Interviewee: Frederick Fisher
Interviewer: Samuel Proctor
Date: December 16, 2002
P: We're with Frederick Fisher and we're here in the Foundation Building [Emerson
Hall]. This is December the 16, 2002. We're doing this for the University of
Florida Oral History Program. I'm going to ask you, first of all, to give me your full
F: My full name is Frederick Ellis Fisher.
P: And you were born when?
F: I was born on March 15, 1931, at Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet, Illinois.
P: Joliet, where is Joliet?
F: Joliet is really a suburb of Chicago now, but when I was born it was about forty
miles south-southwest of Chicago.
P: And isolated from the big city?
F: Well, it was then. It was a town of about twenty-five [or] thirty thousand [people]
and best known, as you know, for a penitentiary. Where the tough guys go.
P: Tell me a little bit about your family. First of all, who was your father?
F: My father was Charles Lind Fisher. [He was] named after a friend of his father's,
P: It's not for Lindbergh?
F: Not Lindbergh. He was born about 1898. At the date of my birth, he was in
charge of the IRS office for about eight counties southwest of Chicago. [He] had
served in every major battle of WWI from the ages of eighteen through twenty.
He passed away in May of 1981, at the age of eighty-three. [He] spent most all of
[his] early life in Joliet, Illinois, where his father and mother [lived]. His father built
all of the inner-urban railroads outside of Cook County and had his own railroad
car. [He was a] very successful man whom I was named after, his name was also
Frederick Ellis Fisher. He had a very large estate which they carved a few lots
out of. That's where my parents, when they were married, built a home that I
grew up in until it went into foreclosure when I was about twelve years old. But
my dad moved to Florida, sold the little accounting business he had [doing]
bookkeeping and insurance and real estate in Joliet, Illinois, in 1956 [or] 1957.
And then [he] spent his retirement years [in Clearwater, Florida]. He lost his
sight. He had macular degeneration and was technically blind.
P: That happened after he moved to Florida?
F: No, that was the cause of his moving down to Florida. And so, I had to be there.
My dad, by the way, was born in Springfield, Ohio. My mother was born in
Fessenton in North Dakota in about 1904. [She] grew up in Wibaux, Montana.
P: What was her name?
F: Her name was Adelaide Genevieve Shuster. [Those are] a couple of good
German names, Fisher and Shuster. And she grew up in Wibaux, Montana, on
the eastern coast of Montana.
P: When your father moved to Florida and could not see, how was he taken care
F: Well, we bought a little rental apartment unit in Clearwater. He was married, not
[to] my mother, but to another [woman by the name of Leta].
P: Because your parents were divorced.
F: My parents were divorced when I was five years old.
P: So, you grew up with a single mother really?
F: I have an older brother who is four years older, [who] grew up with my father.
And I grew up with my mother. As I like to say, we grew up together. And I've
always cared for my mother.
P: But both [parents] were living in Joliet, at the time?
F: Both [parents] were in Joliet. When I was twelve years old and the house was
foreclosed, we moved to Chicago.
P: I see.
F: And then I spent about six years in Chicago. [I] had a period where I was very
involved in the ROTC and other things.
P: Before you get into that, let me ask you about the family itself. Where did they
come from? Did they come from Germany or England?
F: By descent I'm English, Irish, Scotch, French, German, Austrian, and Spanish.
P: You're part Spanish?
P: [You're] not Israeli in any way?
F: And it goes back, they're the daughters and sons of the American Revolution.
So, the family, both sides, have been in this country since the Revolution. But
when they were in Europe, they traveled a lot. They mixed it up so that my
nationality descent is like a dual mixture.
P: You have real diversity.
F: That's why I love everyone I guess, because I'm a little bit of everyone.
P: Now, was it a problem growing up with divorced parents?
F: I think it was an advantage [growing up with divorced parents], as I tried to
explain to my children. Because, you know, money was short. When I was eight
years old I went to work for Otto and Sadie Lankanau.
P: I want to hear about that going to work at eight years old. That sounds very
F: Well, today they'd take you away from your mother for abuse. I was tall, of
course. I'd always win touch-the-branch games in school and what have you.
P: What do you mean you went to work?
F: Well, at the time I was eight. My mother did the windows and put the ads
together for the newspaper for Sears Roebuck and Company for $20 a week.
Right directly across from our house, at 816 Plainfield Road in Joliet, was a little
drive-in root beer stand where the kids would go out and wait on the car and take
a tray, you know, with root beer, [a] ground beef sandwich, a hotdog, and maybe
a sundae after or whatever. And we all wore white pants, white shirts, a black
bow-tie and then Otto had like a sailor's cap with "Otto" across the front of it. I
was very large for my age. Back in those days I applied for a Social Security
number because it was in, and that was 1939.
P: [You were] eight years old.
F: [I was] eight years old and I went to work for $.25 an hour and tips. I had a good
memory, so I could have six or eight cars' [orders] that I could commit to memory
without writing anything down. And then I learned to talk funny, like a deep funny
voice, and so it was entertaining. And I would never write anything down and so
somehow I got very large tips. And some weeks I would make $50 [or] $60.
P: That was big-time money.
F: That was a lot of money, and, of course, I had no use for money so it was in the
family and it allowed us to do pretty well. And I worked there until I was twelve,
[which was] when the house was foreclosed.
P: You worked from the ages of eight to twelve.
F: Right, but only, keep in mind, in the summer because in the winter it was closed.
And in the winter I passed newspapers for my work. I went to Farragut School
where my brother and my dad both went. [That's] where I had my first exposure
to mentoring with my first-grade teacher and my third-grade teacher. That
[teacher] really spent time with me and taught me how to [do] long division. I'll
never forget when that light lit and I took a love for numbers. My first-grade
teacher [was the person] who really [helped me]. We spent 70 percent of our
time reading in first grade. I learned to love to read and could read rapidly. You
just never forget those things. There was a Mrs. Hill who was a fifth-grade
teacher who had taught me all about puppetry, and while I didn't run the puppets,
I did all the stage work and the fixing and setting the stage up. [The puppetry]
kind of gave me a little boost, you know? But it was a good time in my life. And
the long answer to your question [is that] kids today don't have those
experiences, and it certainly didn't hurt me. I think it helped me learn. It's like
traveling the world; it really exposed me to a lot of things that I think benefitted
me in the long run.
P: Let's talk about your newspaper route. You threw the papers during the
weekdays and then on the weekends collected the money?
F: Yeah, in those days you had to go out and you had a little book with stamps, and
you'd give them their stamp when they paid you.
P: Did they all pay you?
F: Not always, but you know that was part of the game. You had to buy the papers
and whatever you collected was yours.
P: I heard you say you had a brother. Is that all the siblings you had, one brother?
Did you have any other siblings?
F: No, [I had] just one brother who was Charles Lind Fisher, Jr. He was born March
P: So, he was four years older than you?
F: He was four years older. We've never been close. He was with my dad and has
a different life experience and therefore we're just totally different and not close.
He lives today in Phoenix, Arizona. I have not talked to my brother since he
called me maybe a year ago in need of a little assistance. He has two children.
He married a lady by the name of Alice Nelson Carrol, whom he met in the
military in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1947. They had four children. They had a
daughter who passed away early, the first year, and [they had] three sons, one of
whom passed away a year ago, Douglas, in a SCUBA diving accident in Hawaii.
The other two boys are in Phoenix with their dad.
P: So, you don't have a very large family. You didn't grow up with a lot of kinfolks.
F: No, interestingly, my grandparents came out of large families, but there it
seemed to diminish. In fact my dad had [three] brothers and a sister. There
were three boys and a girl. By the way, his sister, my Aunt Bess, they lived in a
house immediately next to us in Joliet, Illinois. She and my Uncle Rex had a
strong influence on my childhood. When you think back to the question, was it
tough, I had sort of substitute parents in many cases. Rex would always work to
make sure that I was with him when he was building his fish ponds or putting
furniture together and things like that when I was young.
P: Why did you move from Joliet to Chicago?
F: My mother thought that she could earn more money in Chicago, and she did. My
mother was an artist also, and she went to work for a bank, I don't remember
which one in Chicago. But part-time she did portraits and [she] got rather well
known. People would pay her $200 or $300 for a portrait. She would take the
picture and then put it into a painting in oil, all in oil. She had this talent without,
by the way, any formal training. I have a picture in our gallery area that she did
when she was thirteen years old. It's magnificent. It's in the original frame [and] I
still have it. Her maiden name is on the bottom of it, Adelaide Shuster.
P: [It] sounds to me like you didn't live in the lap of luxury growing up, but you
weren't denied anything.
F: How do define luxury, right?
P: Well, overeating, maybe.
F: We've all heard that story, that you know you were poor but you didn't know you
were poor [at the time] because there wasn't a television.
P: And everybody else was poor.
F: Yeah, I mean it was really a very good life. I played a little ball and had
boyfriends. I thought it was a wonderful childhood really.
P: How long did you live in Chicago?
F: Well, I lived in Chicago from the age of twelve. By the way, when I went up there
I had a lot of diverse occupations. I plucked chickens.
P: Yeah, tell me about those things. Plucking chickens sounds very interesting.
F: Well, there was a little market down the street. We lived in a three-story, walk-up
[apartment] on the third floor at 3825 Kenmore Avenue, which was a block north
of Wrigley Field, which got me very interested in baseball. There was a little
market where, on the holidays and all, they would actually kill the chickens and
the ducks and pluck them. So, I got a job down there and earned a few [dollars].
P: You didn't have to kill the chickens?
F: No, I did not [kill the chickens]. I did not do that, but when they came with the hot
water and all and the dunking buckets and so forth, well I'd pluck them. And
ducks were tough to pluck.
P: You were a good plucker?
F: I was a good plucker. Later becoming a CPA, I was in the Chicken Pluckers
Association. [laughing] Then, I worked at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. You know,
I made beds, ran the laundry, ran the switchboard, [and] did a lot of different
things. [I] did that until 1948 when I went to Lake View High School. I had been
selected for Boys State and all. I went to boys state, and, as a result, I didn't
take a couple of finals because I had to leave early and the English teacher
flunked me. I don't think she liked the way I wrote my f's in my name or
something. Then the principal, Alice Winter, died that summer. So when I went
back I was all geared to graduate that next semester. I had taken extra summer
credits and so forth and I was mad [because I couldn't graduate], so I just quit
school. You know how young kids are, [they think they] know it all.
P: Were you a good student?
F: No, I was an average student but I was intent on getting out, not unlike college, I
was only three years in college.
P: So you left school without a diploma.
F: [I] went to conquer the world and [I] moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado. It
was tough times for whatever reason back in 1948.
P: After the war there was a recession.
F: It was [a recession], apparently. I don't remember a lot about that, but I went and
applied for a job and I got it at Weller Lumber Company in Colorado Springs, for
$1.10 an hour, and a guarantee of about sixty hours a week, twenty hours [at]
time and a half [pay]. And then [I] started unloading boxcars of 4 x12's, twenty
feet long, which were bridge timbers and concrete, you know the bags and so
forth. So I got myself in great shape but after a couple of months I said, this is
probably not the work I should do all of my life. I thought I better get into
something else. My dad had a little bookkeeping business and insurance in
Joliet, Illinois. So I left Colorado Springs after about six months and joined him
and his business and earned $40 a week. And we expanded that business until
it did quite well. And in 1954, I was drafted into the military.
P: Yeah, before you get into that, I want to back up just a minute. I know you were
born in 1931, so you're too young [to remember]. How did the Depression
decade impact your family as you were young?
F: Well, from 1931 to 1936, my parents were married, until I was five [years old].
My dad, being an IRS agent, was making like $125 a month.
P: That was big money.
F: Which was quite good I understand, I mean at the time. [They were financially
stable] until they divorced, and my dad had an alcohol problem and lost his job at
the IRS, and there wasn't any support money and that sort of thing. So from
1936 on could have been our "depression." I mean, from 1931 to 1936, which I
guess were very tough years, 1929 to 1936, were very tough years, we did
P: And then [there were] the war years.
F: The war years were wonderful years. You know, we had a victory garden and
we had our [ration] stamps. You know, we'd buy the different things that you
couldn't get [such as] sugar. I was working. It wasn't all that bad. Of course [in]
1943 we left right in the middle of the war, we left Joliet and went to Chicago
where I had work there, too.
P: Everything was moving along satisfactorily for the family and then you get up to
1949, you go to Colorado Springs, and that's when you decide that's not the life
for you, and you come back [and] work with your dad.
F: I met a CPA then, who influenced my life. I learned a lot about bookkeeping [the]
debit towards the window and the credit towards the door sort of thing. There
were very few CPAs back in those times. I was very impressed with this man
and I thought, someday I might like to do that. I learned a lot about the insurance
business and real estate. I had a real estate license. I was a notary public and
all of those things. And I built a house, by the way. I had bought a lot for $25
down and $10 a month when I was in high school.
P: You were really an early entrepreneur.
F: Well, my granddad, when he died in 1934, whom I was named after, left me $250
which grew to $500 by the time I was eighteen [years old]. So, when I came
back from Colorado I had finished paying off the lot, or just about. I wasn't
supposed to get that $500 until I was twenty-one [years old], but my dad went to
the court [and] I got the $500 and I started building a house. I had dug the
foundation, I mean I hung the [ratters]. We didn't have trusses back then. You
had to hang a ridge board and rafters, and I put the plumbing in and the
galvanized pipe plumbing and the wiring. We had a book, How to Build Your
Dream Home for $3,000. It was a little two-bedroom, one-bath [home]. [It's] still
standing. Aleta and I visited it five years ago and it's still there. It had a two-car
garage and a little breezeway, and I built it for I don't remember, but I remember I
P: In honor of Fred Fisher.
F: Yeah, and it took me three years, nights and weekends because I worked during
the day and I built it on my extra time. I sold it for enough that when I was
drafted into the military I had a bank account, and that wasn't bad. That changed
my life going into the [military], see, and I got in right at the end of the Korean
War. So, I went to basic training in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
P: You didn't go to Korea, then?
F: No, no, no. In fact, after basic training in Fort Leonard Wood, where the
temperature was 800 degrees every day in July, they sent me to clerk-typist
school. I did very well there [at the clerk typist school].
P: Was that the one in Indiana?
F: No, that clerk typist was in Leonard Wood; that was another eight weeks. Then,
they sent me to the secretarial school at Fort Benjamin Harrison, which was a
six-month school. I went in there with, I guess, college graduates or kids who
had attended college and I really liked these people. I said [to myself], I really
should go to college. That really influenced me. I graduated number one in that
P: You really aced them.
F: I took to that typing and shorthand thing, so they sent me to the prime job. They
sent me to be the secretary to the commander and chief for our armies in
Europe. My God, the power you had as an enlisted man.
P: Now where was that?
F: [I was stationed in] Heidelberg, Germany. I didn't have anything to do because
we had Warrant officers and Majors who were secretaries [also].
P: That must have been a great experience, though.
F: I traveled in twenty-three countries. I would take the train to Berlin to pick up
General Pachler, deadhead. The first week I was there, I had my best army
buddy transferred from Frankfurt. You talk about power. I got him into the motor
pool as a secretary. So whenever we'd get the train to Berlin, we'd have a car
waiting, and if it was a little car, he'd send it back and get a big car, and we'd
spend the weekend in Berlin. Then, when the train came back to get the general,
we'd go back deadhead to Frankfurt and bring the general, you know, he would
ride back the other way; we were on the general's train. General MacAuliffe, by
the way, was the man who said [on December 22, 1944], "Nuts!" at the Battle of
the Bulge, if you remember that. I would put on a forty-five [pistol on Friday] and
take his pouch over to SHAPE [Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers in Europe]
headquarters in Paris and spend the weekend [there]. They had the plane over
and the plane back. If I'd go to Frankfurt to [Frankfurt am Main] Reinheim,
Mannheim airbase with a leave paper good for thirty days and fly to Casablanca
or go over to Tripoli, Libya, or North Africa.
P: Sounds like life was very sweet.
F: Well, when I got out of the service I had to pay eight days of excess leave that I
took. And I had about twenty, three-day passes while I was there; it was
embarrassing for me. Then I came to school on a GI Bill, so I didn't talk about
any of that until I became a big taxpayer and started paying it back.
P: Was Europe still pretty devastated while you were there in the 1950?.
F: Well, you see I was there all of 1955, and this was ten years after the war. So, if
you went into Frankfurt, there were many, many buildings that were still laying in
devastation. But there was a lot of rebuilding. [The Europeans are] very
aggressive, industrious people. You know there was the Berchtesgaden and
different places, [like] Heidelberg [that were] never bombed, [which was] where
we were stationed.
P: No, Berlin, though, was leveled.
F: Oh, yes. We would go there and all. [Then we would go through] the British,
French, and American sector and [then] go to the [Brandenburg] Gate, and there
were the Russians. It was an exciting time, we went by train across Russian
territory [to Berlin].
P: How long were you in service?
F: I was in as short as I could make it. I was in twenty-one months and nine days. I
got out early to go to college, because while I was over there I went to that
Maryland thing and got a GED equivalency diploma. I wrote to all the colleges
across the South that I could find, that I could get out the earliest [to attend]. The
earliest was a school called Florida Christian College near Tampa [or]
somewhere. I got out to go there and then enrolled in the University of Tampa in
January of 1956.
P: So, Florida Christian College, did you go in there as a freshman?
F: As a freshman, I didn't go to Florida Christian. I got out to go there. You had to
have acceptance, but I actually enrolled in the University of Tampa. I stayed
there for two summers and three semesters. I wanted to be an accountant, and I
knew going in [that] I was going to become a CPA. They only had two
accounting professors. I figured out [by] talking to people that I needed more
thoughts [from more] than two people. So by coincidence [I] inquired at the
University of Florida and came up here [and] lived in Flavet [Florida Veterans
Village] Three. You know, the old government housing.
P: Now by this time, are you married?
F: Oh, I left out the most important part of my life.
P: No, well, let me get to that, but I was going to say that's the reason you went into
F: Right, right.
P: You did get into Flavet?
F: Oh yes, Flavet Three, back in the back, there where the parking lot [is now], I
P: Well, a lot of construction is there now.
F: Yeah, [I lived in] 204 A, Flavet Three.
P: So, you have a wife and you have children in Flavet?
F: In December of 1954, a friend and I, Gene Bohi,, had a Christmas leave before
going to Europe. I had a nice car. Gene [went] with me and two others for $20
each. [I] took them to Florida where they lived and [Gene and I] spent our two
weeks in Florida. We didn't have a lot of money. We'd sleep in the car
sometimes and we'd pick oranges from an orange tree, and we wandered into
Naples, Florida, and met some magnificent people. The hardware store man,
whose name I don't remember offhand now, had a dentist father who had a
home in Naples and he actually turned the home over to us. We were military,
army. This was a different time. We were very courteous with the home, but
we'd go down to the beach.
P: People weren't too afraid of each other in those years.
F: No, I mean everybody loved the soldier. In fact a couple nights we were put up
by an old retired master sergeant in a motel he owned, for nothing. We would go
to the beach and all the girls were home from college, and it was just magnificent
[being] two guys, you know? Every morning we'd have breakfast at somebody's
house and they'd invite us for dinner and parties, and that's were I met a lovely
lady named Sandra Swenson, who was, at the time, visiting her parents. Her
dad was an attorney from Rockford, Illinois, who had gone to Florida. She was
on the beach one day. Gene and I went down [to see this] little girl. I kind of fell
in love, I think. She had a girlfriend with her. So we had a couple or three dates
in Florida. [Her girlfriend] was heavy, so Gene and I used to joke later, when we'd
find two girls, we'd alternate the heavy one. There was always a heavy one and
a light one. But by the time we finished a wonderful, wonderful two weeks of just
nice people, nice kids, [and] different homes, it just broadened my whole
P: You fell in love with Naples.
F: I fell in love with Naples [and] with Sandra Ann Swenson. And then when I got
back, I still went back up for a few days before shipping out. I remember going
over to Rockford where she lived. She was in nursing training there, at the
Swedish-American Hospital. [I remember] picking her up and taking her to Joliet
to meet my mother, or to Chicago at the time, to meet my mother. And then [I]
went to Europe. One day [at one of] these breakfast programs, I don't remember
who it was, but they were looking for kids to interview in Heidelberg. We lived
very well, by the way, in Heidelberg. And so they wanted to have a special
story. I said, well, I want to talk to my fiancee in Rockford, Illinois. So, I get on
this radio show and I'm talking about my fiancee to get on the show. Of course
it's broadcast in Rockford, and she listens to it and hears "fiancee." Everybody's
calling her in Rockford, saying, I didn't even know you were engaged to be
married. And she said, "well, he's never asked me." [laughing] So, I came home
and left and got out [of the service] at Fort Sheridan [Illinois] and left for Florida in
January of 1956. I was going to school, living in Largo, and driving an old car. I
had to stop every day to put a quart of oil in to get to school in Tampa. And one
day, Sande called me and said, whatever she said, but the substance of it [was
that] she proposed. I was in a phone booth in Largo, Florida.
P: She proposed?
F: She proposed and I accepted. And so we were married at her parents' home in
Naples on April 17, 1956.
P: And that's when you came to Gainesville?
F: No, that was only three months in college. I had just, by the way, met a fellow
named Dick Darby, another mentor of mine.
P: What was his name?
F: Dick Darby, Richard Darby, he was with Darby, Darby, Odom and Company. [He
was] a graduate of the University of Florida. He was president of the Florida
Institute of Accountants. He came to talk to our freshman class in accounting
and I was so taken aback by him [that] afterwards I spoke to him and said, Mr.
Darby, I'd like to go to work for you." He said, "wonderful, when do you
graduate?" I said, "in two years and eleven months." I'm off the subject here a
little, by the way. I wrote every six months to them and about six months before I
graduated his partner Dwight said, "you [had] better [come and] see us." So I
came to see them and they hired me. I never asked them what I was going to
make. [I] really didn't care because I didn't think it mattered [in the long run]. I
did find out my first week [that] I made $80 a week.
P: Let's get back to two years earlier, you're at the University of Florida?
F: Well, I was staying at the University of Tampa then got married in April 17, 1956.
P: So, you got married when you were at the University of Tampa.
F: [I was at ] the University of Tampa. Within nine months and two weeks, we had
Scott Douglas Fisher, our first son.
P: [Your son was] born in Tampa?
F: [He was] born in Tampa. Then that fall, in 1957, I enrolled at [University of]
Florida. In the spring of 1958, we had a son named Mark Frederick Fisher.
P: Let me ask you, did you have to take any of the University College courses or
were you already out of that?
F: You know that I went through school in three years. I got the exact number of
credits to graduate, which included four credits for the military. I never took a
course in college that was more or less than three-hour courses. Every four-hour
course at [University of] Florida, I somehow got credit for from a three-hour
course at the University of Tampa, which was fortunate. I took eighteen hours a
semester, six courses, and did quite well. I graduated with honors, my
accounting courses were all A's. One semester, my last semester, I had five A's
and a B, but my B was in basic [math]. See, I had never taken a math course,
and in order to graduate you have to take a math course or challenge it or take
another. So I said, "well then, I'll just take it." Well, I took it. I went to class the
first day, and the last day and you take these tests, because I could only get it at
a time when I was working. Because when I was here, I never went to school
past 11:30 [in the morning]. I always started at 7:00 [in the morning] and I
worked for Purvis, Gray, and Powers, the accounting firm [of] Roy Purvis.
P: Oh, you had a job also.
F: I worked forty hours a week, all three years I was in school. Oh yeah, I was
always working because I had a family, I had two kids. [The] GI Bill was [paying]
only $160 a month. So, where was I?
P: Let me see, you come to Gainesville, you live in Flavet, you take courses in the
college of business, you're going to be an accountant, and you have an off
campus job. Am I saying all the correct things?
F: Yeah, and I also graded papers for a professor for $50 a month. That was good
work. I even graded a class I took.
P: I don't know how you had time to go to class.
F: I slept an average of three hours a night. We had a nice little desk in our [house].
We had a little two-bedroom thing there, and I would study until 2:00 [or] 3:00 in
the morning. I studied hard because I wasn't too smart.
P: You didn't have much time for a social life.
F: [I had] very little social life. I didn't know anything about Gainesville until later,
after I came back. But I had a lot of good professors. I had a [teacher named]
Jim Moore who was in a wheelchair, if you remember Jim.
P: I do remember him.
F: He influenced me a lot also. I had a CPA Problems class with him, and he was
so real because he'd practiced accounting. I remember things like, if you're
going to look at an account, understand why it's there, where it came from, where
it's going. If you understand every account on the balance sheet, you won't get
into trouble because balance sheets really dictate what income statements flow
from balance sheet to balance sheet. And things like that just helped me later in
my professional life. In fact when we later gave the gift here, he was my guest
for lunch with the president [of the University of Florida] and all of that. He's
dead now, but he was a magnificent man.
P: How long were you in Gainesville?
F: [I was in Gainesville] a year and a half.
P: And you graduated with honors.
F: [I] graduated with honors.
P: What year did you graduate?
F: [I] graduated in January of 1959 and I had started in January of 1956.
P: You did go to commencement?
F: I did go to commencement, I surely did, in the old gym. I was very proud. I think
there were about 300 or 400 of us at commencement.
P: [There were] 300 or 400 spectators or 300 or 400 members of your family?
F: No, just my dad [came]. I brought my dad up. My mother was still in Chicago.
P: So your father cheered you on?
F: My dad was blind. I put him in his seat and he listened. Yeah, I did [go to
commencement,] I was very proud. I took the CPA exam in May and passed the
P: You had no problem with passing that.
F: Well, you know they asked me the right questions. You know, if you don't ask
the right questions, you'll never pass anything, because there are so many
questions to ask. But I took two weeks off of work before that exam. Sande and
the kids went to Naples to spend [time] with her folks. Morning to night, I
reviewed, reviewed, reviewed, drank coffee, [and] ate very little. I went into that
quiz, as I like to call it, the three-day thing.
P: You had it.
F: I was like this [shaking], you know? And they asked the right questions. What
did I get? A 98 [percent] on practice, or something.
P: Was it here in Gainesville that they did the exam?
F: No, it was in Tampa. Harry Turnburke, whom I think had [a] number three
certificate, was the proctor that day, whom I later got to know. And I did very well
on that exam.
P: This job that you had off campus while you were going to school, this was the
major accounting firm in Gainesville, wasn't it at the time?
F: It was, and I did a lot of, believe it or not, tax work. See, I really love taxes, and
during tax season I would review all the tax work of the partners and everyone
else who prepared a tax return. I would review it before it would go to typing. I
used to always kid Earl Powers, who was in the firm at the time, later, because I
would find a mistake. Here I was, a student, and I would remind them of
something in their tax return. I think they wanted me to come, go to work for
them, but I did not.
P: They offered you a job after you graduated?
F: Oh yeah, yeah [they offered me a job]. And Bob Kemp, a young man who was in
school with me, did actually go with Purvis Gray & Powers and retired from that
P: Why did you decide against it?
F: I wanted to go back to the Tampa Bay area, where my dad was, and it was
closer to Naples. I had an offer, by the way, from Arthur Andersen [one of the
prominent accounting firms in the United States at the time]. A fellow named
Everett Johnston, who influenced me also, was the senior tax-partner with Arthur
Andersen. When he worked for my dad at the IRS, my dad introduced him to a
girl named Rose, way back in the 1930s. She wouldn't marry him unless he did
something with his life. So my dad let him off early every day and yet paid him,
the government you know, but he went to Northwestern. He graduated, he was
the gold-medal man on the CPA exam. [He] went to work with Arthur Andersen,
the Arthur Andersen. Later, my dad and he corresponded [through] Christmas
cards, [and] my dad told him that I was at school here becoming a CPA. I was
getting ready to graduate and the interview things, I already had a job, you
remember? I mean, I knew I was going [with] Darby, Darby, Odom, and
Company in Tampa because I had said that a month after I started college, but
suddenly, a fellow named Casey Jones who ran the Arthur Andersen office in
Atlanta, came down here to say that they wanted me to go to work for them.
They would hire me in any place, any office in the world that I wanted to go. I
would receive 20 percent more than the starting average salary. I said, "what's
this?" And he says, "well, there's a fellow named Everett Johnston in Chicago."
P: Why would he be so generous to you?
F: Well, I'm telling you [why]. Everett Johnson who was the tax-partner in Chicago,
it was pay-back time. He was trying to take care of the son of the man who had
let him off [of] work every day, had introduced him to his wife, and let him off to
go to Northwestern University to become a CPA way back. So he said it was
pay-back time. So, I could have gone anywhere with Arthur Andersen. Well, I
was a good student, too; they weren't taking a big risk.
P: I was going to say, they weren't dealing with a dud.
F: No, but I was going to go anywhere I wanted at 20 percent over the scale, so to
speak, which I thought was very nice. I made it a point to tell my dad, and he
wrote a nice letter to Everett, but I didn't take him up on it.
P: So, you had no problem as far as job offers were concerned once you had a
F: I didn't interview anybody. I knew where I was going. I didn't know what I was
going to be paid, but I knew where I was going. When I found out the first week
that I only made $80, I didn't complain about it, but I went over to the University
of Tampa and I got a job teaching intermediate accounting and advanced tax.
So I taught at the University of Tampa for several years until I got my income up.
P: So you were on the faculty there as an adjunct.
F: Well, I was part-time, nights. I taught in the evening.
P: You taught at night?
F: Yes. In my first class, my income tax class, I had thirty students. Fifteen of them
were IRS agents. You want to have fun, because now I'm practicing public
accounting in a tax practice and these are the agents whom I'm dealing with. I
gave them all A's but one. He was dumber than a hoot, but I gave him a B.
P: I can see how generous you were with your grading.
F: Well, it's funny [how I was] back then. Another young man-we started school
together-Manuel Junco, [was also] in Tampa. He was an IRS agent. He was in
a self-improvement course, and when I went back to teach he was in my class.
So now he was a student. Now I go, and later you'll find out, we put together a
company called U.S Home [Corporation]. He becomes the agent in charge for
the national audit. So now I'm dealing with him in the audit. So then I retire in
1980. He retires in 1981 [and] he becomes my personal CPA because I don't
know anything about taxes by then. And today, we remain friends.
P: Well, I'm glad to hear that you remain friends after all that turmoil.
F: Yeah, well, he was a wonderful agent because he never messed with nickels and
dimes. He'd find an item where we argued over $8 million for about four years,
and we ended up paying him $4 million. But by then, by the way, interest rates
during that time, I think, were 21 percent, so we made the difference back on the
use of their money [laughing].
P: How long did you stay at the University of Tampa teaching?
F: I think [I stayed for] two years, until my salary and income got to be a couple
hundred dollars a week.
P: That was enough money so that you could live the life that you wanted.
F: Well, because I was making more than $80 a week when I was here at the
University of Florida.
P: I understand, yeah.
F: With two kids, and you know we bought a house for $100 down at a Veterans
Administration mortgage, at 4 percent interest, [we had financial responsibilities].
It was a three-bedroom, one-bath house that I added a little room on, at 2523
Chapel Way in Tampa, when we left here. We moved into that. I went to the
university and borrowed $300 to get out of town. I mean to get moved and buy a
little couch or something I needed $300. And then I paid it back, I remember $25
P: But you paid it with a clear conscience.
F: Well, I think when you owe money you pay it, yeah.
F: That's a lesson I learned early, too.
P: What year did you leave Gainesville?
F: I left Friday of January, I think the 16th or something, 1956.
P: You left immediately after commencement?
F: Yeah, I went to work [the following] Monday. I graduated Saturday and went to
work [on] Monday.
P: So, you went right to Tampa and started working. Now tell me again about
Tampa so we can close that up. How long were you there?
F: I went to work with Darby, Darby, and Odom, and that, as I said, [was] January
[of] 1956. I passed the CPA exam in May and they made me a partner after one
year. I stayed with them for six years. I had opened an office, after three years,
in Clearwater, [Florida].
P: You opened an office for your own?
F: No, [I opened an office] for Darby, Darby, and Odom. I had developed just a lot
of business for whatever [reason]. They call them rainmakers. I just developed a
lot of wonderful business. I was, after six years, making maybe $16,000 a year,
but I had about $200,000 worth of fees I was bringing in. So I said, "I've got to
change this," in a meeting in December of 1966, I think. The senior partner, who
is a good friend today, just, I don't think, managed well. I said, "well, the door
swings both ways; on January 3rd' I'm gone." So I left on January 3, 1966.
P: As an accountant, how do you attract clients?
F: [One attracts clients] by doing good work.
P: It's your reputation and they come to you?
F: Well, not anymore. Now they have PR people, but back in those days you could
only put your name on your door one inch high. [In] the phonebook, you couldn't
have it in bold type, and as we used to always say, practicing public accounting
was kind of like going in a dark closet and closing the door. But if you did good
work and people had faith and trust in you, they would come to you.
P: So, it was really one person recommending you that brought in more clients.
F: Do it for another, right.
P: You couldn't advertise?
F: No [I couldn't advertise]. I wandered in, took my dad, when he had a sun
problem, into a doctor named Harry Katz in Largo, Florida. I was at the
University of Tampa. I took care of Harry. [He had] just come into town as a
doctor, and I kept his books, too, while I was at the University of Tampa and [the
University of] Florida. He recommended me to a fellow named Herb Schwartz
who was a builder, who recommended me to an attorney, who recommended me
finally to Charlie Rutenberg where I got into doing all the Rutenberg work. One
led to another. Pretty soon I had this enormous practice that I had developed
over a very short period.
P: Now you're living in Clearwater [Florida]?
F: Yeah, I lived in Clearwater [Florida], on Williams Drive.
P: So you're leaving Tampa, you're living now in Clearwater and working in
F: Yes, I moved to Clearwater [Florida] in 1964, [and] I left the Darby firm in 1966.
P: You have two more years left in Clearwater, Florida?
F: Yeah [I have two more years], and the year I left, candidly, [I] had made $16,000,
I think. By the way, after I left that meeting, later, I had two phone calls. Two
other partners left. They called and wanted to go with me. So we formed a new
firm, and out of that practice that I had we each made about $70,000 that first
P: You were not unhappy at Darby, you just were not making enough money.
F: [I was not making] enough money, right. A year after I left, by the way, the whole
firm broke up. Darby split [from] Hayes Odom, who's in Lake City [Florida]; the
whole firm came apart.
P: Did you leave under good feeling?
F: Oh yeah [I left under good feeling], you know, the door swings both ways. If you
can't get along, you got to do it some other way. No, they were gentlemen about
my leaving and I think I was, too. You know, you have work in progress. We had
all those things [but] there was never any problem.
P: And you already had clients.
F: I had a lot.
P: They were Darby's clients, but they came because of you.
F: They were technically Darby's, but when they were notified that I was leaving,
they asked me to continue to represent them.
P: I see. So, you are now in Clearwater [Florida]. This is 1966. Am I right on the
F: [You are] right on the date.
P: Do you have an office already there or do you open up new offices?
F: I took over the office we had there and then we opened a new office in Tampa
with my other two partners.
P: The other two partners came in with the you, the same ones who were leaving
the firm when you left.
F: Right, John Nord and Bill Morrison. So, it [the name of the firm] was Fisher,
Morrison and Nord.
P: Alright, so there was a three-man firm.
F: We practiced in a small firm, I don't think, until late fall of 1968, when a client,
Arthur Rutenberg said he had met a man by the name of Bob Winnerman, at a
home show, who wanted to build...
[End side Al]
F: Bob Winnerman had the idea that a national building company could be built
where, if Arizona was down and Florida was up, it would build a little more
stability into the housing industry. Art said, "why don't you go talk to him?" So I
got on an airplane and flew to New Jersey and visited with Bob and his staff and
looked into their company and books.
P: Where in New Jersey?
F: [I went to] Freehold, New Jersey. And [I] decided that they had a pretty good
little company. [The company] was doing maybe $7 million in volume or
whatever and we should talk to them. The net result was that if you put together
Arthur Rutenberg's company, Charles Rutenberg's company, and Bob
Winnerman's company, and they each ran their companies, and I kind of put
together a national office and, you know, got the PR, the legal, and all those
things going. By the way, we agreed to do this in August of 1968. Bob had a
little r, [Regulation "A" Public] company, the stock was trading for $.25 bid, $.50
asked, and when we announced the deal, the stock went immediately to like $8
[or] to $10. It was a lot of work to put all of this together and get a prospectus
and go public. With McDonald and Company as the underwriter, we went
[public] effective February 18, 1969, at $23 a share. The boys each sold a lot of
shares because they had a lot of them, they owned the companies. I sold a few
[shares] that I had under option. We had, then, a company in Florida and [in]
New Jersey. We started on an acquisition program. In 1971, we were the
second largest offerer of equity securities in the nation. We did twelve
acquisitions that year. We went on the New York Stock Exchange. I bought the
first hundred shares, I think, in July. I still have the pin [that reads] July,
someday, of 1971, and we opened at $69.75 a share.
P: Fred, what was the condition of the country, first of all, that motivated you all to
organize like this?
F: Well, I think it was the idea that Bob Winnnerman had his vision and his thought
of building a national building company and we were all young.
P: A national building company to do what?
F: [A national building company formed] to build homes.
P: Did you feel that there was a need for that, that there was a growing population in
the United States and all of those things?
F: Yes, we were in the first home/buyer business. The largest builder at the time
was [William] Levitt in Levittown, [on Long Island, New York,] New Jersey or
Pennsylvania, I think he built in. He was doing about $90 million a year and he
was the largest builder in America, but he was located in one place, subject to all
the problems of that one economy. The idea here, was to spread this out.
P: [Was the idea to build] all over the U.S. or just the South?
F: Well, in the markets where we could build, if we built two hundred homes a year
we wouldn't be building 100 percent of the market but maybe 10 percent,
because you don't want to go into a city where there's only 10 homes built a
year. So, as a result, in1969, we started acquiring companies and we ended up
in about seventeen states in a very short time. By 1971, we were the largest
builder, I think, in the world.
P: Now, you were building speculation houses, building houses?
F: Oh, [we were building] contract and spec [houses], both.
P: Where was your money from-your capital to do the building?
F: Well, you know I was involved in doing the first unsecured credit for a home
builder in America. We borrowed from eighteen different banks, a consolidated
group,$150 million, unsecured.
P: Well, you're coming in with an innovative idea. Was this a real problem selling
this idea to the banks?
F: It was. No question [about it]. It was a lot of work. Continental Illinois [National
Bank in Chicago] was our lead bank. I was very proud of putting that together. It
had never been done before because there was never a large building company
before. We got in there, candidly, you know the old story, you want to go in at
P: You never went to the big companies in New York, then?
F: Later [we went to New York], but Arthur Andersen was our auditor. Why?
Because I had this feeling for Arthur, so when we went public I hired Arthur. But I
had the senior partner of Arthur Andersen take me in to the Continental Illinois
Bank, so I went in at the right level. Dick Drake was the senior officer whom I
dealt with and we hit it off. You know, you go in at the right place and you have
P: You have better success when you're introduced by the right person.
F: Right, that helps. It's not, sometimes, what you know, but who. Later, we were
with City Corp. I sat with, oh gosh, for an hour and a half with the chairman, I
cannot remember his name. I'll remember it later. He allotted us forty-five
minutes [and] we were there for an hour and a half [because] we hit it off so well.
City Corp., Bankers Trust, which in a little later deal, I went back to and
borrowed some money. We had a lot of New York banks [such as] Chemical
Bank. [The year] 1973, 1974 was the worst environment in Florida. You know we
had 90,000 unsold condominiums [in Florida].
P: That was a recession, too, because of the gasoline crisis.
F: 1973 was the gas [crisis] and 1974 was [when] housing went in the tank. I had
quit smoking when Paige, my youngest daughter was born in 1968, I guess, and
I started smoking again in 1974. So, it was a tough year. I smoked for about six
P: What was the market for this? You were building moderately priced houses?
F: Yeah, a house that's selling today in Clearwater [Florida] for $175,000, we sold
originally, I think, for $19,900. [These were] four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath
homes. So, now, was it moderately [priced] to us? That was still a lot of money
then, but they were basically first-time home buyers.
P: Have you any idea about how many houses you built?
F: Before I retired we crossed the 100,000 mark. The year that I retired, 1980, we
built 16,000 homes.
P: [You built] everywhere in the U.S.?
F: [We built] in seventeen states, I believe, at the time.
P: You said you started with [building in] seventeen states, I wondered if you had
expanded beyond that.
F: No [we didn't expand]. I think we went into a few [states] that we withdrew from,
you know, that sort of thing.
P: Did you ever consider at that time, or was it under consideration, to do
construction out-side the U.S.?
F: Well, people always ask that question and we always said, "well, we'll go to
Europe as soon as we get 1 percent of the U.S. [market]." You know, we were
the largest builder. [but still small in relation to the market].
P: You were the largest?
F: [We were the largest builder] in America, but we only had about six-[tenths or]
seven-tenths of 1 percent. Our nation is composed of thousands of small
builders that do most of the home building.
P: In Florida, who was associated with you? Rutenberg was one, wasn't he?
F: [I was associated with] Charlie and Arthur [Rutenberg], both.
P: How did you get involved with them?
F: I was introduced to them, I think, by Herb Schwartz who had been in business
with them in Chicago before they came down, and he was a client of mine in
Clearwater [Florida]. And they had a bowling alley that was in trouble on US-19
in Clearwater [Florida]. I knew nothing about bowling alleys, but they thought I
did. So I got involved; I got it refinanced. I changed the whole concept of doing
business. I got them to add another eight lanes. I really got into the
management of it. I got a restaurant manager to take over and own the
restaurant. The thing sparkled, came up and made them some money. Then,
they sold it and made money. In the process, they hired me to do everything for
P: So your contact with Rutenberg was through the bowling alley?
F: That's where it started. They had 180 companies at the time when I got involved
with them and showed them why they should have three or four.
P: Tell me who Charles Rutenberg is.
F: Charles is a good friend today. He's a very creative man who started in Chicago.
P: So he's not native to Florida?
F: [He's] not native. He came down, and his brother came down in about 1954 [or]
1955, and thought they should become homebuilders. They built a model home,
all white; they were the first. They decorated the inside, I mean they put furniture
in it, all white walls inside, and [they] put these white cement tiles on the roof that
had never been used in Florida. [They] put an ad in the paper and sold about
forty homes in three weeks. They had never built a home in their life, either one
of them. They then put an ad in the paper, which I still have a copy of, that said,
"we will not accept any more contracts." I have never seen an ad before [or]
since [by a] builder like that. And then they proceeded to become home
builders. And they've always had a wonderful design capacity and they built nice
homes. Charlie and Art came in to U.S. Home, [and] Art left. We went effective
in 1969. He went out and left the company in 1971. Bob Winnerman left in 1973
and Charlie, unfortunately, he and I got into a thing in 1976 [or] 1977 and actually
I was the result of firing him. He wanted to kill me at the time, I do know, but
today we're very close friends. Charlie's had some misfortune and went through
a terrible financial crisis. He lost everything he had, made a couple bad decisions
about eight years ago [or] ten years ago, and I worked with him today trying to
make things better. His health is very bad today.
