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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
B: Newsweek [and] every conceivable publication carried stories about this. I
was nominated by NYU to be the man of the day in the New York Times
because I was going to New College. Eventually there were three stories
in the New York Times about it. Newsweek gave us four pages. Time
magazine gave us three colored pages--unheard of in the educational
field. NYU gave me an honorary degree [as] recognition [when] the new
president of NYU [was appointed]. That gave us credibility at
educational levels. It was just amazing how it happened.
With this new man [as] a President's Scholar, doors opened up. We eventually
ended up with a prospective class of 105 to 110. We had facilities for
100. We had to try to get faculty. This became a major, major problem.
It always ended up a major problem, and one that I almost could not
survive. How could you get top-flight faculty who were getting big
salaries--and most were tenured--to come to a new institution with
total uncertainty [of its future existence], an incapacity to meet their
[present] salaries, [and when] tenure meant nothing in our case? They
were mavericks or retirees and washing out. Neither were great
P: On the other hand, many of them would be intrigued by this whole concept.
B: That is possible. [Again, the Congregational Church] had great credibility
as a nation, and their own press people were putting things out in the
Congregational churches and in the local newspapers in New York. This
young man had a very fertile brain. He came up with an idea for which I
wish I could claim credit, but I cannot. He said, "Why do we not do
something very smart and build a great retirement center? We will get
the Congregational Church to be the basis for my church, so it will be
tax-free. We can get tax benefits and attract quality individuals who
are retiring from education. They will come down into our retirement
center and be adjunct professors here at New College."
P: That was a good idea.
B: Oh, [it was] a fabulous idea, unbelievable. I said, "Gee, where would
there be such a place?" He said, "There is a little island sitting out
here in the bay between the mainland and St. Armands (PLEASE VERIFY
SPELLING) Circle, which is a famous shopping circle." He said, "Would
that not be beautiful sitting out in the center of the beautiful bay,
right on the causeway, a lovely tower going up with two wings out?"
Here were two dreamers dreaming together. Neither one of us has any
money or our hands in the pocket of somebody else. I said, "Yes, but
who owns that land?" He said, "I do not know." I found out it was
Arthur Vining Davis (PLEASE VERIFY SPELLING), a very famous man in
Miami. I found out you could not see him. There was a lady who
protected him in all occasions. She was the power.
Somehow, I had a friend in Miami who knew this lady. He said, "I can get you
to her." He did and I got to see her. I told her I had to see him. I
showed her all this stuff. She said, "Young man, you are wasting your
time." I said, "That could well be. I am probably wasting my life. I
have wasted everything." I told her what I had given up to do this. I
said, "All I ask is just to talk to Mr. Davis." She said, "Well .. I
do not know." [Then] she said, "Okay, I will do it."
She set me up with Mr. Davis. Here is this gentleman. I said, "I have a
proposition you cannot turn down. You own this little island in
Sarasota Bay." He said, "I do not own that. I own Longboat Key where I
am building a big development called Longboat Key Club, and I own Bird
Island in the bay." He said, "I do not think I own that little island.
Oh, maybe I do. I have a few little islands laying around." I said,
"I want you to give New College that island in a deed without any
mortgage on it for one year on a handshake. If, after one year, we
cannot pay you whatever value on which we can agree, we will give you
back the land." He said, "Young man you are insane! Why would I give a
piece of land for nothing without any incumbrance or anything?" I said,
"Sir, I have given up a life. Somebody has had to give up something to
start almost anything." He said, "Dream on young man."
Two days later the telephone rang. He said, "This is Mr. Arthur Vining
Davis." I said, "Yes, sir." He said, "I have not slept well since I
met with you. It is a deal." Just like that. Fortunately in all my
previous endeavors, I, at one time, was a board member of the Detroit
Teacher's Pension Fund. I remember they always were looking for land
investments in Florida. I called them and said, "I have a young man
down here who has a project that would be just right for a retiree from
the Detroit Teacher's Pension Fund, particularly the officers of the
fund." I said, "Would it not be nice to retire in Sarasota Bay with a
beach there and a yacht basin next door? All I need from you is five
million dollars on a piece of land. We will take a one year mortgage on
a piece of land. It is worth more than five million dollars in the
bay." They did it.
With that, we got a local architect to donate his time. His name was Frank
Fulsom Smith (PLEASE VERIFY SPELLING), a very outstanding architect. He
did it with the understanding that if it came into being he would get
paid. The design is a beautiful structure, and it was the highest
building in Florida at the time. It had twenty-two stories with two
wings for people who did not want to live high up or for people who
wanted to live on the water and have a garden. The day before the one
year was up this other young man and people from his church who he had
formed as a committee sold enough units to pay the price on the land.
We paid off the land.
P: So you paid Mr. Arthur Vining Davis his price. He did not come back to you
and say I am giving this to you as a gift.
B: He did not. I asked him and he did not. He said, "I have made my gift."
The architect eventually got paid as we sold more units. Sure enough,
they got the retired president of Rutgers University, a Pulitzer Prize
winner, two Nobel Prize winners, and many faculty people. That was
P: They became the adjuncts.
B: Some of them did, but not as many as we had hoped and not quite as
effective. It filled a gap. It filled a body until we could get more
real bodies. I am not going to labor more with you. There are other
stories like this that had to come together. We finally opened with a
little over 100 students.
