Decades later: A business colleague recalls a moment that sheds brighter light on Lee Roy Selmon
Above: Lee Roy Selmon embraces former OSI Restaurant Partners CEO Bill Allen after annnoucing the sale of the Lee Roy Selmon restaurant chain in 2007. Photo: Ross Mantle, St. Petersburg Times
Lee Roy Selmon stood tall in a wide range of fields, from college and pro football to USF Athletics to community service. He also forged an impressive path in the business world, as his Lee Roy Selmon sports restaurant chain and ties to the Outback Steakhouse family will attest.
My first meeting with Selmon came long before that. He was, of all things, a banker of sorts in the early 1990s. When I arrived at the St. Petersburg Times in 1991, Lee Roy Selmon worked in the marketing department of First Florida Banks -- what was then the largest Tampa Bay-based banking company, controlled by the Lykes Brothers business empire. We met and shook hands and, to be very honest having moved here from another part of the country, I was not at first aware I was greeting an important local hero and football star. My bad.
Someone who worked at the bank in marketing back then was a woman named Jerri Franz. She's gone on to work for many of the area big banks and recently worked with Alex Sink when she was the state's Chief Financial Officer and, then, running for governor. Franz, who now works as marketing vice president at United Way of Northeast Florida, sent me this wonderful story about her days working along side Lee Roy Selmon. (Photo, right: Lee Roy Selmon at an industry appreciation event in 1995, by Steve Hasel, St. Petersburg Times). These are her words:
"I was so sad to see the story about Lee Roy. I enjoyed working him immensely and frequently have said that when you look up words like Christian and servant's heart, his picture should be by the entry in the reference book. We were a two person team for awhile after Barnett Banks bought First Florida.
"I'll never forget coming back to the office late one evening and Lee Roy was at his desk looking very dejected. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me about having been at one of his volunteer/mentor activities and coming to the stark realization that perhaps he was going about helping the kids all wrong. He lamented that when he was with the young people, he could see the potential, he could feel their desire to want to take the path he was sharing with them. When I asked what was wrong then, he said -- 'then I leave and send them home to parents who can't or don't care enough to help them change the path they are on.' He said, 'Maybe I should be working with the parents, maybe then I could make a difference.'"
Added Franz: "I've never forgotten that conversation. It led to him talking about how much he loved his own children and what he wanted for their future. When I was expecting and was so sick the first 6 months, he'd drop by my office and tell me again what a miracle and blessing children are, about the first time he held his children in his hand (and his hands were big enough that he probably only used one!). What a loss. I feel so badly for his family."
Indeed, we all do. But I sure feel glad to have met Lee Roy those 20 years ago, and feel better for Jerri Franz sharing that story.
-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times