P: Who else was in this combo?
F: Just the four of us.
P: Who were the other two, again?
F: Arthur Rutenberg, Charles Rutenberg, Bob Winnerman, and myself [were in the
P: So, there were two Rutenbergs. [They were] two brothers?
F: Yes, and there were two other brothers, but they were not in the business.
P: What is the relationship of Barry Rutenberg, who is here [in Gainesville] and
F: Barry is Arthur's son.
P: He's a builder here in Gainesville.
F: Right, and Charlie has a son Mark who is a builder in Pinellas County.
P: So all of them then stayed in the construction business.
F: Arthur went out and started a franchise business, which meant that he has about
twenty-six builders in various parts of Florida and other states that are franchise
Arthur Rutenberg Home Builders.
P: Was there any effort made to build housing for poor people or black people?
F: We did a lot of 236 housing and rental housing. [We] never were able to do it
profitably, but we did a lot of it. We did some in St. Croix, Virgin Islands. In fact,
we built that project. [Do] you remember that fellow [who] went berserk down
there and shot two or three people back thirty years ago? That was our project.
We did find later that the superintendent who built the 450 rental units for us also
built forty for himself around the corner and over the hill out of the materials that
were already for the 450 [laughing].
P: He built his house with your materials?
F: Oh, yeah.
P: Did you do any commercial construction?
F: We got into that [commercial construction, also]. A fellow named Stuart Golding,
who was a client, we acquired his company after we went public. He had a
number of shopping centers and we brought those into the company. Then we
proceeded to build a number of others. We built probably one of the finest
shopping centers in Florida, Countryside Mall in Clearwater. [It was] 1,250,000
square feet in 1974 and 1975, and [we] sold it. Wall Street never really
understood cash flow,so we really got out of the commercial [building business].
Because, you see, the commercial construction and rentals, you kind of rely on
cash flow and they were [looking for] earnings per share, [and] we were not
basically an earnings per share company. So I got tired of explaining all that
debt and relying on cash flow and so forth, and we just sold off all our income
properties and stayed in the housing industry.
P: Are you out of this operation now, completely?
F: Yes. The chairman of the board and the company today, by the way, which is a
U.S. Home, Lennar combination, the chairman of the board and the fellow who
runs all of the operations is a fellow named Robert or Bob Strudler. [He]
remains a very close friend of mine, [and] has a home across the street from me
in Tarpon. [He] lives in Houston and I hired him thirty years ago. So we remain
close, but I'm not a shareholder or a director.
P: I know our nephew Leslie Ruben, whom you know, was involved with shopping
centers and with Arthur Rutenberg in a most small way.
F: Well, I believe that originally, Les, who was with Arthur Andersen had left there to
go with Arthur Rutenberg as his controller, I believe, originally. Then [he] left
there and he and Art went in to do some commercial construction with office
building and warehouses.
P: I knew he was not a big-time builder or anything.
F: No, but I think that he's done very well in the commercial building business.
P: He has, yeah.
F: And he is a good guy; he's a smart guy. I'd say that even if you weren't here.
P: He's really related to Bessie, although I claim him, too.
F: Well, when you get a good one you want to take all the credit you can.
P: That's right. But I know he was a small-time [builder] by comparison to what you
all were doing.
F: Yeah, today, this past year, U.S. Home/Lennar, I believe, closed 27,800 homes.
That's a lot of houses.
P: Well, are any of the original developers [still in it]? You're not in it. Are the
Rutenbergs in it?
P: Everybody's out [of the business].
F: You know, initially it was put together [by] a lot of entrepreneurs. They're all
gone, but the professional managers, I believe it's the top twenty-two people in
the U.S. Home Company, have been there an average of twenty-three years or
something. So it's a very stable environment.
P: I was going to say, that's such an important operation in the United States.
Someone needs to write its history so it's not lost.
F: Well, I tell you, having lived a good a part of it and been on the periphery of the
rest of it, it's a fun story.
P: I was just going say, a fascinating story.
F: Only in America. Yeah. You think we're just small-time, Clearwater, Florida.
We're able to get involved in such a magnificent endeavor.
P: You were in seventeen states!
F: [We were able to] move into the world of Wall Street and the New York Stock
Exchange and the chairman of one of the major institutions. I mean, it was really
for a little-town boy, a little heady, yeah. Once in a while you had to kind of back
up and stop trying to believe your press clippings.
P: You were the guy who had been selling root beer.
F: You've got to remember you were a chicken plucker, yeah.
P: Times have changed a lot.
F: Oh yeah, but talking about my life has been a wonderful, wonderful experience.
P: I want to stop for just a moment, on your business career and go back and pick
up so we don't lose anything on the family. Tell me, again, your wife's name.
F: The mother of my children, and we're very close today.
P: She's living, then?
F: She's living. She married again after we were divorced and then that didn't work
and in fact, I think [that] left her in trouble.
P: What's her full name?
F: Her name is Sandra Ann Fisher. She changed her name back to Fisher. She's a
registered nurse although she has not practiced that. After we were divorced
and she was divorced again, she went back to school to finish her nursing
because when we got married she had not finished it.
P: Where is she living?
F: She lives in Clearwater, Florida.
P: Alright, tell me about your children.
F: [There are] four of them. We lost a little boy who was four [who] drowned, which
influenced my life too, because that's where the Long Center and that swimming
came from. My four children are Scott Douglas, he is forty-five years old.
P: What's his birth date?
F: His birthday is February 18, 1957.
P: He's born when you're living here in Gainesville?
F: He was born in Tampa.
P: But, I mean, he's a baby when you're here in Gainesville.
F: He's the baby, right. And then we had another baby who since is deceased,
P: Tell me about him. When was his birthday?
F: He was eighteen months younger, so it would have been, I think, it was, July of
1958. Do you know how I remember their birthdays? Keep in mind that my two
girls are four years younger than my two boys; each in turn, boy, girl, boy, girl.
Sande, their mother, is four years younger than I am. In odd years, we all turn an
even age. In even years, we all turn an odd age. The girls are six years apart,
[and] the boys are six years apart.
P: And you said your second son is deceased?
F: Yes [he's deceased].
P: What happened there [concerning his death]?
F: We [my wife at the time, our children, and I] lived in Tampa. I was with the Darby
firm and he [Mark Frederick] and Scott and a bunch of other boys were playing
near a pond about half a block from the house. He was reaching in to get
tadpoles and fell in and the bank just went straight down, and he didn't know how
P: And he drowned.
F: And he drowned.
P: How old was he?
F: Scott ran home and his mother ran over and she dove in and brought him up. I
know that stays with her today. He was four years old. It affected Scott and
P: Ok, so that's your two boys, now what about your two girls?
F: No, I have another boy.
F: See, now in sequence. The next born then is, Mark is dead, is Jill. Jill is four
years younger than Scott, so she was born July 25, 1961. She's now forty-one.
P: Where does she live?
F: She lives in Clearwater, Florida. She's the CEO, been the CEO of the second
largest title insurance company of America. [She's been] the executive vice
president and chief council for Arvida. [She's been] a very successful graduate of
the University of Florida [and] Stetson Law School.
P: Has she been successful in business?
F: [She's been successful] in business, and [she's] a delightful lady with a seven-
year-old son whose name is Peyton Fisher Powers. By the way, I have three
grandchildren: two [with] middle names of Fisher and one middle name, my
middle name, of Ellis. Because the girls [my daughters] figure the boys [my
sons] will never marry [and] have any children because my boys have never
married. So anyway, after Jill comes Todd. Todd is a fellow [who has] had his
share of problems in the world, but about nine years ago he go himself
straightened out. He came back to Florida, graduated, worked here in the
Foundation for a while. [He] has now become a computer guru. Next October,
he gets his driver's license back. He lives in Clearwater, Florida.
P: Is he married?
F: He never married and is not married. He has pretty girlfriends, both of them [the
brothers] do, but they've just never married. Then, my last child is Paige, who is
married to Garry and her last name is Simpson. She's Paige Jennifer Fisher
Simpson. She has a five year old, Haynes Ellis Simpson, and a three year old,
Quinn Fisher Simpson. They [my daughter and her family] live in Tampa and
have a very successful residential air-conditioning installation business. They
work for most all of the major builders in Tampa.
P: Sounds like all of your kids are doing well.
F: Not always, so. There was a time [when] I wished I was not a parent. They've
all had their share. Jill came here to [University of] Florida and didn't do well and
became a phlebotomist and then different things. Finally [she] got her act
together, came back here to school, graduated, had good grades but overall
average [wasn't good], she couldn't get into law school here and I didn't press it.
She was accepted to Stetson and, I think, graduated second in her class, and
that's only ten or eleven years ago and has done marvelous. I wish she were a
[University of] Florida Law School graduate.
P: Did you happen to become a trustee of the Stetson Law School?
F: After she graduated, I was invited to become a trustee, yes.
P: Once again, I wondered about that [laughing].
F: Yeah, well, of course, [I'm] a donor and you know that always can make you a
trustee if you donate enough.
P: So that takes care of your family.
F: That's my four children and my three grandchildren.
P: How old are the grandchildren?
F: Paige's two are five and three.
P: What a wonderful age.
F: Yes. We just spent last weekend with them in Disney World. In fact they are
marvelous, beautiful kids. Peyton who is Jill's son, is seven. He's tall like I was.
He's going to be about six feet, eight inches, the doctor says. He's going to be a
basketball player or something.
P: All right now, let's get back to your business career. You're with U.S. Home [at
this point in your story].
F: My business career, of course, after accounting and U.S. Home becomes even
more interesting because it really stopped, technically, in 1980, but I've had three
business involvements, since. All three of them made a lot of money, none of
which I've kept. The first one, I retired in 1980, bought a big boat, a nice boat
[with] captain [and] crew, [I] lived on it, traveled through the Abacos [Islands] and
the Bahamas and Florida and Eleuthra. After about a year of that I was going
nuts because you can only snorkel so much and fish so much. So, I put the boat
up for sale and wandered around talking to old friends. I was at Hilton Head,
South Carolina, and called this fellow whom we had talked [to] about acquiring
his company when I was with U.S. Home. Within an hour and a half, he rented
an airplane and came to Hilton Head and said he had big problems and he
wanted me to come into his company. So, I counseled and talked and then I
went on up. I was in Philadelphia and he sent me a Federal Express package
and I said, I better turn around and go back. So I went around, went down, and I
bought 20 percent of his company for a dollar [and] became chairman and CEO.
What [his problem] was [was that] he had 1,500 contracts that he had sold in six
different states to second-home factory-built houses that he had options on the
land, but he didn't have money to exercise the options to build them. He had not
provided the money to build them for the guy who was going to build them in his
factory, and he had promised everyone a 90 percent mortgage and didn't know
where he was going to get them. He had already taken the 10 percent down and
spent it and owed another several million dollars, which was an interesting thing.
In questioning him, I found that those 1,500 contracts were to people whose
average income was like $55,000 a year and whose average net worth was half
a million dollars. So in hiring a bunch of people to qualify these people, we got
them all qualified for mortgages. [I] went to Goldman Sachs were I had some
experience, because we did the first mortgage-backed bond in America and got it
rated A by providing both PMI Insurance on the top part of the mortgage. So I
had some familiarity with that and got Goldman Sachs to do mortgage backed-
bonds for us. Back then, by the way, this was in 1982, prime interest rates were
P: This was during the Carter Administration years [1977-1981] Jimmy Carter.
F: Right, and [we] went to Mellon Bank and got a $138 million construction loan,
and [we] went to Bankers Trust, another bank in Tennessee, and got an open
line of credit and signed it to pay the back bills. So we exercised the options, we
went into production and built the units, had the mortgage-backed bonds to
finance the units, and that next year, I [left]. I was only there [eight] months.
P: Is this the company that [is] U.S. Capital Corporation?
F: That's U.S. Capital, [and] it was only there [eight] months.
P: I got it at 1982, 1983.
P: You were Chief Executive Officer?
F: Right, and I was there sometime in July of 1982 until, I believe, February of
P: Okay, so that covers a year.
F: And when I finished that year, the company made $16 million.
P: Now, once again, what were you doing? I mean I understand where you're
getting the money and the bank.
F: I financed it. I arranged all the money to build everything.
P: You arranged all the money to build what?
F: [To build] 1,500 resort condominiums.
P: Did you include shopping centers?
F: No, that was all it was, pure [and] simple, little one-bedroom [condos].
P: There were no industrial parks?
F: [The condominiums] sold for like $80,000 each, 10 percent down.
P: There were no hotels, no resorts?
F: Nothing. It was a very simple seven [or] eight months. [I] took that money that I
made from that and I invested it in the Long Center [in Clearwater] and several
P: How were you able to convince these big-time Goldman Sachs and all to loan
you this huge amount of money? I mean, was the reputation of the company
already well established?
F: No, that was all based on my background with U.S. Home and the credibility that
I brought to it from my credibility with U.S. Home where we'd always done well
[and] paid our bills. You really lend money to people. I mean, I've now been
involved in five banks and you lend money to people. The good people pay you
back and the good people try to pay you back if they can't.
P: But were you coming in as a stranger into these operations? I mean, you're
asking for lots of money.
F: Well, Goldman Sachs knew us from the U.S. Home days, they knew about
mortgage- backed bonds. Keep in mind, they had the [mortgages] who were
making $55,000 a year with $500,000 net worth. They had PMI from Tycore, I
think it was, putting insurance on part of the top. No, in fact I got those
mortgages [secured] at 100 percent by Tycore insurance, so it wasn't like it was
totally risky. They also knew some of those mortgages carried [high] rates. We
did the bonds at about 15 percent. The mortgages were at 17 percent. So we
picked up that two points while we held them. But they also knew rates would go
down and when those rates went down, those mortgages all paid off, re-financed.
P: By this time, what's your annual income [in] 1980, 1981, 1982?
F: Well, [in] 1980 I think maybe $300,000 or $400,000.
P: So, once again you've come a long way from being a root beer salesman or
F: Yeah, I'd had some good friends with some good investments along the way, too,
where I didn't have to do anything but put some money in and we built some
rental apartments and things like that. Of course, in 1981, my earned income
went to zero and has never gone over zero since. Now, that was my first
business venture which was a bankrupt situation, it was two years after I'd left. I
was still close enough that I knew people, you know that was important. My next
business was another bankruptcy. All three had been, but they've all been in
areas that I knew, which were all financially oriented. The next one is the one
that affects this university because it was a situation where again I had friends
who had called me to Philadelphia. I went. They had a business that had bought
a lot of shopping centers, 160 of them, packaged them, rented them up a little bit
and then resold them into limited partnerships and they held what they called
wraparound mortgages. If they paid $1 million dollars for it, they sold it for $2.5
million, they got $500,000 in cash, and they had a wraparound $1 million
mortgage that wrapped the seniors. It was a $2 million mortgage but they first
had to pay off the senior underlying debt. Well, what happens with that is that
you can get interest on $2 million but all of the money goes to pay off the senior
debt, which is going down fast. You have what you call phantom income. All
that interest, you have to pay tax on it even though you don't have the cash. So
then these five guys, they went out and they bought a couple [of] hundred million
dollars' worth of computers and leased them out, good leases, so that they could
take the depreciation off the computers to cover the phantom income. Then they
got the computers fully depreciated and now they got the phantom income and
the income from the leases, and they were facing a $10 million or $12 million tax
bill and they were all at each other's throats. By the way, if they sell this, then
that phantom income disappears plus the loses from all the prior phantom
Well, first I said, "No, I don't want to get involved." I said, "It's [a] wonderful
opportunity, it's all financially oriented [and] I could have a ball, but I don't
want to get that involved. It's going to take me a year." Then, I came back the
next weekend [and it] was the Palm Beach, University of Florida Foundation
meeting, which I had gotten on the board [of]. You know that story.
F: So, I'm sitting down there with this fund-raiser and Dean [Robert F.] Lanzillotti
[dean of University of Florida Warrington College of Business Administration,
1969-1987], I don't remember, and they ask me for a $3 million gift to name the
school of accounting [as] the Fisher School of Accounting. As I like to say, after I
picked myself up off the floor, I said, "If I gave you $3 million, I'd have to go back
to work." [As I'm] leaving there and then thinking about it, the coincidence of it,
the way God works in funny ways, you know that opportunity in Philadelphia and
this situation came all at once. I called my friends back and said, I'd like to come
back and reconsider. The net result was [that] I went back, I bought that whole
business from them, took out the five partners totally, I think it was like $3 million
cash. [I] went to work and got rid of a lot of the mortgages by re-financing, took
the best mortgages, put them in a package. No, first, after I'd had it for about
three or four months and I [had] changed the nature, accounting-wise and tax-
wise, where the money I put into it was my basis and I went on a cost recovery
system, I brought one of the old partners and the friend who had taken me up
there and brought them back into the business for a dollar each. They owned
two-thirds. I packaged up enough of these mortgages, first, to give to the
University of Florida, which when appraised at a 12 percent rate, said their value
was $6.8 million. That's what I gave to the university. The university at the time
was to receive about $38 million [over the life of the mortgages]. I then took
everything that was left and sold it for some nominal sum to these two fellows
and I was out of it, but the university had these thirty mortgages or twenty
mortgages, I don't remember. Well, that was in 1985, wasn't it?
P: It was 1984, 1985.
F: The tax law of 1986, was it that?
F: That changed the whole real estate world. [It] caused a lot of those mortgages to
get in trouble, but we worked them through.
P: They were not grandfathered in, then?
F: Well, they were grandfathered, but the real estate got hurt because all of the tax
benefits went away. The net result was that the university got far more than their
$3 million. In fact today I think there's about $7 million in the three accounts, plus
I have a couple of others that I've created, endowments. Recently, the last
mortgages, which were worthless, I went back to work on it a couple years ago
and managed to resurrect a few of them and brought in $820,000 that went into
the new accounting building. But that was done through my efforts later.
P: That's going into the Gary A. Gerson building?
F: That's in the Gerson building, right.
P: Because I knew it wasn't solely Gerson's money.
F: Well, Al [Alfred C.] Warrington's million dollars [was a part of it], a friend of mine's
sister has $200,000 that I've arranged for, and then [there's] this $820,000.
P: Well, I was there for groundbreaking and they said that it was Gerson plus.
F: Well, Gary is $2 million of the $8 million. And then the accounting firms, the
national accounting firms each have $300,000 to $500,000 invested, which I
worked with them [on]. So anyway, that was my second deal. I still remain very
good friends with my two former partners, one of whom passed away last year.
But they've been good donors to my other charities over the years since,
because they did very well with what was left of that business. And then my
business, we're on my business world, the third one was two years ago,
approximately. Another good friend, Ray Murray, said that there was a neighbor
of his in his office building; there was a company called, I can't even remember it
now, but it had a sophisticated name. But they were basically in the Yellow
Pages business, where the advertising [provides revenue so that] you get your
money early, and they had spent it on other businesses. They were broke and
they were going into a bankruptcy situation. So the net result was that they went
into bankruptcy. Ray and I offered the trustee in bankruptcy, I don't know, some
$2.5 to buy it out. He didn't have a better offer although there were some people
messing with it. So we bought it out of bankruptcy in October of 2000, and I got
very involved for about six months again. Everything is a six-month run here. [I]
converted the business, changed it, reorganized it, [and] got it back on a paying
basis. [We] got all of our money back quickly. It was interesting because we
bought a lot of receivables and we collected what were supposedly bad. After
one year, when [it] became a capital asset, you've got to hold it for a year, Ray
and I donated the total company, 100 percent, to the Community Foundation of
Tampa Bay. TNP Worldwide, which is Amazon.com and so forth, which is the
largest Yellow Page people, and they do about $800 million worth of that
business, we were doing about $12 million. They came down that next month
and we negotiated a purchase from the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay for
a couple of million dollars, which I think we gave $500,000 to our employees and
the rest stayed with the Community Foundation [of Tampa Bay]. And that was
my third bankruptcy [business venture].
P: And that was your exit from business?
F: That was my last, my fourth exit. Let's see, I was ten years in public accounting,
eleven years with U.S. Home. It has now been twenty-two years since I have
accepted any earned income, but during that period I've had three bankruptcies
I've taken over and fixed.
P: Your heart doesn't yearn to get back into the fray and bustle?
F: Not really, but it never yearned back with then either. God sends them to you,
you know? I've told Ray Murray, who is a dear friend and a very good man, [a]
good partner-I've had wonderful partners-that if something came along that was
just right, financially oriented, because I wouldn't know if it had to be marketing or
I wouldn't know what to do with it, [that I might work again].
P: But you're still relatively a young man, and you're healthy.
F: Oh, yeah.
P: You're physically well.
F: But I wouldn't do another one unless we could really make an impact, you know?
P: What do you mean by an impact?
F: Well, where we could do something and get it into some charities' hands that was
maybe $50 million or $100 million, but it has to be a distress situation. You can't
buy a going business, you've got to work to make it better. If you buy a
distressed business, you can make it better in a hurry.
P: How are business conditions now?
F: It depends on which business.
P: Well, I'm talking about the things that you're familiar with.
