on Saturday, Nov. 13, starting at 3 p.m. at the Carroll Swayze Studio at 2373 Donovan Road, Englewood, Florida, 34223. There will be food and everyone is welcome to come and share a funny story, a picture, or a good memory of Shannon with us. He would love that.
On a final note. Shannon’s life was full of adventure which spanned four decades and took him across two continents. I worried each and every time he prepared for a trip and he always said the same thing, no matter whether he was canoeing in gator infested waters with his little brother Jay Marlin, or climbing down into Hal’s shark cage in Boca Grande Pass with his five year old son Gavin, or snorkeling with barracuda at Bloody Bay Wall in Little Cayman, or Bigfoot hunting in the Manistee National Forest, or catching bait for the Deadliest Catch boats in the North Pacific, or watching for grizzlies as his anglers fished for salmon in the Gulf of Alaska; Shannon always told me the same thing which I know to be true and will hold in my heart forever: