TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Millionaire philanthropist Jack Eckerd, a hard-driving businessman who turned three rundown drugstores into an empire that bore his name, died Wednesday, his family said. He was 91.
Eckerd died in Clearwater of complications from pneumonia contracted last week, said Nancy Eckerd Hart, one of his daughters.
He started the Clearwater-based Eckerd Drug Stores in 1952 with three stores. By 1975, he had 465 drugstores in 10 states with 12,000 employees, as well as 60 optical centers in Florida, a food service equipment business and a security company.
He amassed a fortune _ last estimated in 1975 by Fortune magazine to be $150 million _ which in turn financed many causes, including Eckerd College, a liberal arts college in St. Petersburg, a network of wilderness camps for troubled children, and Ruth Eckerd Hall, a performing arts center in Clearwater.
A Republican, he failed in three runs for statewide office in Florida: twice for governor in 1970 and 1978 and once for U.S. senator in 1974.
He served as head of the General Services Administration, the federal government's housekeeping agency, from 1975 to 1977.
``He was a great Floridian, a great American, a great success story, a great Republican I might add, and really a wonderful man with a big and caring heart,'' Gov. Jeb Bush said Wednesday. ``He will be missed.''
Born in Wilmington, Del., to the son of a wealthy drugstore owner, Eckerd was determined by age 20 to become a millionaire in his own right.
He graduated from Culver Military Academy in Logansport, Ind., in 1930 and was a pilot for the Army Air Corps during World II. In 1952, Eckerd came to Florida and bought three run-down drugstores for $150,000.
The chain, bought by J.C. Penney in 1996, now has more than 2,600 stores in 20 states. Penney recently announced it was selling the struggling chain to rivals CVS Corp. and Jean Contu Group Inc.
``He built a handful of small drugstores into a national empire. And then he devoted much of his attention and philanthropy to Floridians who often spend their lives in the shadows _ including abused children and prison inmates,'' said U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who defeated Eckerd in the governor's race in 1978 and later became his friend.