P: From all over the United States?
B: We had a prize group of students featured in every magazine in the country,
led by the scholar.
P: The President's Scholar.
B: Also, the daughter of the president of Venezuela Oil, which held all the
oil in Venezuela, [came to New College]. She came up in a private plane
with her (PLEASE IDENTIFY). We had to find a place for the
(PLEASE IDENTIFY). People came from everywhere.
P: Do you remember the name of the President's Scholar?
B: I do not know whether I can find it.
P: We will find it.
B: The next year, the president was assassinated and there were no more
President's Scholars. This was the only one. As it turned out, he did
not come. He developed a health problem. For us, it served its
purpose. I am sorry for him.
P: So he did not become a student of New College?
B: He did not become a student. He did in name for a week.
P: So you had a student enrollment of how many?
B: About 105, I think it was. It was between 105 and 106.
P: Did you have any big names on your faculty yet?
B: Yes, we did. We had an absolute winner, a total winner. One of my
supporters was assistant to the president of the University of South
Carolina. He was a graduate of Oxford, I think. He was fascinated by
all of this. He said, "I will come down and be your history professor."
He majored in history and had a doctorate from Oxford. South Carolina
had hired him to be its assistant because a couple of years ago, you may
remember, South Carolina was bringing the President of Egypt to speak.
P: Oh sure, I remember that.
B: This was the man that was did it all. He was a worldly, neat guy. He
said, "I think I can get a name for you that will just set you off
worldwide. I think my wife, who is quite well-to-do, might underwrite
him for a period of time." Who did he come up with but Arnold J. Toinby
(PLEASE VERIFY SPELLING), the greatest historian in the world, for the
first announced faculty member of New College for the first semester.
It was in all the papers worldwide.
P: I remember.
B: So, Arnold J. Toinby has not come yet, but he is coming. The head man at
the Educational Testing Service, who is famed in all the academic world,
decided to retire to Sarasota. So he was going to be one of the arts
[faculty]. This went through the ETS news, the College Board news, and
all the educational newspapers. We came up with a loser as a dean. I
am not even going to talk about it. It did not even matter.
P: Did you have a beautiful office?
B: As a matter of fact, I did not have any for a while.
P: That was another change from NYU.
B: I had the gift of a second story, back alley office downtown. There were
three flights of stairs. I had no paid secretary. I would use the
secretary of the lawyer who owned the building part time. I had no
library, except my personal library. I got bricks out of the alley out
back and made shelves. I put a sign on it that read "New College
Library." We put together enough to open symbolically our first year,
hoping these units we were building were going to be ready. They were
not. They were not even near being ready. Mr. Pei was late on his
plans. One contractor had problems. So we had no place to put
students. We had this: we had the barn where we kept horses, and a
place for the garage. We had nothing. And people were coming with
A wonderful fellow named Mr. [Martin] Naddleman (PLEASE VERIFY SPELLING) from
Houston, Texas, who had savings and loans in Texas, was enamored with
Sarasota and built a new hotel in Sarasota called the Landmark on St.
Armands Key. At one of the meetings we had have townspeople at, I
literally think I was on the verge of tears. We had gone so far. Each
week I had to find payroll money. I laid awake every night trying to
find [a way] to pay people. Where do you pay maintenance? Where do you
pay janitors? Where do you pay the librarian who is trying to put
together a library?
This man came up to me after the meeting. He said, "Young man, I sat there
and I could just cry for you." I said, "Well, I could cry with you. I
have got to open. I have no place for them. I do not know how to feed
them. They have paid their tuition. I will have to rebate their
tuition. I am going to have to destroy their first year because they
will have to try to get in elsewhere. I am frantic: I have a faculty
that I do not know what to do about; I have some who are coming; I have
got Dr. Toinby coming in two weeks, [and] we have no housing for him."
I could see him let a breath out. He said, "I tell you what. I am going to
let you take my whole hotel for free." Here we had ten story hotel, a
tower, a beautiful dining room, a lovely beach, a spa, and a convention
area that could be used for classes. He said, "I will let you have it
until the winter season starts." This was in August. I said, "I hope
the winter season is next June." He said, "No, but I will stretch it.
I will take you through what will be a normal break period, January or
February. By that time these things ought to be finished." We prayed
that we might. So lo and behold, we have students living out on the key
[with] classes in this or that building, in the barn, and everywhere
P: But thank God for Mr. Naddleman.
B: Oh, Mr. Naddleman. Are you a TEP?
B: He was a TEP. He was a national officer at one time.
P: Martin Naddleman.
B: This dear gentleman lost everything in the collapse of his savings and loan
P: So he is now a poor man.
B: He died. It killed him. He was just a magnificent man, the holiest. I
cannot say enough about him.
P: That is two Jewish sponsors that you have had.
B: The good Lord has been right with me from day one.
P: What else do you want to say now about New College?
B: We got Mr. Toinby. We got a faculty in place. We got certain adjunct
faculty in place. We got a sorry dean in place. We got a student body.
And we opened. There was no housing available because Mr. Pei had not
finished. Mr. Naddleman gave us the hotel to use until February
thinking it would be ready. That worked pretty well. We operated a bus
every half hour between the hotel and campus. The kids loved the beach.
