Tire store owner and philanthropist Olin Mott dies

The tire merchant founded or funded many charities in Hillsborough County.
Published July 2 2013
Updated July 3 2013

TAMPA — Olin Mott ran his world from a red leather chair behind a mahogany desk in a back corner office of the tire store he founded during President Dwight D. Eisenhower's first term.

Autographed photos hang everywhere, showing Mr. Mott posing with every Republican president from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush; with buddies like George Steinbrenner, Lee Roy Selmon and former Yankees manager Billy Martin.

Mr. Mott opened his tire store at 3741 E Hillsborough Ave. in 1956. He expanded to Pinellas and Polk counties, though now the six Olin Mott Tire Stores are all in Hillsborough.

As subsequent generations of family members took over the business, Mr. Mott turned his attention to the many charities he had funded or founded, a literacy program that has swept through Hillsborough County schools, or the Florida State Fair Authority.

Mr. Mott, a tireless tire merchant and benefactor to children in crisis, died Tuesday after an illness. He was 92.

"He's been quite a household word in Tampa," said longtime Olin Mott customer and former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, who swapped many a story with Mr. Mott in that corner office. "His name will live on forever."

The native of Coffee County, Ga., cultivated friends, donors and volunteers with patronage of their businesses and small talk.

"He would tell you, 'To get business you've got to give business,' " said DeDe Grundel, the executive director of Friends of Joshua House Foundation. "You create this business that grows."

In 1992 Mr. Mott and others founded Joshua House, a shelter for children who have been removed from their homes due to crisis.

"He'd be muscle if we needed muscle," Grundel said. "If we call and say, 'Oh my gosh, somebody has a beautiful console TV to donate and we can't move it,' he'd say, 'I'm sending somebody over there right now.' "

Grundel bought her tires at the E Hillsborough Olin Mott. Chatting with the founder always outlasted the job, and she wasn't the only one.

"It usually takes a half-hour to 45 minutes to get your tire fixed," said Rick McKenzie, a controller at Olin Mott. "But it will be a four-hour visit."

But how the connections grew.

After Joshua House successfully recruited University of South Florida students to tutor their young residents, Mr. Mott struck a wider arc. In 2007 he launched the Tutor-a-Bull program, in which USF College of Education students spend four hours a week with middle and high school students. More than 1,500 Hillsborough County students have been helped since.

The man who started the program dropped out of school in the sixth grade. Olin L. Mott was born in 1921, the sixth of eight children. On Dec. 7, 1941, he was stationed at Pearl Harbor. On a trip to the mess hall he felt the earth shake at about the same time he noticed Japanese planes.

Though he was injured in the attack, Mr. Mott eschewed a Purple Heart license tag and rarely talked about the war. "He felt the heroes were those that lost their lives," said Rick Mott, 62, his son, who now runs the business.

He married Doris Albright in 1946. He moved his family to Tampa in 1954 and founded a tire shop at a Pontiac dealership the next year before opening the E Hillsborough Avenue shop.

Since then, he is credited with playing key roles in establishing the Bob Thomas Equestrian Center and getting a football program at USF. At the Florida State Fair Governor's Luncheon in 2011, Selmon presented Mr. Mott with the Tampa Metro Civitan Club Outstanding Citizen of the Year Award. Past recipients have included Tampa legends such as Steinbrenner, George and Leonard Levy, Al Austin and Monsignor Laurence Higgins.

Memorabilia for that honor and many more line the walls of his office, where Mr. Mott continued to work on volunteer projects until just a few months ago.