Publix employs more than 140,000 people in five states. Only five have been around longer than Brian Singletary.
None are more respected.
You like numbers? In his 46 years with the company, Singletary, 67, figures he has hired 1,400 high school students.
And here's another number, courtesy of Paul Girardi, who for nearly 30 years has been athletic director at Gulf High School: "He's our No. 1 fan.''
Singletary is a fixture at GHS sporting events, both home and away. Some years ago, he realized just how hooked he was on the Buccaneers when they hosted a football game against powerful Tarpon Springs. It rained so hard and for so long, the steps at Des Little Stadium became miniature waterfalls. By the end of the game, only five soaked people remained in the bleachers.
"Those were my kids,'' he recalled. "I wasn't about to leave.''
Bill Phillips, Class of 1975, put together a big alumni shindig a few weeks ago during which Singletary was honored for years of support to the school. Phillips, the business development director for a national roofing company, said "you could fill the stands at the football stadium with the people Brian Singletary has helped.''
He gave Phillips his first job, stocking shelves and bagging groceries at the Southgate Publix. "I never forgot the example he set,'' Phillips said. "When I thought about the alumni gathering, he was the No. 1 guy I had on my list to honor. He is just a humble, decent man.''
Case in point: When I called to see if I could write a column about him, he said, "I don't know why anybody would want to write about me. I'm about the most boring person I know.''
Singletary's dedication to this community began in 1965 when he started working at the brand spanking new Publix at Southgate shopping center. Three years earlier, he had started his career at Publix No. 8 in Tarpon Springs, where he had graduated from high school.
The new store was state-of-the-art, 21,000 square feet compared to the Tarpon store at 12,000. "Southgate was the biggest thing to hit New Port Richey,'' he recalled. It was West Pasco's first shopping center, featuring all the department stores, some clothing boutiques and a rocking chair twin movie theater.
Over the years, age and other shopping options cost Southgate its luster. But in the last four years, it has undergone a dramatic facelift and added a Starbucks and Cracker Barrel. Even the ancient McDonald's out front has been razed and is being replaced by a new, modern version. The Publix store keyed the renaissance, closing briefly before reopening with 45,000 square feet.
Singletary can look down on his aisles from the window in his office on the second floor. His walls are covered with family pictures and plaques, including the coveted George W. Jenkins award he received in 2000, named for the man who founded Publix in 1930 and died in 1996.
Singletary recalls meeting Jenkins, affectionately called "Mr. George'' by his associates, at the Tarpon Springs store. "He impressed me by how he visited so easily with us. He talked about the promise of Publix, how anything was possible if we worked hard. I was basically a kid, but I held onto that.''
These days, the most common question to Singletary concerns retirement. "I thought I'd do it 10 years ago,'' he says, "but I don't know any more. Honestly, I love this place. My staff makes this job very simple. And what keeps me pumped up is the young people who come through here.''
As a Publix executive, he is expected to be involved in the community. But if he were to retire today, would he still be such a booster for Gulf High sports?
"Yes,'' he says without hesitation. "No question about that.
"I'm their No. 1 fan.''