He provided free food in a magnificent dining room. I do not know of
any college that opened with a magnificent hotel dining room with
fountains. We still had not gotten the house for the president after
three years. The man had not turned it over to us yet. He gave us the
top floor suite. Until then, we lived in rented homes everywhere.
P: Now you know what the Tigerts went through. [Laughter]
B: Absolutely. It was the final day for opening, and we opened. We had one
105 or 106. The classes were underway. Everything was going along
pretty well until midyear. Two things happened midyear that just
overwhelmed me. The faculty by this time became rather united. Until
then, they were individuals who just came and there was no unity. Now
they were united. Demands were placed on my desk daily like $300,000
for books in this category, $10,000 for faculty travel--demands--all
demands, one right after the other.
We still had no housing for our students. February came and there had been a
strike by the builder. The housing was not ready, so we had to move the
students on campus. We put the girls in this building here, and the
boys in the barn. We built a rest room next to the barn. We tried to
conduct classes on the lower floor of this building and run our dining
room, too. Yet, daily the faculty came in with absolutely overwhelming
demands. I got through the year. I made sure every bill was paid. I
said, "This is it. I have gone as far as I am going to go. I am burned
The faculty who were dissident had ideas of who they wanted to have as
president. They submitted it to the board, and it was a man who was
president of an Ivy League school--Brown University. He had good
credentials, but he was a drunk. We did not know it. They did not know
it. He already was terminated from Brown. He went through every bit of
endowment I left them--everything. It was a bad scene. God bless E. T.
York (Chancellor Emeritus, University of Florida). They were able to
work out an arrangement whereby New College became a part of the
University of South Florida provided. This is the exciting part.
I left New College, but I set up the College Foundation to see if I could help
them financially. I stayed with that for a year. It has since
continued. The foundation continued to match dollar for dollar what the
state would put in per student at New College. There was two dollars
per student. They could still maintain a low faculty-to-student ratio.
The foundation was able to get a successor who has been marvelous. He
is a retired army general who was very much involved in the Normandy
Campaign. He has been able to successfully match that amount of money.
This is why the excellence of our original goal has been retained, and
[is] the best college buy. You will see New College listed as the
number one choice in the nation.
P: They eventually completed the buildings.
B: They eventually completed the buildings, and the people got in. They
started paying rent. Things fell into place. We were just six months
off, but it was six months that I could not take anymore. I just had
P: Did they ever come up with the house?
B: They never did. They came up with it, but with a mortgage on it.
P: Oh yes, that is right with a very heavy mortgage on it.
B: And at a high interest rate. He shopped around until he could get the
highest mortgage and very high interest. We did not know about the
mortgage until we moved in. Then we moved out.
P: In the meantime, you obviously had moved the family down from New York to
B: I was very active in the Sarasota community, having joined the Ellis Bank
and Trust Company as a board member. [I also joined] the Cross and
Savings in Bradenton, which is in Manatee County, to weld them into the
college support. I was on those two bank boards while I was there. I
then went on a bank board on Longboat Key and others.
P: Your children have adjusted themselves to the Sarasota community?
B: Yes. One still remains there. When I left New College in 1966 .
P: Is this leaving the college and going to the foundation?
B: This is going to the foundation.
P: Good, that is fine. I wanted the transition.
B: The prospect of my leaving tended to alienate the support the school had
because most all of it was support I had cultivated and developed. I
felt there needed to be a transition period. In spite of the fact that
I wanted to do something else, I set up the College Foundation, and ran
it for a little over a year. It was quite successful in leaving them
some things and getting individuals to adjust to the change. I think
for the most part, it was partially successful, but not totally
successful. They had some endowment and finally used it up. That is
when they reached the crisis and had to approach the state.
P: Has that been a healthy thing?
B: It has been an individual situation unlike anything in the nation, like so
many things that we have talked about today. They all said once a
school became part of the state system no private donors could continue
to support it for a one-to-one match. The interesting thing is they
have succeeded in doing that. The head of the foundation, the retired
lieutenant general, has done a marvelous job and they have matched it.
The school now is matching every dollar. They have a major gift for a
new library. They have had other major gifts. I think as long as the
state does not disturb the relationship, it will continue to be one of
the great institutions of the nation.
P: What are its special areas of strength?
B: As I say, the program itself is a special area. It is the individual
P: Who selects what he or she wants to study.
B: If that is within the framework of what the faculty thinks is a worthy
goal. They are averaging much better than 90 percent admissions to
graduate school. They have had two Woodrow Wilsons and one Fulbright
scholar. They now have one Rhodes Scholarship candidate.
P: So they go on then to law school, medical school, or working on a
B: They are very successful. We have had big corporation presidents. The
head of Pepsi Cola is a New College graduate, and others are similar to
P: So they do the undergraduate work, they get a liberal arts degree, not a
science degree. If they so desire, they move.
B: Over 92 to 93 percent have gone on to graduate school.
P: And have been readily accepted at universities throughout the United
B: Absolutely, with the highest priorities at the very best schools.
P: So you can point to a lot of successes from your graduates?
B: If you want a list of their successes, I can get you one that is very
P: How long did you stay with the foundation?
B: My agreement was one year. I just wanted to make the transition because at
this point, I really had the sense of burnout.