F: Well, the housing industry is excellent right now. [It's] a factor that I think has
[been] driven a lot by interest rates, but I'm concerned that we're building next
year's houses this year, and when rates start up again we will have a dearth of
demand. I think we're seeing that in the car dealers. You know I don't know
much about that business, but I think they went into this no interest [concept],
and I think they sold some of next year's cars this year and I think they're feeling
that right now. That demand was sucked up early because so many people
[were] buying so many cars, and if you get them a year early, they're not going to
be there next year. But as to the high-tech business, I think it's in disarray yet.
P: So a young man coming out of the university now just starting out like you were
doing back in the 1950s and 1960s, do you think his future is bright?
F: Oh, absolutely. In America there is just so much opportunity. Everything runs in
cycles. I got out of school [and] it was a down period. How many down cycles?
Six, I think, in my lifetime. The obvious thing is, when things are tough you can
never convince anyone they're ever going to get better, and when things are very
good it's hard to convince anyone they're ever going to be bad again.
P: When did you leave the scene, 1980?
F: [I left the scene in] 1980, yeah, December 31, 1980, which was the last cigarette
I ever smoked, too.
P: [Laughing. They occurred] both at the same time? You rejoiced?
F: Yeah, New Year's Eve in a neighbor's little party I smoked a long Kool cigarette,
put it down and haven't smoked since. I had smoked six years [and] had not
smoked six years before that, so I was toying with that. [I] picked up a cigarette in
1974, which was a very difficult year in the housing industry, and smoked three
packs the first day, which shows you that you just can't do that.
P: That was an expensive hobby, too.
F: Well, today it is terribly expensive, I guess, but fortunately, I don't have that.
P: As you look back on your business career, the things that you've detailed here
for the tape recorder, has it been a good time for you? Are you satisfied now
with the kind of life and activities you were involved with?
F: Oh, you know, [I am] very [satisfied].
P: You're not sorry about anything.
F: Oh, no. In fact, with the people who have influenced me along the way, one of
[them] really got me thinking about money. [He gave me] the idea [that] there's
your personal life and your business life, but you've always got to want, and I
remember this discussion. If you don't want, you're going to not be happy. In
other words, if you think you're happy and everything's perfect in your personal
life, you need to work at it a little more. So, suddenly I was faced with the
situation where I was going to have an awful lot of money in U.S. Home. [I was]
making all of this money every year and I got stock and stock options and there
was nowhere but up. And when you're at the top of the heap, it's a whole lot
easier. That's when I decided that I didn't want any more money because you've
got to look after it. I always wanted a boat, by the way. I said, Now, I'm going to
have my dream. I'm going to live on a big yacht, a boat. I said, "now, I've got to
find something else to want. If I get more money, I'm really going to have some
trouble. So, that's when I stopped accumulating. I have no more money today
than I had when I quit work. I've probably made $15 or $20 million in the interim.
P: But you're not an unhappy man.
F: Oh, I'm delighted with it. I have more fun looking after my little pile of money
than I ever had looking after a big pile. I now have children whose income is
substantially more than mine today.
P: But as you look back on your business career, the history of it, do you think you
made any mistakes?
F: [I made] a lot of them. Oh, some big ones I don't want to talk about. You know,
you can't do things unless you make mistakes, as I always like to say. I like to
hire people, [and] I always ask them that question. Of course, if they say they've
never made a mistake, I don't want to hire them, but I like them to have made big
mistakes on somebody else's watch. That way you learn. We've got a fellow
who runs a bank that I'm involved in and having started, I'm not on the board-I'm
not on any boards, by the way, today. He runs a magnificent bank. But he made
some mistakes in banks earlier, he's still a young man, and we have the best
bank in the state of Florida today, People's Bank. We have four stores, we're six
years old, $220 million, we have no bad loans, we're rated right up at the top with
all banks. I think people, when they start a bank in Florida, the comptrollers ask
them if they want to come and talk to us about [how] to start a bank.
P: These mistakes that you made were all redeemable. You were able to rectify
F: Some you can; some you can't. Life is a series of choices, you know. The easy
choice is one that you can correct. [For instance, if] I turn right to find the
Proctor's house and I don't find it, I turn around and go back left, that's easy. But
on the other end, if you shoot somebody and kill them, you can't change that. So
in between, there's a lot of mistakes I've made that I've corrected and some I
couldn't correct. I am not proud of the fact that I am not married to the mother of
my children, but we're different people and we both understand that. But we
have a wonderful relationship today. I still love her, she still loves me, but it's a
totally different kind of love.
P: Have you lost good friends along the way?
F: [I've lost] a lot of them. There are some whom I think of frequently. Harry
Armston, who was just a wonderful friend and banker and a business associate
and had a philosophy of life. He contracted leukemia and so he kind of packed
his bag up and said I'm going to do some of the things that I've always wanted to
do because they didn't give him a long term. So he was a boater and he took his
boat up the east coast and came around and came down the Mississippi. In fact
I joined him on the Mississippi, and that's an exciting trip, and he went [and
bought] a big bus and [later] he went and [rented] a bare-boat in Alaska and took
[that trip]. After about a year and a half [or] two years, he came back [and] he
[said], I've just about run out of things that I always wanted to do. And he went
into business with his kids in a little housing business and he said, "you know, I'm
so blessed." I can't say it the way he said it. But he [said], "while I've been doing
all these things and we've been having this fun, five of our good friends all
dropped dead suddenly," and he named them. And he said, "what a wonderful
thing that [I've known]." I think he was sixty-two, but he said, "very few people
have had the wonderful experience of life that I have had." He said, "there is
something to be said for knowing when you are going, because we live all of our
life knowing we're going but we never admit it." "I mean, we're all terminal," but
he said, "this has been a wonderful experience." I have never forgotten that. It
made me appreciate each day and look at things a lot differently.
P: He died of leukemia?
F: He did [die of leukemia]. He had that type that goes into a blast, you know, all of
a sudden. When people don't have advanced notice, I've lost some [other]
friends [when] they were [here today and gone tomorrow].
[End side A2]
P: I've got a lot of things here.
F: You go ahead, you know there's no way to get it all in five hours is there?
P: Oh, yes, there is.
F: [There's no way to fit in] over seventy years.
P: If we can't do it in five hours, we do it in six hours.
F: Well, you'll give me a chance to fill it in later.
P: [laughing] So you have lost some friends and you've made some friends,
business-wise, I'm talking about now.
F: Yeah, of course, Harry [Armston], just to finish off of that last [section of the
interview], [passed away suddenly]. He went into the hospital, called the family
and said goodbye, and died.
F: You know, another wonderful, beautiful man that I dearly loved was Louis Atkins,
the dentist from Blountstown [Florida]. He passed away here. He was just [such]
a philosopher. He was always writing onward. He was an up-guy. I like to be
around up-guys and girls who are positive.
P: The glass is half full or more.
F: Or more [than half full]
P: It may be three-quarters, or 85 percent full.
F: 85 percent is my story, as you remember.
P: You've been in the banking business over the years.
F: Yes, [I've been involved in] five banks.
P: Talk about that.
F: In 1968 or 1967, [there was] a young man by the name-[he was] young then,
[but] he just died this past year- Harris E. "Zip" Long. [He] had a bank, Gulf to
Bay Bank and Trust on Gulf to Bay Boulevard. We visited and the net result
again was that we bought a half interest in the bank and I went on the board.
Subsequently, this was when all the banking things started happening. He
wanted to sell the bank.
P: What do you mean by all the things happening?
F: Well, banks started merging and acquiring, and this was in the late 1960s. So
we sold the bank back to him and he subsequently sold it to the Exchange Bank
[and] made a lot of money. He stayed with the Exchange Bank which eventually,
I guess, is part of Bank of America. Who knows, there are seven or eight steps
in there. So I had a brief encounter on the board, a nice experience, met some
good people, that was in Clearwater [Florida]. [That was] while I was [a founder
of] another little bank, but wasn't active in a community bank of Clearwater
[Florida]. Then in 1971, we had a line of credit with U.S. Home at the First
National Bank and Trust of Dunedin [Florida], Hamm Hunt. The bank got in
trouble. The president had loaned 90-some percent on a bunch of Grolier book
accounts and they had like 10,000 of these accounts. They had stopped paying
and the controller said they were one account, so they were illegal with an over-
sized loan. They called Hamm Hunt in, who was a fellow whom I used to file his
tax return for, and when I'm done talking to him about our line of credit, he says,
"you know we need to do something." "The controller's going to come in and
take this bank over on Friday." And [that] startled me. I said, "why can't we just
buy it out and put some money in it?" He says, "let's do that." So I called a
bunch of friends and different people and we put together, as I recall, $1,700,000
in about two or three days. [That's] a lot of money in 1971, okay. In fact, there
was one fellow....
P: [It's] a lot of money anytime.
F: ...Mr. Davis, who decided not to go into it. He was going to go with $300,000. I
called another friend in New Jersey, Dick Korngut, and I said, I've got a bank
deal. He knew a little about banking. And I said, I need $300,000. He said,
"fine." He said, "when do you need it?" I said, "tomorrow morning." And he
wired the $300,000. We put $1,100,000 or $1,200,000 into the bank, which got
the controller out of the picture. We bought controlling interest in the bank for like
$400,000 or $500,000. Hamm Hunt, a marvelous banker, got a hold of the guy
who had sold the loans and found out that some of this money he had invested in
Charlais cattle and he'd sold the Charlais cattle to the chairman of the board of
the Heublien Corporation [liquor company], so he was in possession, the guy
who had sold all his paper to our bank, of a million dollar note. And then he
made the mistake of when some of these, we found out, stopped paying, he had
some people in St. Louis and so forth buying money orders to pay them to try to
keep some [current]. That's illegal. So Hamm [Harry Armston] and I talked to
him and said, "look, do you want to go to jail or do you want to help us?" He
says, "I want to help you." So we got that million dollar note, we got some land
he held, and, as a result, all of what we thought was a loss, we got back. So
twelve months after we bought the bank, I talked to [Billy Dial].
P: You talk to him before the comptroller came in?
F: Oh, yeah, that was the day before he was going to come, we put the money in.
P: Yeah, he was coming on Friday, and this is Thursday.
F: We bought all of the controlling interest for $13 or $14 a share. [Billy Dial],
[another] Gator, was putting together the Sun Banks, at the time. I'll think of the
name. He's dead now,;his daughter has been on the Board of Regents, [she is
P: He's from Orlando?
F: Yeah, [he's] from Orlando. Dick Livingston was the president then, and they
came over and we negotiated.
P: I did an old Oral History [University of Florida Oral History Program] interview
with him also, before he died.
F: How can I forget his name?
P: I can't think of his name, either.
F: Joan Ruffier is his daughter, right? Anyway, [he and] Dick Livingston gave us
$96 a share for that stock a year later, and we sold that bank to Sun Trust. [We]
made a lot of money. I had no money, really, to amount to anything at the time. I
just loved public accounting, [I'd] just come into U.S. Home. You know, I didn't
have $300,000 to put in it. So I put the deal together on the basis that I would
get 10 percent of whatever the profit was. Well, that became a lot of money, and
everybody gave me my 10 percent.
P: In other words, they paid you and you didn't put any money into the pot.
F: I didn't put [in] any money, just my ideas; I put it together. So then there was
another bank in trouble up in north Pasco [Pasco County, Florida]. Two people
[were] fighting. I went up and talked to them and then we bought out one half
interest, put the whole thing in a [voting] trust, [and] really got it going very, very
well. In 1979, the year before I retired, we were all over the United States [with]
U.S. Home, building homes. From Clearwater, Florida, we moved our national
headquarters to Houston, Texas. I agreed to stay one year.
P: Why did you move?
P: Why did you move from Clearwater to Houston?
F: Well, when you're building in California, Washington, and so forth [you want to be
in a good location].
P: I see, it's more centrally located.
F: We had our own airplane and all, but it's a long hike out there, see. So, we're
central then, and Texas was next to Florida, our largest state of business
[volume]. So I agreed to move and we moved the company. In 1979, I left
[Florida]. We were approached then by the Barnett Bank to buy that [Pasco
Bank]. By the way, we always had big shareholders, you know, somebody had a
big piece of that. So I said, "let's go ahead and sell it."
P: Barnett [Bank] approached you?
F: Barnett [Bank] approached us.
P: Oh, well, that's good.
F: It was called People's [Bank]. This is Guy Botts [who] came down. He made a
wonderful price. I was in Houston and I said, "okay, let's sell it," so we sold it.
That bank, which we sold for like $18 million, is probably worth $600 million. But
anyway, it sold. The fellow who I hired there, by the way, [was] from Kentucky,
and that's another interesting story. I knew when he went back to Kentucky that
his present employer would offer more money and that's what's going to happen.
He said, "no, I'm not going to take it." I said, "will you shake hands on it?" He
did. His name was Richard "Dick" Jordan, who did come back and go to work for
us, and moved up through Barnett. He was with Charlie and Allen in a three-way
P: Are you talking about Allen Lastinger.
F: Right, and Dick Jordan, who now, of course, you know as well, is a very good
friend [and he] still lives in Clearwater [Florida]. He stayed with them and that
bank went on and did well. So then I'm in Houston. Now I'm retired and I come
back. The president of that bank has now left and he wants to start another
bank. We then get another. There's a [local] doctor who then becomes a big
shareholder in this bank. We start it and we do very well [again]. It builds up and
again this big shareholder wants to sell it. So we sold that one to Sun Bank. We
did very well with it. I'm not a banker, but I was always on the board. After this
last one, and that's another story, I put that [deal] together and I was going to
receive [a] $100,000 fee to go to my favorite charity if I could work out that sale to
Sun Bank. We worked out the sale to Sun Bank and I talked to both the man in
Atlanta, when I was there, and the man here [who both agreed]. It was going to
be $100,000 and they sent me a check for $25,000 to my charity. I was not
happy with that. So I said, "let's start another bank." So we started another bank
and we hired all the good people from all our prior banks and we started this
latest People's Bank and no one, no one, could have more than 5 percent of the
stock. So there's the ten board members originally. We each had 5 percent and
the bank does not have any major shareholders. My children now, basically,
have my interest in that bank.
P: Now where is Palm Harbor? Isn't that where it is?
F: That's between Tarpon Springs and Clearwater [Florida]. It's up the road.
There's Clearwater, Dunedin, [and] Palm Harbor.
P: [Is it a] retirement village or something?
F: No, there's a lot of business in the area. We also went in with every [one] of our
banks have their own little van and we pick up deposits. So we have a very quiet
lobby, we have a lot of businesses, we reach out as far as Tampa and south St.
P: Do you do a lot of lending?
F: We do a lot of lending. We only have out today about $160 million in loans, but
we've made about $400 million [in loans] since we've started.
P: Do you have to go to trustee meetings or board meetings often?
F: No, we set up a rule where once you're seventy, you've got to get off the board.
P: I see.
F: So, now, I'm chairman emeritus. I can go to any meeting I want.
P: But you can't say much.
F: I don't have to go to any meetings [and] I can't vote.
P: And you can't say much.
F: Well, I can say what I want.
P: And you do.
F: I'm not on any boards and I'm working every day for a lot of charities. You see,
board meetings are truly, if you think about it, only to report on all the work you've
done before the meeting. So why not let someone else report on it at the
meeting, keep doing the work, but you don't have to schedule your life around all
these meetings. So I have no board meetings on my schedule anymore.
P: Have we covered all your banking interest, the history?
P: Are you sure?
F: By the way, that relationship with all of those banks has allowed me to learn
enough about banking to where I think it is very helpful in my business life,
dealing with banks. You know, no question.
P: What is Willow View Properties?
F: There are two companies in North Carolina. There is Mill Creek Country Club
and Willow View Properties. Mill Creek Country Club is the golf course. Willow
View Properties is all of the land around the golf course.
P: Is this what you were talking about last night, that you had bought the twenty
F: Well, it's 400 acres.
P: I thought it was about 2,400 acres.
F: [It is] 300, close to 400 [acres]. This was eighteen years ago. Another good
friend and a wonderful partner, J. Warren Hughes, had a school chum who had a
little land development on the other side of the mountain and [I] called him up
one day and said there's a golf course up here. It isn't much of a golf course, but
it's a golf course. There's about twenty houses and they've got some land
platted. There's ten partners and they're losing a hundred and some thousand
[dollars] a year, and they want to get rid of it. So Warren went up and negotiated.
He negotiated the deal and then called "Zip" Long, interestingly. You know, the
banker, the original banker and then later the Long Center, myself, an attorney,
Frank Logan who's dead, and a fellow who was in the car business and himself.
Oh, no, later the car man [there was], this friend from up there and Warren. The
five of us bought into it. "Zip" and I put up all the money. I will tell you about that
in a minute. We each owned 15 percent, the rest was split among the other
three. The good news was that we bought the whole place for like $1,400,000.
The bad new is, we had to put up $140,000, which Zip and I each put up
$70,000. We proceeded to lose a little money but worked at it and started selling
some lots and putting that money into the golf course. After about eight years,
my oldest son Scott went up to live there and took over the management of both
the golf course and the real estate. [He] did a magnificent job. [He] brought the
golf course up to par, I mean, put everything from parking lots, cart paths, carts,
built offices, clubhouses and rental units. [He] built a lot of rental units. [He]
developed a lot of the land, put streets in, [a] sewer [system], water, [and] just did
a marvelous job.
P: Which of your sons?
F: That's Scott; he's my oldest.
F: Three years ago, by this time, the other three partners had all decided they
wanted out, for whatever reason, because they didn't have the patience. So,
Warren [Hughes] and I bought them out. So, we each then owned 50 percent of
everything. Three years ago, when I'm now simplifying, going off boards, I sold
my half of the golf course business, donated my interest to a charitable
remainder trust and got out of the business although, I'm still there and
counseling with him all the time.
P: Are you an emeritus there? I've got you listed as co-owner and director.
F: Not at Mill Creek. See, Mill Creek Golf Course, I'm out of.
F: Now, we still each own half of Willow View Properties, which still is developing.
My son is the only developer and he builds ten, twelve, fourteen units a year up
there. He's got another three or four years to go. We still own half together,
Warren and I. That's where, I'm not involved in it, but I own it, or half of it.
P: Where in North Carolina is this?
F: This is in the Smoky Mountains. It's the very western tip of North Carolina, which
is about sixteen [or] seventeen miles north of Georgia and fifty miles south of
Tennessee. So it's right there in the Smoky Mountains.
P: Almost due north of Atlanta?
F: [It's] northeast of Atlanta. You go out 1-85 and then 1-985 and then northeast.
We're southwest, one hour from Asheville [and] northeast, two hours from
P: Where is your North Carolina property, your house?
F: We have a villa with a common wall, it's a new villa. The one we lived in, we put
up for sale earlier this year and at four o'clock in the afternoon, as I like to tell the
story, on the way back to Florida my son called me at ten in the morning and said
that he'd sold it and he got more money for it than we were asking. I said, "well, I
don't know how you did that but I'll take it." But he said, "the only way they want
to buy it is with every stick of" what is it they said he said, "if they can sit on it,
lie on it, eat off of it, they want to own it."
P: They want it.
F: Right. So, as I like to say, we hesitated for six or eight seconds, signed the
contract, because we already had the other one under construction. But that
forced us to buy all new furniture, which isn't all bad, but we designed the place,
interestingly, for the old furniture. So, we were sort of on a mission. We just
came back from there this week of accepting that furniture. It's a villa that Ray
Murray, my other good [friend], one of many, has bought five acres from us up
there a few years ago and built a magnificent home. But now he owns the other
half of our villa. I mean, he's got a beautiful villa right adjacent, we have a
common wall, for his guests and what have you. I've always said you shouldn't
ever have a big boat, you should have friends with big boats or friends with guest
houses. So I have a friend with not only a big boat, but a guest house.
P: Is your place close enough so that you can participate in the Gator gatherings in
F: I was involved in starting those, you know. Back in Waynesville and Highlands,
we had them both, back when we did the first capital campaign.
P: So you go every year to one of them?
F: Well, we don't have the Waynesville anymore, we just have the Highlands.
P: Oh, I thought you had two.
F: Well, not to my knowledge.
P: Well, I don't know.
F: No, those have been very good and I don't remember the number, but I
remember when we were closing out the first campaign, which you know my role,
that Highlands/ Waynesville soiree that we had that year had about half of our
total donated dollars attending. So obviously those were good parties.
P: And everybody likes getting together.
F: Oh, it's sort of fun. You know, you see people there that you only see once a
year now, or I do.
P: They come out of the hills and the valleys.
F: You know [from] our area of Clearwater [and] Tarpon, I bet there's three hundred
families in North Carolina in the summer. It's hard to have a social function
during the summer [in Florida].
P: And that keeps the Foundation in touch with them.
F: I think it's good, yeah. It's the same idea as football, it keeps them coming back.
P: You have to do it.
F: Yeah, and it's always nice. Football is fun but it's a little bit more fun to win.
P: Fred, you have had a very full and active business life. I don't want to miss
anything in your career. What should we mention, what should we talk about, or
what should you talk about?
F: Well, we could go back to chicken plucking, but you know, actually, my business
life has been relatively short.
P: Whatever it is, I don't want to leave anything out.
F: I had wonderful years with the public accounting, that first ten years. Of course,
[I] had all of the good times, eleven years, in housing. [Then there were] my three
little six-month sojourns in the three [bankruptcies]. I've only, I guess, worked
twenty-two years since I left college.
P: Do you fill out your own income tax forms or do you take it to an accountant.
F: I'm not dumb.
P: You take it to an accountant.
F: Oh, yes. I don't even understand my tax returns sometimes.
