ST. PETERSBURG — In 1977, nine local businessmen opened Park Bank of Florida, riding a tide of optimism sure to lift all boats.
They planned to lend to local businesses, including real estate investors and developers larger banks might pass up. They all had successful track records in law, real estate, a fast-food chain and accounting. Only one of them, however, had been a full-time professional banker.
They had a main office in the Plaza building at 111 Second Ave. NE, where a plaque about winners and losers hung on the wall.
Gary Froid, one of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.'s most successful agents — the company's national "man of the year" in 1973, the youngest-ever St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce president in 1974 — was one of the nine winners. A dynamo of limitless energy and passion, Mr. Froid had compiled his own 12 "commandments," including, "Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it."
The bank's vision paid off, doubling its loan portfolio almost every year between 1978 and 1983. By 1984, Park Bank was Pinellas County's largest independent bank.
Even then, storm clouds hovered on the horizon. In late 1983, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. expressed concerns about the bank's rapid growth and an abnormally high percentage of problem loans. On Feb. 14, 1986, the regulators closed the bank, taking more than $214 million in loans and selling the rest to Chase Manhattan Corp. Insiders variously compared the event to the fall of Troy, an inescapable black hole and the 1929 St. Valentine's Day massacre. In 1987, Mr. Froid filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
For the man whose seventh commandment began with the words, "Always do what you say," this was a visceral blow.
"I don't want any part of this again," he said then. "I want my teeth extracted without Novocaine."
While the bank's customers were not affected, investors lost millions. Mr. Froid recovered, broadening an already extensive record of civic involvement, including his membership on the Pinellas Sports Authority during the construction of the Florida Suncoast Dome (now Tropicana Field) and efforts to lure a professional baseball team. He sat on at least a dozen civic or educational boards, many of which he chaired, and founded the areas's first fantasy football league in the mid 1980s.
Mr. Froid, who did his best to live up to commandments borrowed from Vince Lombardi, William Shakespeare and his own life experience, died Tuesday at St. Anthony's Hospital as a result of complications following heart surgery, his family said. He was 76.
"He was recognized as a person who was a leader and who got things done," said Dick Jacobs, 82, a lawyer and former chief executive officer of Park Bank. "That was his strongest suit."
Those who had sampled his chili, marveled at his electric trains or been startled by a rubber roach in their coffee mug knew a different side of Mr. Froid.
"He was complex in that he was so smart and driven and focused, but could quickly downshift, knock back cocktails and still be the smartest person in the room," said Sue Froid, his wife of 29 years.
Gary Robert Froid was born in Burlington, Iowa, in 1937. He played football at Harvard University, where he was admitted on a naval ROTC scholarship, then joined Northwestern Mutual. He had four children with his first wife, Diane. He later married Sue Yaffin Obrentz, and in 1984 moved their blended family into a home on Brightwaters Boulevard once owned by Barney Google and Snuffy Smith cartoonist Billy DeBeck. Two years earlier, Mr. Froid had been averaging $25 million a year in sales with Northwestern.
Then came the 1986 crash of Park Bank, lawsuits and the conviction of three loan officers over financing schemes. Bankruptcy laws allowed Mr. Froid, the bank's second-largest shareholder, to keep the $700,000 home, along with $25,000-a-month take-home pay and an IRA. "Rather than sit there and moan, he worked out a plan to recover," said Jacobs. Mr. Froid later repaid Jacobs over a debt incurred by the crash. "He wasn't legally obligated to that," Jacobs said. "But that's a statement about his character as far as I'm concerned."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.