P: Then you started the College Foundation, and became your own boss?
B: Yes, I was my own boss. I was going to go on a whole new course of
surprise, but this is my surprise.
P: This is the first time you have worked for yourself in your career.
B: Since college.
P: Since college. That is right you were working for yourself when you had
B: And everything else. Upon retirement from New College, we built our own
home out on one of the beautiful islands of Mr. Arthur Vining Davis'
called Bird Key. With all the contacts I had in higher education, I
decided to be a consultant. I just was flooded with opportunities. I
had seven contracts within a week which was more than I could handle,
frankly. It was very exciting. It took me out of town so much. I
decided I would keep the foundation and see what undertakings I could
contract with people to do. Then I decided to become my own
entrepreneur. I bought a major attraction in Sarasota called the
Sarasota Jungle Garden.
P: Before you get into that, what kind of consulting things would you have
been asked to do?
B: Mainly managerial-type things. Most consistently I would handle private
institutions that were having management problems within their
institution. It could be organizational, personnel, system, and even
security [oriented]. I would not have the people to do that. I knew
the people that could. I would make arrangements with them through the
foundation. I had quite a number of contracts, more than I could
handle. Everybody was coming. I found that unless I personally had the
time to go out into the field and not supervise, but check on it, the
results were not always quite as satisfactory as I would like to have
seen them. I began to cut down on the numbers of them until the point
that I could.
P: You were on the road a lot.
B: Yes, on road lots. I had had enough of that. I was not a young a man as I
once was. I always had been working for somebody.
P: So now you decided to strike out on your own.
B: I did this for a little while just to make the transition, and not to lose
my hand with education because I loved it. I had the chance to buy this
attraction which seems like an odd thing, but it was a beautiful thing.
I like beautiful things. I always have done my own yard work.
Sarasota Jungle Gardens was before the days of Disney World, so this was
a must-see attraction that people would see coming to Florida. It was a
very satisfactory thing. I sold it for double the money I had in it in
a very few years.
P: What are the Jungle Gardens?
B: It is a garden in Sarasota that the Lindsay (PLEASE VERIFY SPELLING)
family, who owned the newspaper, decided to buy. It had a lake and a
stream on it that led to Sarasota Bay. It had been a tropical nursery.
They bought the nursery and conceived the idea of converting it to a
tropical garden with all types of tropical birds, animals, plants, and a
nice dining area on the bay.
P: It would be a public attraction.
B: Yes, a public attraction. We averaged about 800 to 1,000 people a day at
six to eight dollars.
P: So when you bought it, it already was a [successful] attraction.
B: Oh, very much going. Mr. Lindsay was ill and I had the chance of buying
P: How old was it when you bought it?
B: It was about fifteen years old.
P: So it was established and known statewide.
B: It was known statewide. I paid his asking price because I felt he was
still thinking in the terms of what he had paid for it and what he had
put into it. He was asking nothing that included good will or anything
else. I turned out to be right. In three years, I had more than
doubled my money. I was talking about a pretty good chunk of change
because this is improved property in the city limits of about twenty-
P: You had everything you needed--parking, dining room, and rest room
B: Yes. Surprisingly, the gift shop was the real money maker. I could not
understand what people would buy, but they would just buy tons of stuff
in the gift shop, the craziest stuff you ever could imagine. That was a
very, very profitable thing. For me, it was a business. It was not an
outlet. It was not a stimulating outlet for me. It certainly did what
I wanted at the time.
P: Did you have a large staff?
B: Yes, I had about twenty people. You had to have animal trainers,
gardeners, clerks in the shops, security, and people that understood
disease. I had quite a large staff. I paid them well. They were all
very loyal, devoted people. Again, I had not had an opportunity to sell
it, and I had not decided that I would. Something developed that was
again an unusual break.
When I was at New College, a dear lady whom I mentioned as her family being
the founder of Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal. She was a very
wealthy lady who lived in Cohasset, Massachusetts most of the year. She
came to me at New College, and said, "I really marvel what is
[happening]. I will tell you what I am going to do. I am getting a
divorce and in my divorce settlement I am making a settlement on my
husband. I will make a gift to New College of a sum of money or a
magnificent piece of property on the downtown waterfront that we own.
It is about twenty-five or twenty-six acres on the waterfront downtown.
You can make your choice."
As much as I needed cash, having come up through all that I had come through
at NYU, I realized that the land was the value. Columbia exists because
it owned Rockefeller Center. MIT practically owns everything within a
mile of it. Stanford makes a fortune off of its land. I said, "I will
take the land." Well, that fractured my faculty. That really upset the
faculty when they heard rumors of it, as faculties do. They were upset
that I would take land instead of money, and therefore not be able to
give them every demand that they wanted. It was a very wise choice in
my opinion. I will tell you why as it developed. When I left New
College, the man who succeeded me went through everything quickly. He
never raised a dollar.
P: You never have given me his name.
B: I am not going to.
P: All right.
B: It is in the records if you want to look, but I am not going to name him.
He went through everything just like that. He sold this property for
peanuts to the man who founded Holiday Inn. That man was going to
[build] a big Holiday Inn and a low-class development of condos because
he recognized the value of the land. I learned that this lady was so
upset because she had admired what I had done. I did not know this, but
she had left certain conditions where gifts of money would come to the
college periodically. She was appreciative that I made the choice, and
it turned out that it was a wise choice for the college, ultimately.
