Gainesville harbors many interesting families. Join us as we get to know the Fletchers through a Q&A with matriarch Patrice.
Q: What brought your family to Gainesville?
A: My husband and I are both from Jamaica. We met in 1988 at the University of Florida through our involvement in the Caribbean Students Association and got married our sophomore year. I was a nursing student and got my associate’s degree but ended up leaving UF. I worked in retail management for 15 years. Ian also stopped school and worked his way up into management at Winn-Dixie, where he worked for about 15 years. While working there, he also volunteered as a sports writer for ESPN radio, was a disc jockey at parties and events around town and was a DJ for a local radio station.
Q: August is Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness Month. Tell us about your family’s connection to the disease.?
A: Shortly after our son, Joshua, was born five years ago, he developed worrisome symptoms. After a week of tests, they did a muscle biopsy and found that he had SMA. There’s no cure for the disease, and he needs 24-hour care. SMA is the No. 1 killer of babies under 24 months, so the fact that he has survived this long is a blessing and a miracle. Approximately one in 6,000 babies born is affected and about one in 40 people are genetic carriers.
Q: What are the first words that come to mind when describing your family?
A: For our son, Joshua, it would be patient and loving. For our daughter, Julia, it would be bright, active, dancer. Ian is caring and someone who always strives for the best. If I had to describe myself, I would probably say I’m someone who always puts others’ best interests first.
Q: What is your family’s favorite activity?
A: It is sometimes difficult to get around because of Joshua’s mobility issues. We like to go to different theme parks that are accessible to him such as SeaWorld. We also like to watch movies together. Family-oriented musicals are our favorite. Joshua’s bed is in the living room, so he can always see us — so that’s where we spend most of our time.
Q: Where do you go in town when you are craving something that reminds you of Jamaica?
A: We enjoy eating at Reggae Shack Café and Caribbean Queen; and La Aurora Latin Market is a great supermarket that carries items from the Caribbean.
Q: What is one of your most memorable travel stories?
A: The summer after my freshman year of college, I went to New York to visit family, and Ian and his friend drove all the way to see me. They left after class, Thursday, and were back on Monday. That was very sweet and something I will always remember.
Nowadays, we like getting away when we can to nearby places like Jacksonville and Tampa. It’s nice to spend the night in a hotel, eat out and visit local sites.
Q: What do you enjoy most about where you live?
A: We live in a condo community off I-75 and Archer Road. What I love about the neighborhood is that it is quiet and private. Everyone knows each other.
Q: How does your family show its character?
A: We are a Christian family and much of what we do is because of our faith. We are very active in the community and give back as much as we can. Ian is currently board chair for the Gainesville Alachua County Airport Authority and is a member of the Leadership Gainesville Alumni Association.
We are also in the process of starting Trinity Assembly Dream Center Church. Eventually, we hope to create a recreational facility in the community where kids can come and have a safe place to hang out, get tutoring after school — and where we can host health fairs and other events for the neighborhood. Even though what we are going through with our son is very difficult, we don’t think everything revolves around us.
Our family has a character of caring: Julia loves her brother and is the first to befriend new kids at school. My husband is a visionary and is always thinking of ways to improve the community. My character is shown through my support. And Joshua has grounded us so much. Before he was born, we were focused on ourselves, but when you see children like him who are medically needy, yet are so patient and loving, you recognize that there is something bigger out there.
Q: How has your son’s disease brought your family closer together?
A: Because of his condition, he needs care 24 hours a day. We have to stay connected. It has helped us be closer as a family and has forced us to communicate more. Before Joshua, work was the most important thing to me.
Q: What was it like for you and Ian to finally graduate from UF this past May and to do so together, 25 years after you started there?
A: I returned to UF in 2010 and pursued a new major in event planning, which will help with our son’s foundation. Ian returned to school in 2007 in the College of Journalism and Communications while working full time and remaining active in our church and serving on the boards of numerous organizations.
Even though we graduated from different colleges, we ended up walking on the same day. We have overcome a lot of challenges through the years to get to where we were, including our son’s disease and Ian’s test anxiety. We didn’t expect a big graduation party because we aren’t in our 20s, but our families came up and celebrated with us, which was nice.
Q: If your family was stranded on an island and could only bring three things, what would they be?
A: Oxygen for my son, his suction machine and his ventilator. If we were allowed a few other things, we would take water, a computer or TV and the game, Candy Crush.
Q: What would you say is a hidden gem in our area?
A: Paynes Prairie. It is perfect for families and is very peaceful. Also, just getting outside and walking in Gainesville, in general. We live in a peaceful city.
Q: Looking back on 24 years of marriage, what would you say are the keys to a happy relationship?
A: You have to communicate. Sometimes it’s really hard, but you have to let your spouse know how you feel. If you express yourself, you will not get bitter. Another piece of advice is to persevere. You have to commit to the relationship. Just hold on and have faith.