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Olin Mott, Tampa tire dealer and philanthropist, dies

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Published:   |   Updated: July 8, 2013 at 12:04 PM

TAMPA - Olin Mott developed his personal philosophy during the Great Depression, when he sold peanuts to help with his family's income.

His worldview, relatives said, was simple: You can't make a wheelbarrow move unless you push it yourself.

"He was high on quality, he was high on respect," son Rick Mott said. "He hated procrastination. He would tell you, 'Now is the time to do it.'"

That attitude would take Olin Mott from selling peanuts to creating a successful, well-known tire business. Along the way, he earned a Purple Heart during the attack on Pearl Harbor and performed charitable work large and small for all the 60 years he lived in Tampa.

"His heart was about educating kids for the future of our society," said the Rev. J.W. Carr, pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Seffner. "We're going to miss him."

Mott, the founder of Olin Mott Tire Stores who endeared himself to the community with his philanthropic work, died Tuesday. He was 92.

Rick Mott said his father's health has been deteriorating and the family was making arrangements to have hospice care in the patriarch's home. But over the weekend, Olin Mott's condition worsened, and he was admitted into hospice care at Sun City Center.

"His kidney was failing," Rick Mott, 62, said. "He didn't want dialysis. He accepted it. He said, 'I'm 92 years old. I've done enough and I've lived a good life.'"

On Monday, Olin Mott turned to a nurse and asked her to call his family.

"He said, 'I don't think I can make it to tomorrow morning,'" Rick Mott said. "He said he was so tired. We expected it, but you can never prepare yourself for it."

Olin Mott's legacy of volunteer work and philanthropy can still be seen today at the Florida State Fair, local 4-H clubs and the University of South Florida.

The Pearl Harbor survivor left an impression on politicians, professional athletes and customers who simply needed an oil change or a tire patched.

"Olin Mott was a true hero, not just for his service to our country for which he received a Purple Heart, and not just for his philantropy and leadership on many boards, including the Florida State Fair Authority," Florida agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said. "His contributions will forever be remembered."

Mott was born March 5, 1921, in Coffee, Ga. He was one of eight children, and the hardships of the Depression gave Mott his self-reliant nature.

"He only had a 6th grade education, but he taught himself everything," his son said. "He was a self-made man. If he didn't know about something, he would find out."

At 20, Olin Mott joined the Army and was stationed at Fort Kemahameha in Hawaii. On Dec. 7, 1941, he was walking across the base's parade ground between Hickam Field and Pearl Harbor, headed to the chow hall, when he saw explosions and felt the ground shaking.

He looked up and saw Japanese planes attacking. The private first class ran across the field with four others, set up a .50-caliber machine gun on a wall and fired back.

Mott kept firing until a 500-round box of ammunition from an exploding truck struck him in the back. The injury left Mott with one kidney.

In later years, Mott rarely spoke of the attack or the horrors he saw that day.

"He had a hard time talking about that," Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee said. "His whole life, he couldn't get those things out of his mind."

After the war, Mott and his wife Doris moved to Tampa, where he got a job in the tire industry as a clerk for a retread equipment maker, according to a City of Tampa proclamation signed by Mayor Bob Buckhorn. Mott eventually was promoted to general manager but soon struck out on his own to start his own company.

He established the first Olin Mott Tire store in 1955 at 3741 E. Hillsborough Ave., where it still stands. The company has since expanded to five other stores across Hillsborough.

Carr, the pastor of Faith Baptist, said Molin's care for others was evident from the beginning. Carr and his family had given up their worldly possessions in the early 1960's to build their church. Carr was using a donated vehicle to find locations for the sanctuary when a tire blew out.

Through a friend, Carr met Mott. The businessman gave the pastor a set of four new tires and wouldn't accept payment. The free tires, and friendship, lasted for decades. Carr said he started paying for his own tires just a few years ago.

"I never bought or got a tire anywhere else," Carr said. "He was a dear friend in a great time of need."

Mott also devoted his time to the Florida State Fair, serving on the board from 1998 to 2012. Mott, along with fellow philanthropist Bob Thomas, developed the Bob Thomas Equestrian Center at the Fairgrounds.

"Mr. Mott was always looking ahead in a forward direction, seeking the best in everyone and everything," said Chuck Pesano, the executive director of the Florida State Fair. "He was a special type of leader who spoke his mind and everyone knew exactly his position on a subject."

Doyle E. Carlton III, who served with Mott on the fair's board, said what he most cherishes about his friend was Mott's integrity and character.

"He was a person of conviction," Carlton said. "His legacy is about living your life in a way that would be helpful to others."

Those closest to Mott said he placed a priority on children and education. In 1992, he and other Tampa citizens built the Joshua House, a center for abused, neglected and abandoned children.

"He had a great heart," said former county Commissioner Dottie Berger MacKinnon, who helped Mott plan and establish Joshua House. "He was just one of those guys who was solid and caring, especially when it came to children."

A tutoring program that started at the center eventually expanded to 20 county schools, with students from the University of South Florida's College of Education providing the tutoring. The program, called Tutor-a-Bull, started in 2007 when Mott asked Gee for funding.

"He said we should take money from drug seizures for the mentoring program," the sheriff said. "Olin put a value in mentoring these kids."

The program now has about 100 volunteers every year, said Harold Keller, the interim dean of USF's College of Education.

"He was a great champion for education," Keller said. "His ability to get people to give their time and money for the program is just incredible. He's a very persuasive guy."

Rick Mott said his father's lack of opportunities during the Depression probably inspired him to ensure future generations of children could get a proper education.

"He had a heart for helping young people," Mott said.

And Olin Mott wanted people to realize their potential.

"He always wanted people to give him the best they could," Rick Mott said, "to accomplish things no matter what. He's from the old school; the best generation ever. He could be a hard man, but fair. He was my hero and we're proud of him."

A viewing will be held Saturday from 4-8 p.m. at Stowers Funeral Home, 401 W. Brandon Blvd. in Brandon. A memorial service will begin Monday at 2 p.m. at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa.


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