Saturday, June 23, 2018
News Roundup

Builder and politician Clark Scherer rolled with punches, and usually won

GULFPORT — Honed by wartime command and decades as a buck-stops-here general contractor, Clark Scherer knew how to lead.

As a Naval officer who built docks and dodged bombs in Vietnam, Mr. Scherer did not get bogged down in the details: He got the job done.

When Hurricane Andrew turned his Miami Toys "R" Us into a pile of pick-up sticks, he did not panic. He rebuilt it.

And when he thought he could improve his city, he threw himself into the effort. He served two terms as mayor of Coconut Creek in the 1970s. Just five years ago, he ran for mayor of Gulfport.

Mr. Scherer, who faced challenges in business and politics with toughness and diplomacy, died Sept. 5, of leukemia. He was 81.

"In this community, he was looked to for leadership and advice by several who are key to the community," said Bob Newcomb, who managed Mr. Scherer's mayoral campaign. "He would not make a statement without thinking it through. He was careful who he was close to, and did not share his expertise with fools."

In business and life he was more formulaic than flashy, intent on finding methods that worked. His company, Scherer Construction, built dozens of chain retail outlets, including Toys "R" Us, RaceTrac gas stations, Ruth's Chris steak houses and Advance Auto Parts.

Clark Scherer III, who is now the company's chief executive, remembers his father as being "calm" and "in control."

"He was a Naval captain," said Scherer, 58. "He was used to having 1,200 people a day saying 'Yes, sir,' and 'No, sir.' "

Clark Harvey Scherer Jr. grew up in Louisville, Ky. He graduated from the University of Louisville, where he was a cheerleader, a standout on the dive team and an ROTC cadet. Mr. Scherer earned a master's degree at the University of Louisville's engineering school. He married Laverne Midgett and had six sons, including one who died in infancy.

He served with the Navy in Hawaii, Guam and Washington, D.C., among other places. As an engineering officer in 1964 with the Navy's Seabees construction force, he oversaw the first docks for U.S. ships in Vietnam and helped build the Chu Lai Air Base.

His building career followed, focusing on commercial construction.

He settled in St. Petersburg in the 1980s. In 1996, he built an 8,500-square-foot waterfront home in Gulfport.

Laverne Scherer died of cancer in 2003. The following year, Mr. Scherer visited an old high school friend in California, Donalie Fitzgerald, with whom he had once double-dated. A beauty pageant runnerup to Miss Kentucky in 1949, she had gone on to Hollywood, producing the television show Hollywood-a-Go-Go.

"I had not seen him and he had not seen me," said Donalie Scherer, 81. "We looked at each other at the airport and it was like two magnets."

They married in 2004 aboard the paddle-wheel boat Starlight Princess. They threw memorable parties, including one with a small forest of Christmas trees and lights flickering in time to the music. Just last year, at age 80, they made a splash at a St. Petersburg Yacht Club Halloween party as Superman and Wonder Woman.

Mr. Scherer made another run for mayor in 2007, losing in a three-way race to longtime incumbent Mike Yakes. Before the election, Mr. Scherer and a supporter filed a pair of complaints against Yakes, which were investigated and dropped by the state Ethics Commission.

"I have no bad memories of Clark Scherer," Yakes said this week. "He came up to me prior to filing as a gentleman and I respected that."

The two men continued to converse after the election and "had a mutual respect," Yakes said.

To Jo Hastings, 53, the race and his illness showed what Mr. Scherer was made of. "It's easy to throw a punch," said Hastings, who owns the Habana Cafe. "It's not so easy to take a punch and he knew how to take one."

She was one of many friends who expressed concern when Mr. Scherer's myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood disorder, advanced to leukemia.

"He would just kind of say, 'Well, you know, I'll be okay,' " Hastings said. "And he would continue to focus on whatever you wanted to talk about."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

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