P: I'm going to turn this [tape recorder] off. Alright, we're back taping again. Do you
think we have covered all the aspects of your business career?
F: Of course, [there's] this charity and fund-raising, is that business?
P: Well, we're going to get into that separately. I just want to make sure we have
touched on the important aspects of your business life.
F: Yeah, it's been very precise and not of long duration.
P: Well, let's talk then about your civic activities, which have been many [and] in all
kinds of things.
F: Oh, wait a minute. [We haven't talked about] Orange State Life Insurance
P: Okay, let's go back. I don't have that down on my list.
F: See, we've talked here [about the] The First National Bank and Trust of
[Dunedin], but Orange State was a situation where....
P: What was the name of it, again?
F: [Its name is] Orange State Life Insurance Company. It was owned by the
[Chester] Ferguson family interests. I had a client and a friend named William
Whalen, who was a good friend, and he was in the health insurance business
and was very successful at it. In fact I had for a while an office adjacent to him in
Clearwater and he wanted to start a life insurance company and this company
was over there, was inactive, but had about a million dollars' worth of assets. So
we bought it. In fact we bought that company and the people who bought it
ranged from William Whalen, Fred Fisher, Charles Rutenberg, Fred Levin ...
P: Fred Levin?
F: The law school Levin. We had a diverse group that bought that.
P: I didn't know that you were involved with Fred.
F: Oh, yeah. So we started pumping this health insurance business into that
P: What were the dates on this?
F: That would have been 1975, 1976, 1977, [and] 1978. Then, again, I moved to
Houston. While I was in Houston, which was only a year, Charlie or somebody
wanted to buy my interest in the company because they had other big plans for it
and I was there and going to be retired. So I don't remember what it was, but I
remember selling it to them and I was involved with starting it, but like the bank, I
was gone so [I thought,] let's sell it. So, I sold it for several hundred thousands of
dollars profit, you know. They continued to run it and sold it for several million-
the total [company].
P: What kind of insurance business was this?
F: It was health insurance.
P: [It was] health insurance only?
F: Mostly. [It was] all individual policies. This guy had a knack for doing that. He,
today, has probably got a $200,000 a year income and he hasn't been in the
[business for] twenty years; [it's] just renewals that are still on the books.
P: So individuals buy it or [it's bought] for family policies?
F: Yeah, which was quite a thing back then. It was Medicare supplements. It was
the beginning of Medicare supplements that he was selling.
P: Now where was his base of operation?
F: [It was in] Clearwater: 304 South Jupiter. He had a little old duplex building he
converted and then I added a building to it. That's where I was practicing public
accounting with Darby and then I left [Darby]. When I left the accounting
practice and my partners built another building down on Highlands [Avenue], and
when left the building, it became the Golda Meir Center.
P: When did you get out of the health insurance business?
F: Well, I was never in it other than [as] an investor, [but I got] out of Orange State
P: I know. You're not still an investor?
F: No, the same year I retired from U.S. Home was when I got out of Orange State
Life. But that was a fun business, the life insurance business. Of course,
Brandywine Investment, that was the sojourn up into the Philadelphia where I
bought all of that business.
F: Brandywine Investment, that was the thing that came out of the mortgages that
went to the University of Florida. Then, Mill Creek, People's, oh [and] United
Investors Realty, that's a public realty trust in Houston, Texas that asked me to
go on their board. This was a few years ago. I thought, "gee, I know a lot about
that business, commercial real estate, [it] might be kind of fun." So, I went on to
P: This is very recent?
F: [It's] three years, four years ago. Oh, yeah, I've got another one that wasn't even
on there. Anyway, I went on the board of United Investors Realty Trust and, by
the way, consistent with everything [else], the director's fees were handsome but
I never received any; they all went directly to charities. When they wrote the
check, I never received them. After about a year or so there, they got sued by
another trust and there were some things that I just didn't understand and didn't
want to know. So I said, "it's better if I'm not a trustee because I don't want to be
involved in a lawsuit at my age. I haven't been involved and I don't want to [be
involved] now." So I retired from that. It was a fun year. I think it was a good
little company. They then sold it to a company out of Miami, Florida, and it has
disappeared. But you know, about six years ago, there was a company called
P: [It was] called what?
F: [It was called] Checkers, Checkers drive-through restaurants. You have one
right out here at University and [Southwest] 34 [Street] on the southeast corner.
P: Okay, I didn't know. I go right by it all the time.
F: [It was] started in Clearwater, Florida, by a family named Brown, Herb Brown.
Our kids grew up [together] and I've know them a long time. They came with this
idea [for] this double drive-through. You drive through each side and you get
your hamburgers and leave. [It was] $.99, which forever ruined the market. They
did very well, but they got into serious trouble. They asked me to go on the
board six years ago.
P: What do you mean by serious trouble?
F: [I mean] financial trouble, bad accounting, a lot of things.
P: They owed money?
F: They owed a lot of money. They had done a number of things that I think [were]
wrong. I took a three-year term and during that three-year term [I] entirely
changed the board, entirely changed the management of the company, and then
changed the ownership. I immediately became chairman of the board and told
Herb Brown. [There was] nothing wrong with that, but when starting the thing,
they had so many conflicts of interest. They owned a piece of land here that had
Checkers, that owned this Checkers, that had that deal with the brother, they had
a 10-K report that if it was a hundred pages long, eighty pages were on conflicts
of interest, and it takes a couple of years to get rid of that even. So I said, "you
all have got to get off the board. I mean, we have got to clean this thing up."
And they did, they agreed. They're still shareholders. Then the management
didn't know anything about managing the restaurant business, so in order to
change that [we] had to change the owners. So [we] got a company out of
California to buy control of Checkers and change the management, and at the
end of three years, all those checks, by the way, were going to charity, and in
three years, they paid [me] $1,000 a meeting plus [options]. I had sixty-eight
$1,000 checks sent to charities, a $1,000 per meeting that I never accepted. So I
was kind of proud of that. Checkers is now making a comeback. Their stock
went to $.50.
P: Are you still involved in any way?
F: No, they gave me, when I left, 500,000 options which are about to get in the
money, which will be nice if that ever comes. I didn't ask for them.
P: Oh, I figured you'd buy 500,000 hamburgers [laughing.]
F: No, options on the shares of stock, yeah. No, I'm not involved. I am totally away
from it, but I had a large impact on that company in that three years. It changed
everything. I believe they are a company that will do well in a recession because
of the $.99. If they'd only started at $1.49, because they ruined it for McDonald's,
for everybody has had to go to $.99. That was just the wrong price.
P: Now, wasn't there another company there that you had...?
F: I didn't even list Checkers, but, oh, Providence Directory Solutions. That's the
Yellow Pages business that I bought with Ray Murray that I spoke about, earlier.
We gave it to the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay.
P: That's it?
F: I think that's it. There's a lot of things you don't put on there, but the significant
ones I've talked about.
P: I know, but I don't want to leave anything out because we're not going to do this
F: You know, business life. I built some rental apartments with my good friend,
Herb Schwartz. That worked out very well. It allowed me to retire, by the way,
early. That was very helpful because we built a couple hundred units for like
$6,000 apiece way back.
P: That's very good.
F: [We] sold them to Warren Hughes, another name who came up earlier, all at one
time, so we had a capital gain. Then he sold them [and] converted them into
condominiums. Then we took his condominium mortgages, there were three
layers of mortgages. His condominiums secured our mortgage which secured
the basic first mortgage and allowed us to defer the taxes. We did that in 1979,
the year before I retired. I, just this year, am going to get the last payment,
twenty-three years later. It was a very substantial sum and that was a continual
income over the years. Herb Schwartz was my good partner in that one; he gets
all the credit.
P: The next large area I want to get into is your civic activities, which are very
extensive. I'm keeping the University of Florida separate from that.
P: I've got here, Clearwater for Youth. You're a founder of that. What is it?
F: Back about thirty-five years ago there was a police athletic league program run
by the police department in Clearwater. I was in the Kiwanis Club, president of
the Suncoast Kiwanis Club of Clearwater, which was a new Kiwanis Club that we
P: Which you helped form also, didn't you?
F: Yes, we were founders. Somebody got into the till or something and the police
captain or chief of police said that he was going to terminate the program. So,
reading that in the paper, Don McFarland, Ted Johnson, Dick Wachtler and I met
for breakfast at a little restaurant and decided that would be a good program for
our Kiwanis Club to take over, and we did. We had about ninety kids and a little
bit of equipment down at Ross Norton Park and South Greenwood in Clearwater,
[and they were] playing, themselves, football. As time moved on we said, "we
need some other teams to play." So we created interest from Dunedin and Largo
and Punta Gorda, where they started these youth football programs. We were
the genesis of all this. We have the Pinellas Youth Football Conference today.
We finally got [to the point] where there's now fifteen teams in Pinellas County.
We then took a program of ninety kids playing themselves, we now have, today,
and quickly, about five hundred kids playing football. We do them by weights
and by size. [It's] all done on the basis and theory that if you work the heck out of
them during the day they sleep well at night and stay out of trouble.
P: The kids stay out of trouble.
F: We have like eighty to ninety coaches who volunteer their time starting in July
through November. It's a tremendous amount of time and effort, and we've had
wonderful success with this program. These kids have gone on to do wonderful
things. It's not the five who are in the NFL or who have come through Florida as
football players, but the twenty thousand that have learned a lot of character.
P: How old is this program now, thirty-five years you say?
F: [The program is thirty-five years] at least, yeah.
P: It's been very successful.
F: Some of the kids, like this one little fellow whom I kind of got attracted to and
have been supportive of. He went to school at Birmingham. He went into
hospital management. I have, obviously, kept close tabs [on him] in supporting
him. Then, when he graduated, I talked to Dick Gaintner and introduced him and
they visited, and he became an employee with an office next to Gaintner and did
very well. Now he's in Jacksonville and he runs, I don't know, [an] emergency
program between the two [hospitals]. Eventually, I want to see him come back
and run our hospital in Clearwater so I can get special favors when I go, you
know. [laughing]. But he's just a marvelous, marvelous young man. He's
married now and has a little baby.
P: That's one of your success stories.
F: Oh, there are hundreds of them. [It's] predominately a black program [because
it's near] South Greenwood Avenue, we had a little kid whose every fourth word
he said was a four-letter word. He wouldn't take a shower or anything because
he didn't have underwear. Dick [Wachtler], our first head coach took him into his
home [and] eventually he adopted him. Now Dick lived in one of these areas
where back in the 1960s, early 1960s, there was still on our beach down there a
colored beach and white beach, you know, signs. So he wasn't the biggest hit in
the neighborhood, but I tell you that little kid became a gentleman, he became
part of the family, he went on to school, on to college, and became [a success],
which shows if you just take people who are in that hole and give them a hand
and lift them out, they can become great people.
P: That's right, important people.
F: So this program, Clearwater for Youth, has just influenced a lot of lives. I'm still
very involved. We have a celebrity banquet every year as our prime fund-raiser.
Because I knew somebody who knew somebody, I had Joe DiMaggio [famous
American baseball player; played for the Yankees, 1936-1951; member of the
Baseball Hall of Fame] there nine years. He came on his own. We never paid
him any money. I lived with him for three days every time he came. We've had
Tommy Lasorda [former manager of Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team;
member of Baseball Hall of Fame] for twelve years to be our master of
ceremonies. Whether it's Hank Aaron [famous American baseball player; broke
Babe Ruth's home-run record in 1974], every major...one year we had nine Hall-
of-Famers on our dais. We don't pay anybody. So the program is obviously a
right program and we get people to fall in love with it, and it still runs today. We
have girls who are cheerleaders. If we have a coach, we'll do it. We've got golf,
we've had chess, we had a master whatever-you-call-him, he taught chess, but
that's the only time we got away from sports.
P: About how many kids do you service?
F: [We service] between twenty-five and six hundred. We have one coach, Bobby
Hagen, whom I just got a ticket [for] the Florida-Michigan ball game. He never
can go to ball games because he's always coaching on the Saturdays, you know.
If he's had three hundred ball games he's coached, he's had two hundred ninety
wins, eight loses and two ties. Every year there are new kids, and the kids will
just climb the wall for him. He wanted to retire a few years ago and I said,
"Bobby Hagen, God gave you a gift. You can't retire. You've got to keep using
it." I said, you are a very special coach," and he's still at it.
P: He's still at it?
F: [He's at] Clearwater for Youth, yeah.
P: What is the Long Center?
F: Well, I told you earlier that we had a little four-year-old who drown. Subsequent
to that, all of our other four children got into competitive swimming. They swam
throughout the state. They were very good swimmers. They're SCUBA-certified
swimmers. It's sort of like, you know, when someone gets killed at the
intersection, then you put up the red light. So we should have done that before,
but it got me terribly interested in swimming. Well, when doing that, you find out
there's not enough facilities and we'd have to go to the high school swim [pools]
at six in the morning to get practice time or eight at night. I said, One day I'm
going to build a big one right in the middle of Clearwater. This is the most unique
facility in the United States. You know, if you think of it, churches are busy
during the weekend [and] they're vacant during the week. Schools are busy
during the week; they're vacant on the weekend. If you buy a yacht, 90 percent
of the time it sits at the dock.
F: So how can you put a facility that's going to, in theory/utopian, be used twenty-
four hours a day, seven days a week? We have sixteen [or] seventeen acres,
150,000 square-feet, [and] one hundred sixty-eight organizations used it last
year. It was sponsored by two cities. [That has] never [been] done before. The
two cities are in one program. The city of Clearwater and the city of Safety
Harbor have all of their athletic programs in there. I have also UPARC. UPARC
is the Upper Pinellas Association for Retarded Children. When I grew up, and I
don't know about you, but when I would encounter a kid who [was] mentally
challenged, I didn't know whether to look at him, look away, whether to talk to
him, [or] not talk to him. I was always uneasy. So I figured if we put these kids
[into this program] and mainstreamed them into this total athletic program where
they were in the swimming class with ten kids and two of them where mentally
challenged, everybody would grow. By the way, we have seven hundred
mentally challenged people come into this facility every day. We have three
workshops. We have corporations that bring in work and we have [these people]
P: These kids come to you?
F: They come into UPARC where we teach them skills of basic [living]. We have
them from three weeks old to sixty years old.
P: Now who are their teachers? Are all of these volunteers?
F: Oh no, they're mostly all paid. It's a big program with a $15 million budget in this
UPARC. We have sixty-eight homes that they live in [year-]round. Busloads of
them come in and it's not in conflict; if they come in at seven, they leave at three.
They're not there on the weekend, see.
P: They come in on the school bus and work there for a day or two days or
F: Well, they work and they are trained. We have a cafeteria where we feed them;
that is a full Morrison's cafeteria. By the way, this is only half the facility. We had
942,000 non-challenged people use the athletic facilities last year.
P: Both black and white [people use the facility]?
F: Oh, every color [and] shape [use the facilities]. It's so nice a facility that when
our Olympic swim team, before they went to Barcelona [Olympics in Barcelona,
Spain, in 1992] they practiced at our facility for two weeks before they went.
We've had the Russian [and] the American water-polo [Olympic] teams. It's just
that we have a full-Olympic pool [with] state-of-the-art 740,000 gallons of water.
[We] change that water every four hours in a rapid-sand treatment. We have a
separate pool which is a therapeutic pool, heated, [with] wheelchair ramps, [and]
chairs that can get people in and out [of the pool]. We have a lot of handicapped
people who use it. We have a three-court gymnasium, three full courts, playing
fields, [and] big exercise rooms with all the state-of-the-art equipment.
P: It's sounds like a tremendous investment.
F: I raised $15 million. I put the money that I made off that 1982 deal into that and
then Mr. Long's $2 million.
P: So they moved in without a mortgage?
F: No, another good Gator, Bill Hough, who was our first Business Masters
graduate at the University of Florida and a good friend, has an investment
banking firm in St. Petersburg and was a good guy, and a good friend, and a
good donor here and there. When I got down to the end [and] I was building [this
facility], you know, some months I'd start, I was going to spend $600,000 and I
had $6,000 in the bank, so I had to have a big loan. At the end, I had about $3.3
million in pledges, but they were due later and I was building, now. So Bill did a
$2.5 million tax-free bond placement for me. [He did it with] no [fee], no legal,
[and] no cost. He did it all at about a 5 or 6 percent interest rate and sold it really
to thirty or forty of his friends. It was going to pay out over three years as the
pledges collected, and so it wasn't a mortgage but it was a mortgage. We owed
$2.5 million and payed it out; everything worked fine. We don't have any debt on
it, no. I don't believe the charities should be allowed to have debt; debt gets
them in trouble.
P: So it's a successful operation today. How many kids did you say you think you
F: Well, 942,000 is what they had recorded last year.
P: But they're not all children, they're not all young people.
F: Oh no, in the morning you can go there and there's sixty people there in the one
pool, average age seventy-two.
P: Do you cater to people with disabilities?
F: We cater to everybody.
P: It doesn't make any difference who they are?
F: Doesn't make any difference. Because swimming is the big thing to me because
of the loss of that child [Mark], we have all of our Head Start programs; we pay to
teach them to swim. We've taught hundreds and hundreds of kids to swim. So,
I'm very proud of that.
P: When was that first established?
F: We opened July 1, 1990.
P: So, it's going on almost thirteen years in operation.
F: And I'm still very involved.
P: [It's been] very successful. There are no age limitations on it?
F: There are no limitations at all on anything.
P: So anywhere from young people to elderly people may be involved?
F: Yeah, our budget is about a million [dollars] a year.
P: And in addition to the swimming, what else did you say you offer there?
F: Well, there's everything from playing fields and a playground that is unparalleled
to a three-court gymnasium.
P: But under the roof, what's there?
F: A three-court gymnasium [and] a big exercise area.
P: There is an exercise area.
F: Oh, [we have an exercise area] with all of the Kaiser, state-of-the-art equipment
that runs off a compressor sort-of-thing where you don't need these big weights.
We have meeting rooms where we have classes that vary from GED [General
Educational Development test high school equivalency exam] to [other things].
P: Who comes in to take care of the classes?
F: These various organizations, one hundred sixty-eight organizations. They pay
rent, you know, they'll come in and they'll pay us $100 or $200; that's how we run
the place. We have dance classes and exercise rooms where the kids learn to
do the ballet.
P: I've never heard of this and yet it seems to me it's the kind of thing that would
lend itself to national publicity.
F: Well, we've gotten some national publicity. I remember when Lon Kruger [former
head basketball coach for University of Florida, 1991-1996] was here. He came
down, [he's] a good guy, I like Lon, and he wanted to start one here in
Gainesville. He said, "how do you do that?" I said, "well, first, you've got to get
some crazy guy who wants to spend four or five years of his life raising money."
He wanted to do it up here [in Gainesville] with a local sales tax and have the
government do it, and it never worked.
P: It never came about like that.
F: No, it never came about. I think you need to do it. I like the public, private
partnership. If you look through here, I think private citizens run it better and I
think that when it starts with the private sector and it's run by the private sector
and left, the government subsidizes or supports it, like they do the Long Center, it
works better [and] it runs cheaper. Our average cost per user at the Long Center
is something like 28 percent of what the city spends for their other [facilities].
P: It is an amazingly low cost.
F: It's because we have so many organizations that use it.
[End side B3]
F: ...We have an interesting problem [at the Long Center]. We have a director there
who has been with us since day one, Mark Abdo. I found him in Sarasota
working down there [and I] hired him. His biggest problem is sorting out the
requests for times because there are certain hours that are more desirous than
others, obviously, [and] we have four organizations [that] want to be in there on
Friday between nine and ten. What other facility ever has that problem? I
always say that's a wonderful problem. In fact the day I hired him my thought to
him was, your job, simply said, is to make sure we always have a parking
problem. Because if we always have a parking problem [that means] we got a lot
of people in the facility.
P: Alright, let's go to the next one that I've got down here, and that's Saint Paul
School [in Clearwater, Florida]. Is this a Catholic school?
F: It's non-denominational. Our first headmaster was an Episcopal priest, Claude
P: Did you say one of your grandchildren is going to this school?
F: My children went there and Peyton goes there today.
P: Is it a private school?
P: What is it? I mean, it's an academic operation?
F: [It's been] very successful. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were a lot of
problems in the school systems.
P: I know.
F: Several of us got together and met at a lady's house, in fact it was Mr. Publix,
[George] Jenkin's sister-in-law in Largo, [Rosalie], and [we] decided that we
should start an independent school. So we started with that small group of
people and we had our first home in the Church of the Ascension, which we used
their Sunday school classes to start our school with about eighty students.
P: [You used] volunteer teachers?
F: No, paid teachers, tuition, the whole seven yards.
P: Was this a segregated school?
P: Because in the 1960s that was the main area of controversy.
F: Well, we're getting into bussing and qualifications of kids.
P: Because there were any number of small schools that operated and they were
for white children only.
F: Yeah, no, we were black [and white] the day we opened.
F: [The school] which was [set up so everyone could come with] scholarship [was]
intentionally black [and white]. Jack Eckerd [founder of Eckerd's Drugstore
Chain and Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida], in fact, put up the first
$100,000 for scholarship money. We started there and then we were growing
and doing well and we needed to get located. Sande and I lived on Long Bow
Lane in 1971, which was a five-acre little place where we had this wonderful
home and enough for horses in the back. Behind that was Allen's Creek. Well,
right behind Allen's Creek was some land underwater that a lady owned and, I
think, it was sixty acres. She wanted only $3,000 or $4,000 an acre because it
was not the best land and most land around there then was $20,000 [or] $25,000
an acre. So a group of us got together and we bought that land. The idea was
that we were going to develop it, put it into maybe sixty lots, have the sixteen
acres which were high and dry, the only high and dry land on it, left over, and
donate that to Saint Paul's School. I had it all laid out on paper how we were
going to do it. The lots were going to sell for $10,000. The value of everything
was going to go up with the development and we were going to donate that to the
school and get much of our money back. Back then tax rates were 50 percent.