This land was sold for considerably less value [than it was worth].
They were going to put honky-tonk stuff right down in the heart of
The old George was rested up by now, so I got hold of a lot of people that I
knew. They were mainly in New York, were real entrepreneurs, and had
money. I said, "Look at this beautiful piece of waterfront [property]
in downtown Sarasota." One man liked it so much he moved from New York
to Sarasota on Longboat Key right off the bat. He bought a big hotel
out there. I said, "I will act as a coordinator for the project, but
let us buy this and see if we cannot make an urban development downtown
that is a credit to Sarasota, a credit to the lady who gave it to us,
and make it profitable." They bought it from the other people at a very
nice profit for the other people.
P: From the Holiday Inn people?
B: Yes. It was a very nice profit. With that, I went to some of the leading
architects of the world, including Mr. Pei. Mr. Pei was busy with other
things, so I got another great firm to look at it. I also got a land
planner whom I had known in New York [and] had done all the great jobs
in New York, such as Rockefeller Center and the financial center
downtown. I invited him down to look at the property. I said, "Sir,
what would be the maximum and best use of this property?" I will show
you in a minute.
He looked at it, and gave me a completely surprising answer. He said, "A
great hotel." I said, "Why a great hotel?" He said, "Do you realize
what great hotels have done in this country? They make areas. Take
Boca Raton--it took a great hotel. Take Colorado Springs--it took a
great hotel to set the tone for the community." He went on down the
list ad infinitum where a hotel had made an area stand for quality, like
Century Plaza in Los Angeles. He had about fifteen examples. He said,
"If you can get a great hotel onto this property, you will attract
everything else you want." I said, "How do you go about getting a great
hotel? I know I do not call up Holiday Inn." He said, "It can really
only be one of two things."
One of the names he mentioned was Hyatt. That was the first name he
mentioned. At that time, Hyatt is the "in" thing and still is. They
were standing alone. I said, "Okay, I will get a Hyatt you know." I
got the address to the Hyatt. I wrote them, I sent them telegrams, I
sent flowers to secretaries, and I got no answer. I flew to Chicago,
and I tried to see someone that really mattered. I would not see any
underlings because that would cut you off right there. I had no
success. Finally, I went to one of the great people who had helped me
at New College, but I cannot use names here. I said, "Do you know
anybody in the Hyatt [organization]?" They said, "I certainly do, very
well. We know the top man [from] the Pritzker (PLEASE VERIFY SPELLING)
The Pritzker family is a very interesting family. I do not know whether you
know the stories of the Pritzkers, but it ties in with our whole
philosophy here. He was a Jewish immigrant from Germany. He immigrated
to this country. When he got to Ellis Island, his sponsor did not show
up. They told him he would have to go back. He had no money, but he
had been befriended aboard the ship by another immigrant. The sponsor
of that immigrant did show up. That young man went to his sponsor and
said, "Look at this poor young man. He has nothing. He has no
relatives and no money. He has to go back. Would you sponsor him?"
The man reluctantly did. The man lived in Chicago. You have to assure the
immigration people you are going to take the immigrants to your point of
destination. So he bought tickets for the two of them for the train,
and they made a stop on the outskirts of Chicago at Cicero. When they
made the stop the sponsor said, "Sir, that is it. You have had it. I
have done my part, out you go." This poor little German immigrant gets
off, and he does not know where he is. He wanders around during the
Toward the evening, he could see this nice park area. He headed toward this
nice park area, and it turned out to be the campus of the University of
Chicago. When it got dark, there was a nice place to sleep under a nice
archway in one of the buildings. He said, "I will just sleep in here,
and in the morning I will look around to see what I can do." Sometime
during the night, a night watchman came and said, "Out you go." The
University of Chicago is not in the greatest district, not even then.
The man had enough presence that he pointed out to the top of the archway
which read "College of Law." He kept pointing to the door as if he was
waiting to be admitted the next morning. He succeeded. The guard came
back in the morning and escorted him into the office. He could not
speak English, but they found somebody who could speak German. The dean
of the law school heard all this commotion and came out. It developed
that this man had to have some kind of help. The dean thought he was
very enterprising to point out the law school, so he agreed to make him
a janitor and let him live in the basement of the law school.
The young man was so capable and so committed that he asked permission to sit
in law classes. He picked up English and was becoming very proficient
in law school. He graduated still working as janitor. When it was
over, he still had no clothes or anything. He was really the janitor
and always sat in the back of class, I understood. When it came to job
interviews, all the big law firms came and nobody picked him.
B: He sat there. Finally the dean came in and said, "Nothing cooking." He
sat there. The dean came back about three hours and he said, "Look, I
have a call from bankruptcy court saying they need a bankruptcy lawyer.
I said I just happen to have one for you. Will you go to this address?
Here is some money to get yourself cleaned up a little bit." The man
went to this bankruptcy thing and he was back in about three hours. He
said, "Hey dean, I got an idea. This bankruptcy is pieces of property,
little slivers of property that are around everywhere. Nobody wants to
pay taxes on them, so they are just for sale for taxes. Why do you and
I not buy these? You buy them, and I will handle all the deals.
