TAMPA — John Guyton was at his desk. Before him stood a frustrated marketing rep, ready to quit his job.
Life wasn't working out in America, the salesman said. After a year with Central Oil Co. in Tampa, he wanted to go home to Pakistan.
Mr. Guyton, the company's chief executive officer, had other ideas. He gave Tasneem Mirza a quiet pep talk plus $1,000 — a lot of money in the late 1960s.
With the money, Mirza visited family members in Pakistan. Some relatives eventually joined Mirza in the United States. Mr. Guyton helped with their expenses, too.
Powerful people knew Mr. Guyton for more sweeping contributions, such as sitting on the boards of Hillsborough Community College and the Stetson University College of Law.
Other much quieter acts of generosity directly changed people's lives.
Mr. Guyton died Tuesday after an illness. He was 88. He served as CEO and chairman of the Central Oil Co. board in Tampa from 1948 to 1996.
Mirza, a U.S. Air Force-trained commercial airline pilot in Pakistan, had spent a decade in the United States. He had become a U.S. citizen and gotten his FAA licenses but could not find a job flying planes. "I was getting nowhere," said Mirza, now 75 and living in Tampa.
He had been working for Central Oil for a year when he confronted his boss. "John Guyton said, 'Don't go back,' " Mirza recalled. "He said, 'Pakistan is not going anywhere, and we like you here.' " Mirza ended up working for Central Oil for 32 years.
John Avery Collins Guyton was born in Miami in 1923. He interrupted his college years at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania to serve four years in the Army during World War II, leaving as a second lieutenant. He then followed his father into the oil business.
Mr. Guyton owned multiple companies involved in a variety of activities. His businesses sold asphalt, repaired ships, supplied home heating oil and delivered grain to breweries. At its peak, Central Oil was one of the largest independent businesses in the state.
"He knew everybody in Tampa Bay, the heads of all of the large businesses," said Bruce Jacob, a professor at the Stetson University College of Law and a longtime friend. The two met as students at the law school in the mid 1950s after Mr. Guyton decided to return to school for a law degree.
In 1967 and 1969, then-Florida Gov. Claude Kirk appointed Mr. Guyton to the Hillsborough County Civil Service Board and to the board of trustees at Hillsborough County Junior College, now Hillsborough Community College. Over the years, he also served on the Orange Bowl Committee and the boards of two private schools in northern Virginia, including Woodberry Forest, his high school alma mater.
When Jacob served as Stetson's dean from 1981 to 1994, Mr. Guyton helped his old friend secure large donations to the law school, suggesting potential donors and accompanying him on those visits.
"Being a dean is a really tough job," Jacob said, "and he went so far out of his way to help."
A distinguishing trait, Jacob said, was that Mr. Guyton "took an interest in people." He chatted at length with clerks and office staff and once paid a young neighbor's tuition so that he could fulfill a dream of becoming a national park ranger.
So while he appreciated his recent recognition as a 50-year member of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, those smaller gestures meant just as much to Mr. Guyton and his family.
"He did a lot of nice, quiet things" for people over the years, said Carole Guyton, his wife of 51 years. Mr. Guyton retired after he sold Central Oil in 1996. In October, the Stetson law school will induct him into its Hall of Fame.
"He was one of those Americans you could believe when he said something," Mirza said this week. "He was one of the mentors in my life."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.