[We would] get much of our investment back based on our donation. So, I went
to work on that. I had a friend named George Hunt, God rest his soul. He was a
wonderful friend and a very charitable guy. He was a developer. Back then
people were only learning about permits and what you could do and couldn't do
and how you had [to] permit things. So one Thanksgiving I said, "let's get about
four or five of those big buckets," and by Sunday night I really [thought we would
be done by Sunday]. By the way, I did my homework. That little creek back
there which was tidal, we were all on septic tanks, and they were all draining into
that creek and the chloroform bacteria count was so bad that I think if you put
your cut foot in there you'd get gangrene.
P: Your foot would turn and fall off.
F: So our deal was to dredge it out to about twenty feet and bring that dirt up and
put it on the land and create some lots. We got about 65 percent of the way
through and there was an attorney who lived there who got a hold of the [Army]
Corps of Engineers or somebody and they brought an order to stop us on a
Saturday afternoon. So that started an interesting three years of my life because
now we're under court order and all sorts of things, you know. I used to go over
and sit with the attorneys and the Corp of Engineers and I'd always take Claude
Guthrie. He was our headmaster and he was an Episcopal priest. I'd always
take him over and I always insisted he wear his white collar because when we'd
sit down to start negotiating this thing I would always say, "fellows, God is on my
side and all the little children." [laughing] I think I wore them out, and, finally,
Judge Blasingame-it was a complex, legal thing said, "well, bring suit against
yourself and I'll dismiss it, but you can't improve [the land] anymore. You've got
to leave that in wildlife where it is." So we ended up with [about] forty lots and by
this time three years had gone by. The lots ended up selling for $35,000 instead
of $10,000 to break even, and George [Hunt] took a lot of that [loss]. We did give
the sixteen acres to the school. I did raise some money and donated $100,000
and we built the first buildings. [We] took a mortgage. I went around to get
everybody to sign the mortgage, and the bank at Clearwater, I'll never forget this,
[the bank gave us a] very favorable rate. It wasn't hard to get signatures on it
because the first signature, and it was all joint and several, the first signature was
Jack Eckerd. So it was easy to sign after that. Bless Jack, he's had a stroke
and not doing well but that's another great couple, Jack and Ruth Eckerd. So we
built it, we had a mortgage on it, and it went on. I left the board. We went up to
four hundred forty students.
P: You went up to, does that mean it's still in operation today?
F: Oh, sure. There was a time they decided to go into a high school. I was
opposed to it, but I wasn't on the board. They went into it, it failed, they came
back, but they owed a couple million dollars. We got a fellow named Doug
Eveleth now as headmaster. He's been there about ten years.
P: What years does it cover, through eighth grade?
F: [It covers] pre [kindergarten] through eighth [grade], right. I have [had] two of my
children, Paige, I think, and Todd went all the way through; Jill [went there]
partially, and Scott, not at all.
P: Is it difficult to get in?
F: It is [difficult to get in].
P: Is there a waiting list?
F: [There is] a waiting list.
P: Is it expensive?
F: It's expensive.
P: What is the tuition?
F: [The tuition is] $10,000 a year.
P: That's expensive.
F: It depends on what grade, you know, the higher the grade [the higher the tuition].
P: But I guess they have to take some kids who can't afford that.
F: We have been blessed with an endowment and a lot of scholarship funds, so we
have a pretty good mix, and that's important.
P: It makes a good mix.
F: It's always been just two classes, but Doug is now expanding. We have a little
campaign going on [to increase] to three classes, because you get a lot of
inbreeding with the same kids for too long. We're going to only have seventeen
in a class, too. And [we're going to have] a teacher and an assistant in every
class. The kids who come out of there, I mean they are bright, bright people.
Every kid has his computer and they have computer classes in rooms. It's just a
P: They have no difficulty getting teachers?
F: No, in fact the teachers love to teach there. They are strict, you know, you don't
sass back the teacher. You know, you do what you're told.
P: It's like the old days.
F: It's like the old days; the teachers are respected.
P: Are the teachers all right?
F: They don't make as much money, but they all love to be there. We have no
problem getting teachers or keeping teachers.
P: That's good. So did you say you had two kids or one granddaughter in school
F: Peyton is now in the second grade there now. So now I have renewed interest,
because you're gone for a long time and now I'm back raising money and giving
money again because I'm a grandparent.
P: Well, what were you doing helping organize a Kiwanis Club?
F: Well, that [was] my business, accounting life, you know.
P: Customers? Clients?
F: I used to go on the Clearwater touchdown trip. That was when eighty [or] ninety
of us got on a train on a Thursday or Friday, went to New York, saw a college
game [or] a pro-game, came back, and played a lot of poker. I always came
back from that trip with a new client. The Kiwanis Club was a way to, what do
they call it today, networking, I guess. You met people and that's how you
gathered word-to-mouth [with] clients. So there was not a club out in east
Clearwater. When I was president of the club, we brought the first black
Kiwanian in the southeastern United States into a Kiwanis Club. Joe Carwise
who was with the school system-there is a school named after him today-he
was just a very nice man; it was no problem. We brought him up, had his
application, the committee met, and we brought him into our club and he was a
P: And the heavens didn't fall down.
F: The heavens didn't fall down. We brought Mr. Hatchett in [and] we brought three
or four other black members in real quickly after that. So we had a true club
where we could all learn a little about each other. By the way, that's another
reason I got off into that. You know, I had a Jewish friend who was president of
the downtown, the big club, Kiwanis Club, Sam Coronas who had the local
jewelry store. He called me one day and said, "I've got to meet with you." And
we met. He says, "I know you brought Joe into the club." I've got to find out how
you did that. I said, "well, first you find the candidate, see if he's interested, give
him an application, vote on him, and bring him in." He said, "no, it's not that
easy, is it?" I said, "yes, it is just that easy." But you know when I was with
Darby, Darby, and Odum, we had a young man named Bob Gilder who would
come in after hours and clean up.
P: He was a janitor?
F: A janitor, but he was a graduate of Florida A&M. [He] had a little catering
business during the day and so forth. I was always there early, worked late, that
sort of thing. At the end of the day, we had a little liquor cabinet. If I was there at
6:30 p.m. or something, he'd make me a drink and so I'd sit down and we would
visit. So for whatever time I remember that the subject, which I'll never forget, he
was taking a vacation. This was in 1961 maybe, and he was going up around
Louisiana somewhere. It was like a major, major planning thing for him, [and] he
had a wife and kids to find a place to stay that would accept him, a place to eat. I
mean it was just awful what he had to go through as a black man. I went to
school with black kids all my life, never really thought a lot about it, but he really
got me thinking about the difficulty that these people had at that time in America
and I saw the colored beach and everything else. And I don't think I was
prejudiced, but it was interesting, he asked me another thing. He says, "well, I
don't think you have any prejudices," but he said, "what would you feel like if your
daughter, Jill-who was born at that time, , who was just a little tot-came
home with a black man? Would that bother you?" I said, "yeah." He said, "well,
I want you to know that, that's okay, because if my son brought your daughter
home to my house, it would bother me, too." [laughing] He's still active locally,
but it got me thinking a lot more about race relations and it influenced my life. He
was a good guy.
P: Now I'm still intrigued with the Golda Meir Center
F: Oh, you like that one?
P: I love that one.
F: As most everybody used to always call me the company goy [a person who is not
Jewish], and you know what that means. In any event, when I started practicing
public accounting, well, before that actually, I had taken my dad to see a doctor
when he had some sun rash on his face. His name was Harry Katz and he was
a new doctor in Largo, Florida. Long story short, I ended up keeping his books
and filing his taxes and things while I was in school. He introduced me to a fellow
named Herb Schwartz. I can't remember the whole sequence, I used to know it
all, but my name being Fisher and the small Jewish community that was in
Clearwater, whenever they were looking for a CPA and my name was Fisher,
they thought I was Jewish and I wouldn't tell them any different.
P: Well, aren't you?
F: I probably am. I hope I am. I wish I were, but whatever, I don't really care. But it
was good for [business]. You know I've joked about this with all my friends. So,
I've been to-like I've said to you and Bessie last night-to a lot of bar mitzvahs
and bat mitzvahs and probably more than most Jews have been to.
P: You're like me, I celebrate any holiday they let me celebrate.
F: Right. What is that to be a Jewish Catholic in New Orleans on Fat Tuesday?
P: I like to have a good time.
F: So, when the Golda Meir Center ended up...
P: What is it, a community center?
F: [It's a] senior citizen [center] to get them busy, to get them off the couch. Their
meals [are] free, [there's] a wonderful library, activities, bus rides, and they see
P: Did you help found this?
F: No, it was founded by Charlie Rutenberg and Isa his wife. It prospered there and
then they kept, and of course I've always been close to Charlie except that time I
fired him. We're very good friends, today.
P: Rutenberg is still living, isn't he?
F: Oh, yes, [he's in] bad health but he's still living.
P: But he's still alive.
F: I will be with him [on] Wednesday.
F: So then they wanted an exercise facility, so I became a major donor and a
founder and we built a facility with a pool and exercise equipment where old folks
can stay healthier. I'm a founder of the Golda Meir Center. In 1993, whenever, I
can't remember, they gave me their highest award.
P: I know they recognized you for the work you had done.
F: I gave a speech that night that I spent about three months writing, dealing [with]
old people and a lot of stories and we all laughed like hell and they still say that
was the best speaker they ever had. The award winner the year before was Elie
Weisel [awarded Nobel Preace Prize in 1995; Holocaust survivor; world-famous
author], so I did follow grand company.
P: No, you followed good company.
F: Yeah, yeah.
P: I want to ask you about the Ruth Eckerd Hall. I know that's been a major interest
of yours, and it's a magnificent building structure [and] organization.
F: Today, Ruth Eckerd Hall is in the running with four other institutions for the
performing-arts theater of the nation, and the other four are in New York,
Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and we're in Clearwater, Florida.
P: Who is Ruth Eckerd?
F: Ruth Eckerd is the wife of Jack Eckerd [of] the Eckerd drug chain. [They are] a
delightful couple and family.
P: He's not well at all, is he?
F: He's not well, [but] she's very well and a good lady.
P: What did he have, a stroke?
F: [He had a] stroke, yeah. He cannot communicate.
P: And he's not able to walk?
F: And he's in a wheelchair.
P: But his mind seems to function normally?
F: I think so. He lights up when you talk to him about something.
P: Can he write?
F: I don't think so, but I don't know.
P: So it's difficult, impossible for him to communicate then?
F: Yeah, I think a little bit. I think he's out with one of his very close friends once in
a while, but I don't know.
P: Now, how did this hall come about?
F: The Eckerds weren't involved originally. I mean, very close to original, but [they
weren't the first].
P: But it wasn't their community interest?
F: Right, there was a group, and I know several of them, that got together and said
we should have a performing arts theater in Clearwater. I remember this one
gentleman, Berry Alpert called me. I was in the process of packing my bag for
Houston. I like to tell this story because he called, he says, we're trying to get
five hundred people to each give up $1,000. We're going to use that as seed
money to build a performing arts theater, get somebody to give us the land this
sort of thing. I said, "count me in." I wrote him out a check, I sent the check, and
went to Houston. Well, I went to Houston for a year or so. I got on the boat for a
year or so. After I got off the boat, I went to Columbia, South Carolina, to take
over that broke company for eight months or whatever it was. So now, suddenly
three or four years later, I come back to Clearwater and there's a grand opening.
P: You had forgotten all about the Ruth Eckerd Hall.
F: I said to my friends, I said, look what you get for $1,000.
P: How did it get its name, because of the support?
F: Well, in the process of raising that money, Ruth and Jack came forward with $5
million, which is the thing that really enables it, it was very substantial of them,
with the $18 million or something that was first raised. We just finished raising
$22 million more.
P: Who gave the land?
F: The Baumgardners [gave the land and were the owners of the Kapok Tree
restaurants]. Remember the Kapok Tree Inn [renowned restaurant for many
years] in Clearwater?
P: Yes, I remember.
F: That was Richard Baumgardners who started in Frederick, Maryland, came down
[and] opened the Kapok Tree. That was land behind the Kapok Tree that he
gave for the [performing arts center]. It's the Ruth Eckerd Hall at the Richard B.
Baumgardner Center for Performing Arts, [that] is the whole name.
P: The Kapok Tree is long gone now.
F: Long gone, yeah, [it] closed up. It's a music store now, yeah.
P: The tree is still there?
F: The tree is still there, the facility is still there.
P: I remember several times we were in Sarasota or St. Pete and we took the kids
there to eat.
F: [You would pay] $3, you get a ticket, go in and sit down, and you could eat.
P: [They had] good food.
F: The Sam Ash Music Store now inhabits that facility.
P: Alright, so the Ruth Eckerd Hall comes into existence as a result of support of the
Eckerd family plus?
F: After I got back to town and got the Long Center open, I was approached to go
on their board, which I agreed to do. Within a year, I was chairman of the board.
We had a capital campaign because we had some unsecured debt. We raised
about $6 or $7 million in a short period and got the mortgage situation back intact
and I retired from the board. Since then, I've stayed very involved and helped
raise a lot of money for them and then [have] given them [$500,000]. I am a half
a million donor there, plus.
P: What's this $22 million that you just raised? What's that going to be used for?
F: We're expanding. We've always had a children's program, which was started
really by Al Hoffman's [then] wife, [Marsha] Hoffman. [He] is the [CEO of] WCI [a]
public building company and the head of the Republican Party in Florida, a fund
raiser. His [then] wife, [Marsha,] started the children's program there when we
opened. We have bus loads of kids who come in and learn everything [from
acting to song], and the summer program is totally directed towards kids'
programs, and we deal with about 60,000 kids a year. Now, this is adding a
children's [Murray 180-seat] theater; a whole ton of new classrooms, facilities;
we're going to be able to, out of our new sound room stuff, pipe the arts and
education into the public school systems through TV; the medium will be TV [and
teach upward of 300,000 kids].
P: Oh it's going to go from Eckerd Hall into the schools.
F: [It will go] into the public school system. And then we're taking and upgrading
the theater because now it's suddenly twenty-some years old. We
didn't have enough money to start with to connect the east and
west lobbies. So we're actually taking the top seats off, putting a
[concourse] under the back of it so we can connect the lobbies, and
bringing some new sound equipment in and things like that.
P: How many people will the auditorium fit.
P: Did you say that will be enlarged?
F: No, that's the same size. You know, in this theater there are no center aisles, it's
a full-across. You have doors that exit on the end of the aisles. You actually exit
this theater faster than the typical theater.
P: Remember, we were once there one night as your guests.
F: That's right. Itzhak Perlman [world renown Israeli-born American violinist].
P: Itzhak Perlman, and you arranged that dinner party with Perlman and the
F: Oh, that's right.
P: Of course, I had known Mr. Eckerd earlier in a casual way when her husband
was running for governor.
F: Well, that's right. I forgot the Eckerds were there.
P: Well, I had forgotten all that, too.
P: Where does all this talent come from: shows, soloist, and instrumentalists, and
F: Well, first you have to have a wonderful person in charge and we have one,
Robert [A.] Freedman who's our current [executive director] and who has been
P: He's the general manager?
F: He's the boss, right. He has a long background in this industry. We have an
array, I should have brought the program that runs from the various orchestras to
P: I remember we were on the mailing list for a while, no longer, but a magnificent .
F: Well, for $25 I can get you back on the list.
P: I'm not giving any money to a foreign I support the performing arts center,
here [in Gainesville].
F: Good, that's important.
P: Oh, of course, and we're wonderfully well, and we're fortunate to what we get
here, but I know it's small time to the Eckerd Hall.
F: Well, it's different. You know, we draw, I think 16 percent of our patrons from
Hillsborough County and a lot from Pasco. You know, since that new bridge to
St. Pete has gone across their way, we're at 90 plus percent occupancy, and that
includes all of these programs where it's hard to draw, sometimes, to an
P: People don't have to go to New York. They can get it right there in Tampa.
F: Right, and we have a ton of commercial stuff that comes in, everything from Dolly
Parton to Steve [Lawrence] and Edie [Gorme] to Tony Bennett to, you know, [all
of the musicians].
P: I know that has been a love of yours for a long time.
F: And I knew nothing about the arts when I was a kid.
P: Do you go to the performances?
F: Oh, yes, yes. I'm also involved as a major donor at the Florida Orchestra, which
isn't on there [the list] either, is it?
P: What do you do with them?
F: I just go to their performances and send money.
P: Okay, in that order?
F: And [I] help raise money.
P: In that order?
F: I don't know what order. It depends on what week, you know, which week. For
instance, I look after a ninety-two- year-old lady and have for many, many years,
who is now with Hospice. That's why I have to get back quickly. Her estate is all
going to charity and over the years we've put part of it to the orchestra, part of it
to Ruth Eckerd Hall and part to the kids' athletic program.
P: It's all going to good causes?
F: She has not a living relative and initially she was going to give it to the Chicago
Zoo or Museum or something and I met her twenty years ago, I guess, and since
then got her very involved in charities. She's left it all now to three charities and
a modest sum to her ex-tennis coach. She played tennis until three years ago.
P: Tell me how you got involved in the Stetson College of Law. I know it's in your
F: If you always go back to the origin, it's because my daughter Jill, who graduated
from the University of Florida, couldn't get into the [University of] Florida Law
P: [She couldn't get in] even with your persuasive powers?
F: I don't do that. I will write letters for anybody who I know, who I think is good,;
but if I'm going to override the registrar, we don't need the registrar.
P: [Laughing.] The registrar could be wrong.
F: The registrar is frequently wrong, I'm frequently wrong, and he was wrong in this
F: She had been in school and not payed attention the first couple of years, and had
a 1.88 [GPA]. They did accept her back in school and then she got a 3.98 [GPA],
but a mix of the two and then she only had a 44 or something on her LSAT, and
they were looking for 48s or whatever the number was. So she did apply to
Stetson and they accepted her and she ended up, I think, second in her class
and won all of the moot-court things and the debates. She's just become a
marvelous lawyer She's a transactional real-estate-corporate lawyer.
P: And isn't she a successful lawyer, today?
F: She was both a success with the firm she went with where she had interned, she
had her own practice for a brief time, and then one of her clients made her an
offer she couldn't refuse. She went inside and put together some spectacular
deals and earns a bunch of money and a lot more than her daddy ever earned.
P: But I don't think that they put you on as a trustee as a result of your daughter's
F: Oh, wait a minute. So now she went there and I would go and visit and so forth.
Vassar [B.] Carlton was a former Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court
[1969-1974]-1 had met him at insurance, Orange State Life Insurance Business.
He was a trustee at the time. So after Jill graduated they asked me to [be a
trustee]. I think they asked me before but I said I didn't think it was right to be on
the board while she was there for whatever reason.
P: So they waited until she was off the scene.
F: Then I went on. I like a board where I can really sort of get involved and make
something happen. And I couldn't get a feel for being able to make anything
happen, not that it was bad, it just wasn't my [ideal situation].
P: Are you involved today?
F: No, I served my term and then chose not to re-up, as they say. It's a wonderful
school by the way, Stetson Law School.
P: Oh, of course, I know it's a fine school and it's the oldest law school in Florida. It
predates Gainesville [University of Florida Law School].
F: It's freestanding there in St. Pete.
P: It's always had a very substantial reputation, right from the very beginning.
F: It has. They had three years, they had every one of the students who took the
bar passed it.
P: I know about this Boggy Creek Gang Incorporated [in Eustis, Florida], but I'd like
you talk about it and tell me what it is for the tape.
F: Well, the Boggy Creek Gang I had not a heavy, but a modest involvement in.
When it was being formed, this is a thing that comes out of the Paul Newman
[famous Hollywood actor] thing, and Aleta's friend has green chimneys in
Connecticut, but Paul...
P: What's the origin of the Boggy Creek Camp? His first one, I think, was in
F: And it's called, I can't remember now, but he wanted to do one in Florida.
P: Well, what is it? What's the purpose of the camps?
F: It is to try to create an environment for terminally [ill] and other ill children to live
more normally for a brief period in a camp environment.
P: And they come for two weeks?
F: [They come] for a week or two weeks. It depends, I think, on the type of illness,
and they live in cabins and, hidden from view almost, is a whole medical facility
within the cabin. If there's six in the cabin they have two or three medical people
[and] volunteers who work with them during this period. They have all sorts of
activities, you know, the swimming and the boating and the horseback riding and
the games and the campfires and the marshmallow cooks, but they all get their
medicines when they need them. It's a combination, I think now, of the
[University of] South Florida, the University of Florida, and [University of] Miami
medical schools and hospitals.
P: But, as I say, I know the first operation was in Connecticut.
F: They're located outside of Sanford [Eustis], Florida, which is north of Orlando.
My good friend, Whit Palmer, was very involved and got me involved. He was
the first Chairman of the Boggy Creek Gang. General [Norman] Schwartzkopf
and Paul Newman were both their honorary co-chairs.
P: Their first interest was in putting it up in what is the Ocala [National] Forest.