Someday these little split sections are going to be good for sign
boards, or people who want to build a bigger project will have to buy
the slivers. It is going to cost you almost nothing to be a nuisance
value all over town."
The dean put up the money for him to form a little corporation. He bought all
these little places. About that time, the O'Hare Airport became a
reality. They cut through a new road to O'Hare. They went through
about forty of their places. They not only had to pay well to get
those, but it always left even smaller slivers on the side. So they
built a sign company and had practically all control of the signs out to
O'Hare which became a wealthy thing. This is Mr. Pritzker. This is the
ingenuity that started the Pritzker family.
Anyway, I was able to get an introduction to the Pritzkers through a friend at
the University of Chicago, Mr. Levy, the president and dean of the law
school at one time ([but] not the dean of the story). I had met him on
other occasions in my educational relationships. I went to see Mr.
Pritzker, and I said I want you to look at this magnificent piece of
property. He said, "I am sorry. Where is Sarasota?" I said, "It is on
the west coast of Florida." He said, "We only build in the big cities.
We are what we call terminal cities." I said, "What do you mean--
terminal cities?" He said, "There are big airplane terminals." If they
did anything it was a splurge. It would have to be out west.
I said, "Sir, I know the story of your life. Someone gave you a chance, or
you would not have made it." He said, "That is true." I said, "I am
asking for a chance for you to look at something that might be very
profitable for you." He said, "Okay, I will send my brother Jack, who
is our land man, down to look at it." That developed a great
friendship. This Jack Pritzker is now deceased, and his wife had been
magnificent family friends of ours. He looked at the property and he
said, "Yes, it would be a great place for a hotel." They decided to
[build] a Hyatt there.
P: What is his first name? Is it Harry?
B: I know it so well.
P: Jack was his younger brother.
P: What was the first name of Dean Levy?
B: I know them all, but I cannot think of them.
P: He was dean of the College of Law at the University of Chicago.
B: Also, one of the brothers was president of the Illinois Institute of
Technology before Henry Heald, who had brought me to NYU.
P: So Jack Pritzker came down to look at the property.
B: He became so enamored with the area, he bought a beautiful homesite on
Siesta Key just below us and built a beautiful home.
P: Does Mrs. Jack Pritzker live there now?
B: Yes, she is a neat person. She is a good supporter of New College. She
gives them money right along.
P: They have been strong supporters of Jewish causes of Israel.
B: They are great people. They also strongly support great architecture.
They have an annual architecture award that is number one in the nation.
P: I did not realize this kind of interesting Jewish involvement. I had never
heard that before.
B: I used the architect who built the Pritzker name. I cannot think of his
name. His home [was] in California. We designed a great hotel with the
California architect. This is the property. It was empty sitting out
here. This is where we projected to develop it with an outstanding
P: Are we moving now to Watergate? Is that what we are getting ready to talk
B: Yes. This is Watergate Center.
P: Did you realize the significance of the name?
B: Yes, we did. We thought that brought notice and attention.
P: Watergate south.
B: I was chairman of the committee in Sarasota when we decided the city should
acquire this. I was chairman of the committee that decided we would put
a great entertainment center there. We had a great architect design
this. I cannot think of his name. It is a beautiful thing. Downtown
is right here.
P: When you go to concerts in Sarasota that is where you go?
B: Yes. It is about three times the size of this one. It is a beautiful
shell. The architect was a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright. Was it his
son or daughter that married somebody from Russia? It does not matter.
Here is the hotel, and that was going to be the centerpiece. These
were going to be beautiful condominiums over here of magnificent
quality. We were going to have Herod's of London and several other
famous stores here. We had contracts with them. So this was going to
be the project. We already had started the hotel.
We got a Canadian bank to underwrite it, and had gotten that started when in
walked a big, portly man who said, "Is this property for sale?" I said,
"No, it is not for sale." He said quite pompously, "Everything is for
sale." I said, "Okay, sir. I will talk to my partners." I was merely
a coordinator of all my partners. They said, "Well, what do you want to
do?" I said, "I think this man is pretty serious. He has given me his
card, and I will research it before I call you back." I called the head
of Citibank in New York and I said, "Do you know so and so with so and
so company?" I do not want to use names here. He said, "We certainly
do. They are the largest depositor in our bank and one of the
wealthiest international companies in the world." It was a Royal Dutch
Shell company. He said, "This man is a key representative of the
P: He was legitimate.
B: He was legitimate. So I decided to call in the best appraisers I knew.
They are not southern appraisers; they do not understand that I have New
York appraisers and California appraisers. They came up with appraisals
on this land way beyond anything we ever dreamed. I got it in writing
from them. When the man came in I said, "Sir, here is the price." My
partners were mad at me; they said the price will kill the deal. He
looked at me for a moment, and he said, "Here is the check." He gave me
a $500,000 deposit on contract. We sold out. My years as an
entrepreneur are ended.
P: But at a tidy profit.
B: At a very tidy profit. This was done by one of the great architectural
firms, Hammoth, Wadah, and Castlebom (PLEASE VERIFY SPELLINGS) in St.
Louis. They are doing some big things nationally and internationally
now. So, that is my life.
P: It seems to me that everything you touched turned to gold.
