Charles Draper, of Pleasantville, was a lifeguard in Atlantic City for 34 years.

Press photo by Stefanie Campolo, Feb. 8, 2011

Charles Draper spent more than half of his life — 34 summers — on the Atlantic City Beach Patrol.

And after he retired from lifeguarding, Draper put more years into writing a history of the Beach Patrol. He was almost finished, friends say, when he died last month of a heart attack, at 67.

Draper, of Pleasantville, was in the second generation of beach lifeguards in his family. His son, Justin, a 12-year ACBP member, said his dad was actually writing two books about the Beach Patrol.

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“One was the history,” Justin said, “and one was funny stories — stories that probably shouldn’t be told, but were going to be anyway.”

Charles’ wife, Cathy, figures he was working on the books for almost 10 years. And that wasn’t a few minutes here and a few there.

“Last winter, he was on that computer all day, every day,” Cathy said.

Justin, 32, said his dad got lots of questions — and heat — from friends about how long his project was taking.

“They’d say, ‘Are you done that damn book?’” Justin said. Friends would ask, “‘How much more are you going to write?’ But he wanted to get as much information in as he could.”

Cathy knows why Charles put so much time into his history:

“Oh my God, the lifeguards were his life,” she said. And after he retired in 1994, Cathy said, the book “was his way of staying in touch with the Beach Patrol.”

Before that, he would find winter jobs — usually cooking or tending bar — “Then, come May, he’d give his two weeks notice and go back to the beach,” Cathy said.

Justin said the family hasn’t been able to go into Charles’ computer yet to dig out the books, but he and his sister, Sara, plan to get them edited and published. Instead of flowers, the family asked for donations toward printing the books, and they raised more than $2,000, Justin said.

At the services, the guests all passed a lifeboat — one dedicated in honor of Beach Patrol Capt. Elmer J. Draper, Charles’ father. And the family made another unusual request in Charles’ memory, suggesting a dress code. Instead of standard funeral clothes, his obituary said “khakis, flip flops, and polo shirts ... preferred.”

That was a perfect fit for the occasion, said Tom Dooley, Charles’ friend since the two joined the Beach Patrol together in 1960.

“That’s Charles,” said Dooley, who now lives in Atlantic City and Daytona Beach, Fla. “He was so basic and earthy, he didn’t like wearing jackets or ties.”

And no matter how informal anyone may have been, there was one person at the funeral more casual yet — Charles himself.

“We buried him in his Beach Patrol sweats,” Cathy said.

A Life Lived appears Tuesdays and Saturdays.

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