F: Yes, but this land got donated and so that's where it is. My involvement was
visiting people and raising money. A couple things stand out, out of all of them. I
went to, I can't remember their name, but they had this lovely, lovely, beautiful,
big home in Ft. Lauderdale. We had a fund-raising dinner and certain people
were invited, like fifteen real candidates. Schwartzkopf was there and Newman
was not, and he gave a good talk. In the course of the evening I was introduced
to a fellow by the name of Jim Moran. He was there that evening with his wife
[Jan] and, I don't know why, but when I was introduced to him-he was a
gentleman maybe seventy-five or something, at the time [and] carried himself
well-I said, "you know, I'm from Chicago and I remember a fellow by the name of
Jim Moran who was the Courtesy Man, the car dealer in Chicago." And he says,
"I am it, it is me." I will never forget that for as long as I live. You know people,
that's a compliment, I guess. He entertained Chicago on his shows. He had Bob
Hope; it was like a comedy hour. It was a fun thing to watch. He left there, I
think he almost went broke, but he came to the Southeast and got a
southeastern franchise for a little company back then known as Toyota. So now
he's the largest Toyota dealer in the world. I went down, then, later, and visited
his office. You walk into the lobby and their goal for the month is 26,000 Toyotas
and they were 19,008, and it was like the twelfth of the month. He's owns it, I
mean it's not public. [He owns] the largest private business in Florida and
subsequently has come on the board and a very major donor to Boggy Creek,
provides all their vehicles and has just been a marvelous donor.
P: And he's a major donor to the Boggy Creek?
F: [He's] a major donor. I remember a lot of things, but the other thing was so
pleasing. I have a little talk I give to boards of non-profit organizations that is
called "My Ten Commitments." I've got some fun in it. So this was a fun
meeting. A little town outside of Sanford, probably a town of eighty, had this
building and we had the board, of which I was on the board, Paul Newman is on
the board, Schwartzkopf is on the board, [and we] have lunch at this round scars-
burgh table and there's maybe thirty [or] twenty-eight people. We come into this
little town [Eustis] in the buses and these people [are there]. The waiters and the
waitresses [are there and] suddenly in comes Paul Newman. [laughing]. I mean
[it was great] just to watch their faces. So we had this wonderful lunch and we're
sitting around and I had been asked to give my discussion because we're in the
fund-raising mode, we got to [get money raised]. I'll never forget it because I
always thought it was kind of funny, Newman was almost stretched out [and] he
was laughing like hell. I thought, "well, this has got to be a good talk." Then he
went out to get in his car and he was fumbling in my car, he couldn't get the door
open, he thought it was his. We both had the same colored car. And so I went
out and visited with him a moment and he was a really nice man.
P: Would you ever visit the camp?
F: I have not been there since it opened [in 1996]. I was there several times before
it opened, but after that, once it got financed and all, I got off the board. I tend to
get in, get involved, and get out.
P: You get them started and you leave them for somebody else to take over.
F: But I always am interested. I've helped them with things since but nothing
material, of course.
P: And now, the piece de resistance.
F: What's that?
P: The University of Florida.
F: Oh, there must be something else here [laughing].
P: We can't postpone it forever.
F: Well, I can't remember just how or why I got to apply to [University of] Florida out
of Tampa, you know the University [University of South Florida or University of
Tampa]. I remember coming up here and a good friend came up with me as a
mover and Samde and the kids were in Naples and we rented an apartment, $55
a month, down here right near the hospital, on the second floor. You had to walk
through the bedroom to get to the kitchen. I remember telling Sande about this
big back porch. You know, the back porch was four feet wide. [laughing] [We
were there] because I had to apply to Flavet Three, you can't just walk in until
you're here. So we moved up here and I had a wonderful experience, a lot of
wonderful teachers. So then I graduate. [I'm doing relatively well [and] I'm now
an executive with U.S. Home Corporation. One day my secretary comes in and
tells me there's a fellow named Wayne Reitz [president of University of Florida,
1955-1967] here to see you. Now, I had never met Wayne Reitz. He was my
president; he signed my diploma.
P: But you knew he was president of the University of Florida?
F: He was not president when he came to my office.
P: But I mean you recognized who he was when they came in?
F: When she said Wayne Reitz, how could you not [know who he was].
P: Maybe he'd lost his
F: No, I said immediately. I don't remember the specifics, but he came in and he
had another young man who was on the staff with him. It wasn't much of a staff
back then. He was there really because my name had come up somewhere on a
list to recruit me to the President's Council. I don't think back in the early 1970s
we were raising [too much], half a million a year maybe, totally. He [Reitz] said,
That's a thousand a year, but he hedged it like Wayne. He said now you can put
us in your will or there's different ways you can become a member of the
President's Council and all the benefits and things. So I remember asking my
secretary to bring my file in and I went through my will and I pulled out the
sections and I had her copy it and I said here, half of everything in my will goes to
the University of Florida, if not immediately, [then] later.
P: You had already made a commitment then?
F: Oh, [yes,] without anyone ever knowing, without anybody ever talking to me.
P: Why did you do that? Did you feel loyal to the school?
F: Well, I had really prospered here. That year and half, from the work I had at
Purvis Gray, to the teachers.
P: I know, but you had a large family and a growing family that needed taking care
of. They were all young and yet you were already deciding to give part of your
F: By the way, it was going to be to them, in trust, and then to the university
[University of Florida].
P: Yeah, I understand.
F: You know my grandmother, I don't know where I get this exactly, but my mother's
mother, back in the tough times would go out and buy a gross of stockings so
she could give them to people who didn't have any. It's something in the genes.
P: Well, that's very wonderful.
F: You know, it comes back. The only true gift though, as you know, is the one no
one knows about, and those are the ones you really enjoy. I love that.
P: Those are the ones that count for the most though.
F: I like the ones where I can do something and nobody knows but me.
P: Now, Wayne Reitz comes into your office. Go ahead with your story.
F: So within a couple of weeks or a short period of time, I had an invitation to join
the board of the [Florida] Foundation [of the University of florida].
P: What did you tell Reitz about the $1,000?
F: I said, "I'm already a member." I can already qualify.
P: Okay, you already showed him the will, okay.
F: Yeah, I showed him the will and I think I gave him a $1,000, too.
P: So, he said, "what am I doing here?" [Laughing.]
F: I love that man. I got to know him very well and he was very special. I've been
blessed to know several presidents and my kids have grown by knowing them
P: Bill Stone was the fund raiser at that time?
F: Wilkerson and Stone [were the fund raisers].
P: Okay, Steve Wilkerson and Stone were the fund raisers.
F: Yeah, and then I started attending meetings and going to the Breakers.
P: So who invited you to become a member of the board, or is this [something you
F: I don't remember, but somebody.
P: And you said, yes?
F: And of course, I attended meetings and went to Palm Beach and what have you.
This was just a year or two or five or something before I moved the company to
Houston, moved to Houston for a year and then retired.
P: So you were away from the scene then?
F: I used to come back though for meetings I think, for board meetings. I flew back.
[When] I've been on a board, I always felt like I must be there or don't be on the
board. So then in 1984 in Palm Beach, that's where I had dinner at that very nice
(on Worth Avenue) that very nice restaurant on the north side of the street there.
I knew something was up but I had a nice dinner with fund raisers and I think,
maybe the dean, where they asked me for the $3 million to name the Fisher
P: At the dinner they asked you?
F: At the dinner [they asked], yeah.
P: You weren't the only guest?
F: Yeah, oh yeah.
P: It was a small group then?
F: Yeah, [a] table for four. I remember when I read that, they gave it to me in a
letter, the proposal.
P: Did they offer the naming at the same time, or they just wanted $3 million?
F: They wanted $3 million to name the school.
P: So it came as an offer?
F: [It came] as an offer, yeah.
P: Were you surprised and shocked?
F: Oh, that's an inadequate adjective. I was dumbfounded, you know.
P: $3 million is a lot of money.
F: Well, it was but it wasn't that much, then. It was but it wasn't. You know, it's
funny when you move around a billion dollars, you know $3 million doesn't [seem
like such a great amount of money]. That used to be the cash flow between nine
and twelve in the morning. So it wasn't as much as it would be to a lot of people.
P: Like it would be a lot of money to me?
F: Yeah, well, I got used to dealing with large sums of money and I didn't have that
money. I told them, I said, If I gave you $3 million I'd have to go back to work,
even if I did it over time. So that was the beginning of that, which I think we
touched on earlier, where I had these friends who invited me to Philadelphia and
this problem that they had with their company. So I bought it and recovered my
money and then set aside these mortgages, which a Gator appraised [a person
from the University of Florida], what a job he did, and did it for $28,000 or
$30,000. He evaluated them all, visited every site, and I said, Put a big discount
rate on them and he put 12.5 percent and they still came out $6.8 million in
value. That's where that $6.8 million came from in the gift. I just knew what it
was, I didn't care, I just didn't want to make it too big.
P: What convinced you to give the money, the asset?
F: They asked, and then I went out and earned it. You know, I didn't have it, I went
and earned it. I put that deal together and then gave them the profit from it.
P: You were flattered, of course, that they wanted to use the name for the school.
F: My mother was, [and] that was worth everything. She was there the day we did
that. It was on a [University of] Florida [versus] Florida State [University game]
weekend and we had the whole function over there at the medical facility and I
had wonderful rooms at the University Centre Hotel and my mother had a suite.
I'll never forget this, they put Harvey's Bristol Cream, it's a cream drink, they put
two of them on her pillow or on her nightstand. And she said, "well, I don't drink."
In fact if she had a glass of wine she would be high. I said, "well, try it." So she
insisted I take one and [she] kept one. Well, the next morning, she said, "boy, I
wish I'd kept both of those, that was good." So after that it was funny, I bought a
case of that stuff and of course, I'd see my mother. I bought her a wonderful
home down in Pinellas County and I'd stop by and I'd always have one to put in
the refrigerator if one was gone, but every night she'd have her little drink.
P: So you gave the $3 million which you earned..
F: Well, $6.8 million as it turned out, plus.
P: Did you give it to them in money?
F: It was in securities and cash. By the way, when I first went back to Marshall
Criser [president of University of Florida, 1984-1989] I said, "here's what I'm
going to do, don't announce it, don't say anything, but here's a $100,000 check,
so don't offer this to anyone else. I'm going to go to work and I think within a
year I can get you your $3 million." And I went to work. I lived in Philadelphia
almost, you know, making that thing work. And the money started coming in, and
I gave them securities.
P: What do you mean by securities?
F: [I mean] mortgages. The money started coming in at the rate of about $680,000
or $700,000 a year, about $60,000 a month off the mortgages. I think I set aside,
(it's in the agreement) a couple hundred thousand or something to help fund the
Capital Campaign, number one. That was just out of the endowment to help fund
it. Then I gave them 10 percent of everything that was collected just to service it.
Well, they generally get 1 percent or something. We were picking up overhead.
[End side B4]
F: ...out of funds, out of those couple hundred thousand, and 10 percent of
everything that came in. Then everything that was left over went to accumulate
the $600,000 to endow the chairs. So once that got endowed, they applied for
the $400,000 [from the state]. You with me? So, we had the endowed chair at
the school of accounting.
P: How long did it take you to come up with the money, two years, three years?
F: I gave them all the mortgages outright.
P: Oh, right off.
F: Oh, they were right off the bat. Oh, yeah.
P: I thought maybe it was that you were paying it out.
F: Oh no, I didn't keep a nickel out of that deal.
P: I know you didn't get anything, but I was just wondering how long it took you to
make good on your pledge.
F: The last report I got, there was $7 million. Some of it had been from the state,
you know, matching, but it might have taken two or three years for them to collect
P: So it has continued to earn money?
F: [It has continued to earn money] over all the years, yeah.
P: That's where the $6.8 million comes in?
P: In other words, you gave them $3 million?
F: No, I gave them securities of about $15 million.
P: Why did you give them so much more than they were asking for?
F: What's the difference?
P: They were asking for $3 million.
F: Well, you've got to remember my motivation was not to make any money. I took
all what I thought were the very best mortgages and I gave them to the university
[University of Florida].
P: I see, so that meant that they could earn money on those mortgages.
F: Right. Oh, I know, too, what it was. I wanted to be sure that they had a minimum
cash flow, maybe it was like $600,000 a year. So, I needed to take enough
mortgages to give them the $600,000. Now, when I say $15 million, keep in
mind that $15 million in mortgages had senior mortgages under them. So they
only had the equity.
P: I understand, now. That's why I couldn't figure out the differences.
F: Because the university is a tax-free [institution], they could pick up all that tax
free. They didn't have any--interest income wasn't taxable.
P: What would you estimate today has been your total gifts to the University of
Florida, $15 [million]?
F: Oh no, it's just what's there and the earnings.
P: Yeah, counting everything. I mean, it didn't come out of your pocket exactly.
F: Oh, I don't know, I never thought of that.
P: $15 million?
F: Oh, I doubt it's that much.
P: But it's a lot [of money].
F: Well, it's been a long time too, seventeen years, yeah. If you just take $400,000
a year, [or] whatever, for seventeen years [that's a lot of money spread out].
Yeah, I don't know. I've never thought about it that way.
P: Now, naming the school was an innovation. They had never done that in Florida
and maybe not on any other campus.
F: This was the very first. We were one of the first schools of accounting. We will
now be the only school of accounting with our own building. There's only, what,
three or four in the nation.
P: But I mean, now, they have named other schools, like the Levin School of Law
and the Rinker School of Building Construction.
F: Building construction, yeah. I know Doc Rinker, too.
P: I'm sure other universities throughout the state have named schools.
F: Yes, and it's risky when you name it after a living person because you got to
keep your skirts clean.
P: That's right, you're under scrutiny.
F: [laughing] I'm too old now to get in trouble.
P: Not necessarily, you're only seventy-one years old. I remember the escapades
I'd get into in my younger years.
F: Let's tell me about them.
P: So, you were very flattered and pleased, obviously, or you would not have
agreed to this in the first place.
F: It was sort of like going back to those days at U.S. Home when we used to have
to look around and say, you know, [we could] not believe our press clippings
because it was heady, heady stuff.
P: And your mother thought, my son, the donor.
F: Oh, she was just thrilled to death.
P: I can understand that.
P: That was just very, very special. I still don't believe it [when] I'm trying to get a
hold of Jack [John C.] Kramer or somebody and they say, "Fisher School of
Accounting." It's mind-boggling.
P: Now how did they talk you into being the chairman of the Capital Campaign?
That was really a tremendous undertaking.
F: It was full-time, you know, I was for several years there. Oh, by the way, this
started out, even though it was the naming and the school and everything, I said,
"I don't want to do that. I want to give it anonymously."
F: You know, the only real gift is the gift no one knows about. So I was called to the
presidents office and we talked and he said, "you can't do it that way. You've got
to [be] open, declare it.
P: Well, it's meaningful to the university.
F: "The reason you have to," he says, "[is that] we need a Capital Campaign.
There's never been one by a public university in the state of Florida and you
need to be the chairman of that first capital campaign." So I like to tell the story
that the president said to me, "you need to be the chairman and we need to have
it public or I'm not going to accept the money." I said, "I want it anonymous, I
don't want to be the chairman, and you have to accept the money."
P: Which president were you talking to?
F: [Marshall] Criser, he changed my life. So then, I like to say, well, then we fought.
We argued and we compromised; I took the job and he took the money.
P: Well, that was a fair compromise, I would think.
F: I met so many wonderful people, like I said, from that time when I flew from Ft.
Myers to Atlanta to have lunch with Bill Emerson [University of Florida donor] and
asked him for [the] money for the courtyard and asked him to chair the leadership
gifts [committee] and he did both of those and bought lunch too! The good thing
was he couldn't be immediately available because he was working his way out of
Merrill Lynch. So I told him that I would put his committee together which
normally he would do. We needed like twelve people on this committee. I
remember Duke Critendon had an airplane, the university airplane, and I'd have
a chance to get in those and I'd fly around the state and visited with these
P: That's big time.
F: [It was] big time. I got Ben Hill [Griffin] and Alfred [McKethan, University of
Florida donors] to be honorary co-chairmen.
P: I did interviews, by the way, with both of them.
F: You know, to know them both is to love them. Like I said, I sat in this very room
[with] John Lombardi [president of University of Florida, 1990-1999] right here. I
sat where you're sitting, Alfred sat there, and Ben Hill sat here and we
questioned and tormented John Lombardi before we hired him as president and
grew to love him that very day. I'll never forget that. Here I'm an old, little
student who has come out of here....
P: You are a graduate, you are a Gator.
F: ...now I'm interviewing a future president of the university. I felt like I'd arrived,
P: Well, you had.
F: And what company, Ben Hill! They knew everybody and they could tell you
stories about anybody and everybody. They were great to have in those
meetings, when you have these meetings to raise money.
P: My experience with him, doing the interview was wonderful.
F: [You interviewed] with Alfred or Ben or both?
P: [I interviewed] both.
F: [You interviewed] both, yeah.
P: But Ben Hill particularly, in his office down in Frostproof [Florida].
F: Well, I was in the country club the first time I met him, and he bought that country
club where he had lunch and everything there. He was a sage.
P: He was really a product [laughing]. And you know he ran for governor in 1974
and his wife ran for lieutenant governor, and his platform was to do away with the
position of lieutenant-governor. That was the only plank in his platform.
F: He was a rare pup. I don't think they make them like that anymore.
P: They don't make them like that anymore, no. And he has a real American story
because he started out poor, very poor.
F: He got involved with a little five-acre grove, yeah.
P: That grove his father gave him when he got married. [It was] very non-productive
he told me.
F: What a beginning!
P: How did you establish the amount that they were going to raise in the Capital
Campaign? Was it $3 million [or] $300 million?
F: You know, all of those things. We had a professional [approach]. The first thing
you do is you put out a want list and we sent [it] to every college and every dean,
what their needs [were], what their wants were. It came back, as I recall, [that
they needed] $980 million. So then you've got to cull through that. Then we
arrived at a number of $200 million. Wait a minute, $150 [million] I think we
started at, didn't we?
P: [You] did a lot of cutting?
F: Oh, yeah. What happens is then you have to have an amount for each school
because each school or each college has to start raising toward their own.
Whatever we started at, this is interesting because as we went on through all
these campaigns you don't announce it until you have half of it, it's a standard
sort of procedure, five years and then we went over. Well, then we had a
meeting in Palm Beach. I remember Marshall Criser was sitting there and John
Dasburg and we were talking about how much we should change the goal from
whatever it was. I was the chairman and I wanted to go to $350 million. I think it
was $150 million to start with, wasn't it?
P: I don't know.
F: I wanted to go to $350 [million] or $250 [million] or some outrageous number you
know and let's just keep rolling, $350 [million]. And I remember Marshall, who
has the final word, he was the boss, making this little talk and why it should be
$250 [million]. And I said to myself, Marshal Criser is not going to be president
here long. I told that, in fact, at home. And within a very short time, I could see
he just didn't want to [and] I wanted to go to $350 [million], we went to $250
[million]. I don't know, we ended up with $392 [million]. I can't remember the
numbers now, but I remember that. I've talked to Marshall about it since. [I said,]
"I just knew you were going to resign shortly based on your discussion that day,
at that meeting." It was funny. He was a president for his time. We've always
had a president for our time.
P: He was a very good president for his time.
F: Yeah, I mean he went with that sort of specialty.
P: Everyone of the men we've selected as presidents, in many cases, seemed to be
weak when they went in, but they all lived up to their [reputations].
F: 1960s [strong exhale].
P: I mean [Albert A.] Murphree [second president of Universit of Florida, 1909-1927]
came in without even a Ph.D. [John J.] Tigert [president of University of Florida,
1928-1947] never had an earned Ph.D.
F: [There was the time] when we took this old Supreme Court justice, ex-prizefighter
[Stephen C. O'Connell, president of University of Florida, 1968-1973].
P: That's right, and yet all of them worked out well. We've been very fortunate. So
anyway, you become chairman of the fundraising, and your first goal, you think,
is going to be $200 million.
F: I think it was $200 [million] yeah, and then whatever we raised it to was less than
I wanted to, I know that.
P: But the final amount was what?
F: [The final amount was] $392 [million].
P: So it was considerably more than anybody envisioned to begin with.
F: [The amount of money] blew us all away. You know we raised $6 million or so
on the telephone at the end, with students from San Diego State University
making phone calls.
P: This was a brand new concept. There had not been any fundraising of this
scope in Florida.
F: [Not] in Florida, right, in public schools.
P: But you a paid consultant who was directing things?
F: Well, he would come in from Chicago periodically and give us what we should do
P: Were you personally involved in fundraising? Were you going around in these
F: Oh yeah, I was very involved in fundraising. I like to tell a couple of stories. One
I remember, I took Bob Lindgren and President [Marshall] Criser up to meet with
Mr. Berry, Russ Berry in New Jersey. He had been in the University of Florida
for a semester. We got him interested and talked to him.
P: He's the one who did the stuffed animals [Beanie Babies]?
P: Okay. He was in New Jersey, not Connecticut.
F: [He was in] New Jersey, right. I remember I hired a limousine, and thinking we
were going to do $10 million, you know. His stock was twenty-eight; he had a lot
of it. October 1989, was that when the market [went down] 600 one day. Well,
we planned all of this and we were there the next Monday or next Friday or
whenever it was and his stock was like $10. I had this all set for $10 million and
he said he just couldn't do anything that day. And I said, "I'm not going to leave
unless we at least do a chair," and so he did do a chair, and that's how we have
that $1 million Berry chair.
P: Did he give the money?