B: Well, New College did not turn to gold money wise, but it turned to gold
P: Well, it did turn to gold in many ways, in terms of its accomplishments and
reputation. Not many colleges end up with lots of money.
B: It is number one in its category. You cannot beat that, I guess.
P: What happened then?
B: At that time, I was working on thirty-two or thirty-three boards. I was
out of town all the time.
P: What dates are we talking about that you close out the Watergate
P: We still have eleven years to go. What happened?
B: I went on a additional board--the General Telephone Company of Florida. I
also went on more bank boards. I was on thirty-three boards stretching
from California, Salt Lake, and New York City.
P: Were these monthly or semi-annual meetings?
P: So you are on the road still a great deal.
B: I had over three million miles of airplane travel.
P: You must be one of the great frequent flyers.
B: I still have 600,000 carried over. I lost a lot with Eastern. I lost over
a million miles with Eastern.
P: Why did you not transfer them to Continental?
B: I thought Continental was going to collapse, too.
P: You are on all of these boards, so you are still very active from 1983
B: Most of them extended me beyond the age of sixty-two. I finally left the
last one this year, which was U. S. Life Corporation on the New York
P: So from 1983 to 1994, you were on these boards.
B: I was a professional board person.
P: Traveling from one board to another around the country.
B: It was not bad. You know the synergism of it is good because you would
learn something from one company that would make you awfully smart at
another company. I do not mean trade secrets, I just mean business
P: When did you decide to come back to Gainesville?
B: This was also a surprise. This is the last surprise that I have. I love
doing yard work because I am home so little, and I have had so little
time to do it in my life. I did all my yard work. I really have a
beautiful place here. I do my yard work here. We were out on Bird Key,
which is a beautiful development in the center of Sarasota Bay, right in
the heart. It was a project of Arthur Vining Davis.
A man came riding by on a bicycle with torn off pants, a little undershirt, a
big bushy beard, hair all up here; he was on a beat up old bicycle. The
man said, "Is your house for sale?" I said, "No sir, it is not for
sale." He said, "Well, my wife and I have been looking at this house
for three years, and we finally are selling out where we are. We want
to settle here." I said, "Where have you been?" He said, "We have been
in St. Johns in the Caribbean. We just have gotten tired of it. I just
have sold my company in New England. This is the house we always have
looked at ever since we have come to Sarasota." I said, "Well, it is
not for sale." He said, "Sir, everything is for sale." I said, "All
right. Come back, and I will see if my wife is interested." She was
interested because she does not like hot weather. She is not a beach
person, but she enjoys Sarasota because of the hills and the trees. She
never really [adjusted] to palm trees and sand. She said, "Oh boy, let
us go back home to Gainesville."
P: So she made the suggestion.
B: This was her suggestion. So we did.
P: You sold out to this man with bushy hair.
B: We sold out to this man. It was all in cash. I had a real capital gain.
We came up here and looked around, and the lot we wanted was over at the
Gainesville Country Club. It was oddly shaped--it was a pie-shaped lot,
[and it] did not look like it was big enough to build a home on it. It
still intrigued me because it had the golf course on all sides of it. A
very fine family, the family of Dr. Tom Brill was next door. Dr. Brill
was our pediatrician.
P: I know where you live now because I have been to the Brill home.
B: Oh, have you? Well, we are next door. The next house was Dr. Bell, who
delivered our children.
P: I have done a wonderful interview with Dr. Cookamore (PLEASE VERIFY
B: Oh did you? Well he is the father of Gretchen. We knew the Brills, and we
just loved them and the area. I said, "Well, who owns it?" They said,
"M. M. Parrish." I said, "I know him; he is the first man I ever knew."
I went to see him, and the man said, "Oh no. It is not for sale. You
know the house of Mary is right across from us. She loves to look out
over there and into the woods." I said, "It does not really look big
enough to build on it. Supposing it is big enough to build on, and I
let you build a house." He had quit building houses at that point. He
had just stopped. He previously had done the big job at the football
P: Yes. He was ready to retire.
B: He was ready to retire. I said, "I will let you build this as your last
house. You are the first person I met. You ought to be the last person
to build the house for me." He said, "Well, you are persuasive. You go
ask Mary." So I went to ask her. I said, "Mary, if we built a lovely
home like this, and I really landscaped the backyard would that be bad?"
She said, "No, I think that would be great." We designed the house,
but we could not fit the house on the lot. M. said, "You know that lot
seemed bigger to me when I bought it." A car path cut across a part of
the end of it. I said, "I will pay for a survey to see what happens."
The stake ends up back in the golf course. They had encroached over the
years about twenty-five feet. That was the difference. It cost them
about $12,000 to move their water lines and electrically-controlled
P: Well, they should not have been there in the first place.
B: Right. I was surprised that they did not try to get it by adverse
persuasion. We built the house, and we had the home we always had
wanted. I went back to my old Rotary Club. I got involved with the
University. I tried to give them a gift.
P: So you have had a pleasant retirement, have you not George?
B: Yes, I have.
P: How do you account for the fact that you have lived such a charmed life?
As I said, almost everything has been profitable for you.
B: On a sour note.
P: All of these wonderful things have happened to you.
B: If there is any one thing that I attribute it to, it would have to be luck.
Luck always has to be there.
P: But you were in the right place at the right time.
B: It was my father. I just admire my father. He overcame and prevailed over
every adverse situation in life and he did it with class. He was a
P: So he has been, in a way, your role model.
B: He endowed me with a lot of things. I have been lucky. I have been so
lucky, you just cannot believe it. Hazel and I have talked about it
many times. There is not a single thing in all I have told you that is
not the perfect truth, and that has not been a very unusual situation.
It was just an unusual situation.
P: George, what kind of a person are you? You have been an ambitious man all
of your life.
B: I am a clean liver. I do not drink. I have faith. I have old-fashioned
love for my family, even though it has been a scattered situation. I am
committed to whatever I do.
P: What do you do for fun? You work in your yard.
B: I work my yard. I have a motorcycle in the mountains. Of course,
motorcycles have been in my history, and I just love to take it out. I
have a lovely home up there on the golf course at Rock Cliff (PLEASE
VERIFY SPELLING) Country Club. I do all the yard work there.
P: Do you do a lot of golfing?
B: I do a lot of golfing. I love walking. I walk five, eight, or ten miles a
day. I love to travel.
P: Your health is good.
B: Oh, my health is excellent. Both Hazel and I--we just are so lucky at
eighty--we cannot believe it. We love to travel, like you, we love to
cruise. We take a minimum of four cruises a year. There is one ship
that I have not gone on yet, the Crystal Line. I have not gone on that
P: Where have you been in the world?
B: I have been in practically every country in the world, first in the Navy.
P: I mean as part of travel.
B: I guess almost everywhere. We have not been to the North or South Poles
even though they have expeditions. We have not done that. We have not
gone to western Russia in peacetime. I was in Mermansk in wartime.
P: Have you been through the Far East?
B: Oh yes, and I do not like it. I think it is a hangover from the war. The
Japanese were so brutal, and I saw so much evidence of that. I just
cringe at people buying Japanese cars. Anything to do with the far east
really gets under my skin.
P: Do you like Europe?
B: I love Europe, but I am not particularly fond of Africa. I do not like
dirt. I like historical things. I love beautiful things.
P: Are you a reader?
B: Yes, I read, but it is more contemporary reading. I am not an
P: You are an eclectic reader?
B: Yes, eclectic. That is a good definition for it.
P: Are you close to your family?
B: I am close to my family and we stay very close.
P: Are you a religious man?
B: I am my own religious man. I am not particularly excited about what I
believe is man-made religion. When I say man-made religion, I believe
in the principles of God and the principles of our religion, but I hate
to have some man stand up and preach at me, who, personally, I do not
always fully respect.
P: So you are not really a church-going person?
B: My wife is. I can take it or leave it because it seems so man-made to me
and so artificial. It just does not move me.
P: What have you done for the University and what service have you been
involved with since you moved back to Gainesville?
B: I have met with [Gerald] Gerry Schaffer (officer of the University of
Florida Foundation) quite a lot about some things.
P: Are you on the Foundation board?
B: They asked me one time, but I have gone through all that with New College
and my own foundation.
P: You do not want to get involved.
B: I have had all that. I am not sure that I want to get into that kind of
involvement anymore. I handle my own investments. I have a trust fund
with Barnett Bank, but it is a custodial trust fund. I handle all the
investments of it. I can do better than they can by far. I have done
better than most. I am very fortunate financially. I have given away
already $2.5 million, most of it anonymously. I intend to give away
about two million dollars more.
P: George, as you look around the world and you look around our community in
Gainesville, are you alarmed at what you see? What about the crime?
B: I am alarmed at the crime. I certainly am. I am alarmed about morals. I
am alarmed about the politics of our nation. Hazel and I often say to
each other that we lived in the best of times.
P: Are you fearful of the future for your grandchildren?
B: I am, and yet I think when you say that, you become very provincial. What
I think is so serious, children do not often think is that serious. I
presume my father thought our generation was going to hell, too, I
guess. I do not know. I think the direction of the world is very
scary, both in pollution and morals. Just take the 0. J. Simpson thing-
-it is so sad. All that implies is good, bad, or indifferent.
P: George, what do you think that we have left out of this interview?
B: I do not think we left out anything. I think we put in too much.
P: You have not put in too much. For a man who has been doing it twenty-five
years, I can tell you we have not put in too much. I do not want to
leave anything out that I should have covered or may not know about.
B: I think you touched on the one thing I would be most grateful to say thank.
That is to my dear wife Hazel and the family. They have had to do it
all with me, for me, and along with me. I give them heartfelt credit.
P: They did spend a lot of time alone.
B: Yes, alone, and even when it was not alone. At New College, my wife was
entertaining somebody all the time. That is all we had to do. We had
nothing else to offer them.
P: And nobody else to help take up the burden.
B: No. She had people in the house all the time, trying to keep them
involved, informed, and feeling a part of it.
P: So along with all the other blessings you have had, you have had a good,
B: Oh, absolutely. I do not think that anybody would have done anything
differently. One of them did not like New York, the other loved it.
One liked Sarasota, and the other did not. It all balanced out.
P: It sounds to me, since you have talked with such great enthusiasm, there is
not much, if anything, in your life that you would have changed.
B: Oh, no. I would not have. There is absolutely nothing of which I am
aware. Two or three times we were looking at dead ends, but they all
P: There always was a light that flashed at the end of the tunnel.