F: Oh yeah, yeah.
P: [He gave] a million dollars?
F: [He gave] $620,000 and we matched it with $400,000, but it was a tough day.
He has since given a ton of money, but he's really-and you can't blame him-he's
got some heavy loyalties up in that area and he's given very substantial sums to
P: I think he also manufactured those little Beanie Babies.
F: He doesn't manufacture anything. He's a distributor. He gets it all from Taiwan,
China, you know, impulse-buy items [such as] cups.
P: I mean I know that the factories are not here in the United States, but he's the
distributor for them. Beanie Babies, I think he was involved with that.
F: And then [he did] that wild-haired one where they rubbed its stomach and stuff.
He did $400 million worth of those. He's been very successful. He's a very
quality guy. He was here a semester, his dad died and he had to go home and
go to work, so he never graduated from college.
P: So, when you asked him for a million dollars he fell on the floor and it took a
F: No no, we asked him for $10 million.
P: $10 million.
F: We were going to name the college of business the Berry Business College.
P: Instead, you named it for Al [Warrington].
F: Well, keep in mind this is ten years later, [that] Al came forward.
P: You said, No, Mr. Berry.
F: Well, no, he was going to do it, but I think the value of his stock went from $100
m million to....
P: [It went] to zero.
F: ...to $40 million.
P: Not quite zero, but down. Alright now, so you're the fund raiser. How arduous
was that responsibility?
F: You don't want to fail. You know, the fear of failure drives us. I remember when
Ben Hill gave us, I think it was $2.5 to $3 million, to re-do, not Flint [Hall] but I
think the other one.
F: He gave us stock in ALECO [Company] Land. Generally, when we get stock, we
sell it. Well, somehow, and I don't remember the circumstance, we got the stock.
It was worth $2.5 [or] $3 million, the day he gave it to us, and power of attorney,
stock power. Somehow we didn't get it sold for two or three weeks and the value
went up $800,000. So we had a committee meeting at the airport in Tampa, [in]
that round area, and Ben was there. We had a break in the meeting and Ben
and I were walking down the hall and he was lamenting this $800,000, that if he
had waited three more weeks or two more weeks it would [continue to increase].
You know, [he said this] good naturedly, but lamenting it anyway. So we're
standing at the urinal at the airport at the men's room and I said, "you know, Ben,
that's money that we've got in the bank and we can use that. You know we can
figure out a way to make that the down payment on that $10 million for Ben Hill
Griffin Stadium." And that's when the flower bloomed and that was the initial
[reason] why he went for the $10 million.
P: So, it did not come as a surprise to him that they named it for him.
F: Oh no, it was proposed $10 million. It had been proposed but he had backed off
P: Not withstanding that it already had a name, Florida Field.
F: Well, it's now the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field. I think it's beautiful,
and I think it's appropriate. And you know Ben is still, I think, our biggest donor.
The Ben Hill Griffin family has given us more than any other family.
P: I understand it was something in the neighborhood of about $19 million.
F: Well, that was back when Ben was alive. Now, you know, since then, Ben has
given more money, maybe another million or two.
P: I did [not] know that.
P: I know that there is a facility [Griffin Academic Research Building] down at
Shands [Teaching Hospital] that's named for him.
F: Yeah, I wouldn't be surprised if it was somewhere in the $20 millions.
P: Well, he's been very successful and he's been very loyal to the University of
F: [He's been loyal] as has Alfred McKethan who was a major, major donor.
P: [He's been as generous] as Fred Fisher, who is among the most generous
F: Well, you know, at the time, that was the largest gift ever to a public university in
the state of Florida. And I announced, I said, "yes, and now our job is to get me
out of the top ten." Now, I think I'm twenty-fifth.
P: Are there more substantial gifts at the University of Florida?
F: Oh, I think there's several more.
P: The [M.E. "Doc"] Rinker [Rinker School of Building Construction] gift maybe [is
F: Oh [M.E. "Doc"] Rinker, yeah. But you know the hall out at the performing arts ..
P: [The Curtis M.] Philips [Center for the Performing Arts]?
F: ...and two of them out there [were made possible by generous gifts], and Alfred
McKethan was bigger, and then he died and Ben Hill [has been generous].
P: The University of Florida has been very fortunate.
F: I'm not in the top ten, I don't think, anymore.
P: Well, you're way up there.
F: Well, it doesn't make any difference, but it's fun. The secret is, who do we get [to
give] another $100 million?
P: And the university is not going to give any of it back to anybody.
F: No, well, it's well invested.
P: You've had some substantial honors that have come to you in addition to the
naming of the school, including a distinguished alumnus award, right?
F: [I received] a Doctorate of Humane Letters.
P: Well, wait, before that we have to get you the alumnus award first.
F: Yes, that was a great honor.
P: What year was that? Do you remember?
F: No, I don't.
P: When [is it that] this manuscript comes through?
F: When you're so involved it's hard to remember. If you're only involved once, it's
P: But then you become a doctor.
P: Dr. Fisher.
F: I have my own little colors and everything.
P: But I don't remember anybody calling you Dr. Fisher.
F: No, I practice on Wednesdays, gynecology in the middle of Gulf to Bay
P: Do you have a date on this?
F: Probably, no I'll have to get that. And then [I got] a Professor of Accounting
P: I know, that is one that I have not heard of before.
F: Yeah, I think they dreamed that up for me. I don't know, but that was very nice.
P: I mean I know about the distinguished alumnus award, I know about the honorary
degrees, but I have not heard of a layperson coming in the from the outside and
being made an honorary member of the faculty.
F: You better start bowing and scraping here pretty soon. [laughing]
P: I've always done that. They've never asked you to teach?
P: Have you ever lectured over at the college [Fisher School of Accounting at the
University of Florida]?
F: Not at this college. I did a lot at the University of Tampa.
P: I know, but this is your institution.
F: Well, today I know so little about accounting taxes [that] you could fill a thimble.
P: It's changed dramatically?
F: Oh yes, it certainly has. You know, I'm Mr. Clearwater too. Oh, was that an
P: Oh, you have many awards here that we haven't even begun to mention yet.
F: I can remember when I first came to Clearwater and I would look up to these
people who won the Bilgore Award, which was a big thing, and Mr. Clearwater.
They surprise you with these, you know. You're having lunch or something and
then suddenly they have got the blue jacket and they name you. And I tell you
that was another time, twice, when I couldn't believe it.
P: Now I notice that you have supported the Phoenix House of Florida, a drug-
rehabilitation operation. Where was that? [Ocala]
F: A couple of my children messed around with drugs and they got through that and
over it and I've been so grateful that I thought we needed to expand in Florida in
making more rehabilitation facilities available to the kids of our state. Whit
Palmer, who's a good friend and has also had some family experience with this,
he and I got together in 1990, 1991 maybe, [or] 1992. Suzie, his daughter, found
a facility out north of Ocala where the road splits, the Y out there, the one goes to
301 off to Jacksonville.
P: Yeah, okay, I know where it is.
F: It was an abandoned hospital called the Grant Center [or] Grant Hospital, I think.
It was a $12 million facility. It has everything from its own sewer system to you
name it. HCA (Hospital Corporation of American) owned it, and so we had a
facility we eyed. I negotiated that and finally that $12 million facility, after a lot of
negotiation, I bought it for $1.8 million [in] cash. We had a wonderful governor by
the name of Lawton Chiles [governor of Florida, 1991-1999], who was a good
Gator, a good friend, and a good guy.
P: And he is smart.
F: And he said, "yes, we should do this." We applied and we got through the
Department of Corrections an initial contract for 75 kids who would otherwise be
in prison, by the way. We're taking them. They would be in prison if they weren't
in our program. I loved Lawton, he was special. The second 75, I remember we
campaigned for that and got it in the legislature and got the money, then we went
up to sign the contract and this fellow of the Department of Corrections says, "no,
that money is going to Miami, a Miami program." I said, "no, no, no, no, that's
our money." I remember reporting back to Lawton and he made a phone call and
he said, "I can't fire you, but if you don't change your mind you're going to
become the second deputy or something in Olustee, Florida, and we got the
money back." Lawton didn't mince words. So we had 150 then and we opened
the facility. We had relations with a drug program in New York called [Daytop].
They provided us with the initial culture. They sent fifteen guys down and some
counselors, and today the program still operates there.
P: It's still in operation?
F: We're now called Phoenix House of Florida. The disappointment is that we
haven't grown since then. We did that on our own and then we backed off.
We're still two hundred kids. We have a couple of re-entry houses.
P: You have two hundred patients there, you say, approximately?
F: [We have] residents, we call them residents. We're about 80 percent effective.
We've turned a lot of people to lead a [productive] life.
P: Where does the money come from again?
F: Ninety-five percent comes from the state of Florida. We bought the facility and
put a cash fund in to operate during the loss time. [That was all] private money,
P: This isn't state money then? [It's not from] Marion County or anywhere else?
F: [The operating money is from the] Department of Corrections because we're
dealing with kids who would otherwise be in prison.
P: It certainly doesn't get very much publicity at all. Maybe that's just as well.
F: Maybe that's just as well, yeah.
P: That may be just as well that it doesn't.
F: You know, we're dealing with two hundred [kids], [but] we should be dealing with
2,000. There's 34,000, the last time I had a count, 34,000 kids in our state
prisons who are non-violent drug or drug-related prisoners, none of whom should
be in prison.
P: What's your age limit on these?
F: We deal with nothing below eighteen or nineteen.
P: Nothing below?
F: Yeah, but we've had them up to forty years old, forty-five. It's amazing. It's a
two-year program. It's a year in the facility, you know, eleven to thirteen months.
P: Are your children clean now?
F: Oh, yes. My kids don't even drink coffee. My boys both messed with drugs; my
P: I was going to say, what else is new?
F: Yeah, and they've both been through this program in New York. It's a one-year
program and then it's six-months in what we call a re-entry facility where they are
employed, and then six months after that, when they report back in, we have a
graduation. If they're living independently, they have money in the bank, they
have a job, and they're clean; we have a formal graduation. They have an
advocate who introduces them. Their family is all there and they tell their life
story. We never graduate more than fifteen [or] twenty at a time. You have to
take a lot of Kleenex [tissue] because the stories are....
P: ...pretty heart-rending.
F: Now they're just so happy: They have a bank account, they are citizens, they're
taxpayers, they don't owe anybody any money, [and] they don't have anything
hanging over their heads.
P: Boy, I bet their mothers and fathers are happy.
F: [They] are so pleased. Of course, that's what it's all about. It's very rewarding.
I've been fortunate to be a founder of a lot of wonderful things. I don't know
what's left here.
P: Oh, there's lots left here. Have we done all the banks?
F: We've done all the banks.
P: First National Bank and Trust in Dunedin?
F: Yeah, that was a fun one, right.
P: The Gulf to Bay Bank and Trust Company?
F: That was
P: Peoples Bank of Palm Harbor?
P: People's State Bank of New Port Richie?
F: Yeah, we did that one.
P: Seems to me like you've got a whole chain of banks there, the Fisher banks.
F: [They were at] individual times, never together.
P: I want to ask you about another thing at the University of Florida and that's the
medical center. To what degree have you been involved there? I know you're
on the Board of Overseers. I see that here on my list.
F: Yeah, and that isn't big. I've done that and been there; I didn't make any major
P: You made major gifts there?
F: Oh, no, or [make] major contributions either. I've benefitted by knowing Ted
Copeland. Whenever I've had an illness or an illness in the family, I've always
had somebody to call.
P: Did they put you on the Board of Overseers because of your friendships with
people? There must be more to it than that.
F: Well, I think I probably had a couple friends on the Board of Overseers.
|P: In other words, you didn't endow any professorships or scholarships.
F: No, I've been a minor donor, but I've been a donor. It wasn't a board where I
could get a hold of anything, so I didn't renew my [commitment]. By the way,
Bob Graham [governor of Florida, 1979-1987] appointed me as chairman of the
Department of Transportation Commission.
P: I was going to say, you had several gubernatorial appointments.
F: Oh, yeah, a lot of them. There's two or three there that are significant. You
know, when they work nights now, doing roads, I was involved in that. That was
a major contribution. I really tried to work on this eminent domain problem with
the attorney where you sue and they offer [money to] you, and no matter what
you sue, to get more. It's a boondoggle for the legal profession, but I didn't make
any inroads there. But I was able to get them starting to think about the
convenience of the guy driving his car during the day and working on the road,
and it's all down to one lane and he's held up for twenty minutes. [I suggested
that they] do it at night if it's a busy intersection. So that was significant. That
was at a time when the bridge was down and they were building the new
Sunshine Skyway and I had the opportunity to go into one of those pile-ons,
which are 1,260 feet apart, and I walked from one end to the other end. It's quite
a bridge there, that Sunshine bridge. Bob Graham was involved in that.
Remember [when] the freighter hit [the bridge] and knocked it down [on May
9,1980]? Lawton [Chiles] appointed me to the commission that privatized the
prisons. I thought, I'm private/public; I'm a guy who likes to do private/public
stuff. So we got going on that and we created the first RFP [Request for
Proposal] for bid and started building prisons with the private sector managing
them and owning them and stayed with the option to buy them back. We started
building too many. I remember talking and I said we've now built 4,000 of them
and I think we're going to have too many beds. Then I was really into this drug
thing and we needed to get some of them [the prisoners] out into treatment. So I
said, "I've got to resign. I think I've done enough and I don't think we should do
this anymore." So I resigned from that and I think we finally quit, but we had built
too many. I don't know what's happened with it since. When we got there, the
average spent on drug rehabilitation in prison was $.09 a day. We were
obligated to any award that we made for a new prison [which] had to be for at
least 8 percent less cost than our cost, now, by the state. So, they had to beat
the cost by 8 percent minimum in order to get a contract, and then the best
winner below that got the contract. We threw into this bid [or] proposal that they
had to show a significant amount of money directed to drug rehabilitation. We
got some of them spending as many as $5 or $6 a day, still beating the [total]
state cost by 8 percent in bidding this. So I feel that was important and I had
some influence on that, at least on 4,000 beds or whatever, 3,500 beds. I
believe that there are so many kids in prison that we're spending $60 or $70 a
day to keep them there, [but] we could be spending $40 a day to fix them and
they could become taxpaying, contributing citizens. [They could] be home with
their family, their kids, their parents, whatever it is, instead of in prison where
they learn to be really good criminals. But it's a hard sell because so many
people want to lock them up and leave them.
P: Have you been a good friend of Bob Graham over the years?
F: I think a very good friend when he was running for Governor [of Florida, 1979-
1987]. I was a big advocate of his and raised a lot of money for him. I've had
less interest when he became a senator [U.S. Senator since 1987] only because
it seems like I always have a selfish agenda with the governor or whatever. I've
had a lot of favors from the governor, but nothing that has ever benefitted me
personally, it's been for the benefit of charitable [organizations] and the kids and
things. I've always had that agenda where I wanted some help from the
P: And they've responded?
F: Oh, Bob Graham was, I think, one of our best governors.
P: Was Lawton Chiles helpful?
F: I've had the pleasure of having dinner with he and Rhea, like Whit and Diane and
Aleta and I sitting around a table. They're just such real people, bright and very
P: We've been very fortunate with our university presidents and very fortunate with
not all, but most of our governors.
F: Well, I think we should have a course here now. You know, we're losing ground
in Tallahassee. We need to have a course here at the university that teaches
kids how to become politicians and governors.
P: You used to be able to do that through Florida Blue Key.
F: I think all these kids are so bright when they come here that they can do so well
without going into politics, I guess. But we need to be training more of them.
P: Maybe they're interested in making money and they think they cannot do that in
F: Honestly, maybe.
P: You know, another endowment that I want to query you on is this one, Tracy
Caulkins [U.S. swimmer; won three gold medals (two individual) at 1984
Olympics; set five world records and won forty-eight national titles from 1978 to
1984; University of Florida alumnus]. How did you become involved in the
F: Every year I'd work on bringing these celebrities to Clearwater for Youth that we
spoke about earlier. It started to where you really need one, but if you don't pay
them, I've learned I better be working on five or six to get one or two. Well, some
years all nine show up, but this one particular year, and it was in 1984, she had
just been to the Olympics [and had] won all of the girl's [swimming events]. I
didn't know Tracy Caulkins from Adam's [ox]. I was having a tough time getting a
celebrity for my banquet. I think I had one, maybe or two. So, I called [her] up
P: Who were you looking for in the way of celebrities?
F: [I was looking for] anyone who's well known.
P: Anyone? Paul Newman?
F: Sports, no sports [celebrities].
P: So, you called up here?
F: I called, and I don't remember the particulars, but I remember at the drop of the
hat whoever was the athletic director or something talked to her and she said,
"sure, I'll come down and spend the evening and be a participant." She did it so
graciously, and she's a very gracious, wonderful, motivational speaker. That's
when I first met her. I just felt so humble, because this was a real athlete that
just really just out of the cold came down to help me out. So I was sitting at
lunch, this now is a few years later, and she wasn't handled well. She didn't
make a lot of money out of all of that like she might have, but we stay in touch,
we're still friends. Anyway, I'm sitting at Donatello's [near] Dale Mabry
[Highway] in Tampa with McEwen, who's the sports writer of the Tampa Tribune;
Frank Campisi; Ray Graves; [Bobby] Franks, who was the [football] coach with
[Steve] Spurrier; myself; Jimmy Fischer the old quarterback; [and] I don't know
what hit me, but I'm always hustling something. So I said, "who is the greatest
athlete that has ever graduated from the University of Florida?" Campisi says,
"Jimmy Dunn." You remember the old quarterback whose down there?
Somebody says, "Spurrier," and I said, "no, you're all wrong". Of course, Tom
McEwen picked up. He says, "I'll tell you who the greatest athlete to ever
graduate from the University of Florida was." He says, "it's Tracy Caulkins who
held more world records [and] more international records. She has held a record
in every one of her strokes, and many of them [the records] are still standing."
And you know, in 1980, she should have been in the Olympics [in Moscow] but
[President] Carter called it off [due to the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan].
So as an old woman in 1984 she still won all that gold. So I said to Frank
[Campisi], (I don't know why, it just came out), "you know, Frank, you and I
should do a super scholarship for Tracy." He didn't know Tracy from Adam's [ox]
either, and he said, "okay."
F: [He said it] just like that. I said, "okay, I'll make the arrangements." So we did a
$100,000, back then they were [50,000]. So I said let's do $100,000 and then
let's take a fourth of the income every year and as long as Tracy Caukins is alive,
let's bring her back to the University [of Florida] for a weekend, for a game, for a
swim meet or something to be a motivational speaker for the students because
she's just so wonderful and a wonderful person. Jeremy [Foley, University of
Florida Athletics Director, 1992 ] said, "that's fine." So we put this thing together
and she was in Nashville [Tennessee]. Then she married this Mark Stockwell
who was a student here, but then they fell in love and she moved to Australia. I
said to Jeremy, "this is going to be tough." So we changed it to a third of the
income [to bring her back each year].
P: Tickets are expensive, and I understand she has a family.
F: [She has] three children now, yeah. She was just here for the twenty-fifth
anniversary of the swim team NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association].
P: And they all come?
F: Oh yeah, and she brought the kids for a couple years. We always have her up,
there's a ball game at the same time, in the box. They are doing very well. Mark
is just a marvelous guy and they have these three wonderful kids.
P: So anyway, that's another partial endowment.
F: That endowment has a balance of $180,000 or something. I made the first MBA
[Masters of Business Administration degree] endowment, $50,000 endowment in
1981. We had about a hundred and some students here who were dropping out,
like half of them, because they had to work and they couldn't keep up with the
program and the master's study. So we said, "why don't we get some
scholarship money to help them?"
P: That MBA, has it grown in size, too?
F: Oh yeah, and I made the first $50,000, I had one of those scholarships here, too,
a $50,000 one. When we started that, we must have fifty of them, now. I don't
know how many we have. I've been a Bull Gator [individuals who give $10,000
of more annually to the University of Florida] at $10,000 to $13,000 a year.
P: Has Tracy been here this year?
F: Yeah, she was just here for the Vanderbilt game.
P: Okay. She was in the president's box, I'm sure.
F: Well, yeah, she goes up and visits them and sits with us over in our box.
Fortunately, her folks still live in Nashville. So it gives her a wonderful
opportunity to come back, spend a couple weeks here with the kids and then
come down here for a couple days.
P: You have gotten loads and loads and loads of awards and recognition. In
addition to that which you received from the University of Florida, and I would like
to put those on the record.
F: Someone figured out that if they pat people on the back, they run faster. That
works no matter what you do, [even with] kids. If they give you a little award,
somehow it obligates you a little, it intimidates you a little, it makes you go faster
and it really works on them. You do that with kids, even a pat on the back does
P: Now you've been recognized by the city of Clearwater.
F: I have a key to the city of Clearwater and the community service citation. That's
because I've been very involved in kids' programs there and then enacted the
Long Center. Sande and I started the first Clearwater Recreational Swim Team
way back [because of] the outcome of having lost that boy. And that Clearwater
Recreational Swim Team is still in existence and today swims at the Long Center
in competition, and all of my kids swam in it originally.
P: You received the Liberty Bell Award from the....
F: Clearwater Bar.
P: Bar association.
F: That was just for community service.
P: I mean that must be a very prestigious award there.
F: It blew me away. It was a surprise award and [I] sat next to Judge Beech, who is
a very distinguished judge. Yeah, that was very, very nice.
P: And the Clearwater for Youth Award carries your name, The Frederick Fisher, so
you must have been the endower of that.