In those final months, the three friends never failed to bring him daily lunches and afternoons filled with conversation. They talked about the sports they had bonded over, the businesses that made each wildly successful, memories made together over the years.
Never once did Richard O. Jacobson mention the gifts he had coming for them.
The first came in 2017, about a year after the Iowa business magnate and philanthropist died in Belleair at 79. Members of the Richard O. Jacobson Foundation took the three men out to lunch for what they thought was a chance to break bread over Jacobson's memory. The real reason for the visit came out at the end of the meal : $1 million for each of their chosen charities.
Then this spring, two years after Jacobson's death, the Foundation asked the three friends to make a proposal. A few months later, a call came with the news: $5 million each to boost their charitable work in Tampa Bay.
The friends — restaurateur Frank Chivas, Hooters co-founder Ed Droste and Ditek Corp. co-founder Bob McIntyre — never expected anything in return for those final acts of kindness to Jacobson or their years of friendship. But they see it now as a duty to carry on a legacy of service, Droste said.
"Wouldn't we all love to have a legacy of one of our greatest passions, in his case, it's helping others?" Droste said. "How many people get to have their mission go on beyond them? And possibly, the repercussions are going to be enormous."
When Jacobson relocated to Tampa Bay from his native Iowa in the late 1990s, the friends grew close over box seats at baseball and football games, the community events they all dedicate their time and money to, the business circles that entwined them all.
Soon they were celebrating Easters and Christmases in Jacobson's Belleair home and taking trips when a charity honored Jacobson for a multi-million dollar gift. In 2011 Jacobson gave $100 million to Mayo Clinic, the largest ever gift from a single living donor, to establish a proton beam therapy program for cancer treatment.
It took some time for even Jacobson's closest friends to understand the scale of his philanthropy. Part of it was Jacobson's modesty — he drove the same beat up white Buick for about 25 years, flew Allegiant even though he had a private plane, brought home soaps and pens he got from hotel rooms.
When Jacobson went home to Iowa for visits, CEOs of international companies joined him for breakfast at the local diner. But so did the man who delivered his newspaper, McIntyre said.
"Dick treated everybody with respect," he said. "Everybody was the most important person to him."
Jacobson built a fortune from his warehouse and shipping companies, later investing in ethanol. But McIntyre said Jacobson made money to give it away.
A Foundation spokesman estimates Jacobson gave over $300 million in his lifetime: $15 million to the University of Northern Iowa's College of Education; $3.5 million for a livestock arena at the Iowa State Fairgrounds that bears his name; millions more for facilities at Iowa's universities, youth homes and emergency shelters, the Des Moines Public Library, Blank Children's Hospital and countless individuals he helped in private.
Jacobson took notice of the charitable passions Chivas, Droste and McIntyre prioritized while running their own companies. In 2006, he gave $1 million for the Jacobson Culinary Academy at Tarpon Spring High School that opened in 2009, a project of the Pinellas Education Foundation, where McIntyre sits on the board of directors. In 2009 he gave $100,000 for prostate research at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, where Droste chairs the board of directors. In 2010 he gave $1 million to the Education and Marine Life Hospital wing at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where Chivas sits on the board of directors.
When the Foundation wanted to give more this year, Chivas, Droste and McIntyre met once a week in Chivas' Salt Cracker Fish Camp on Clearwater Beach to strategize. Over oatmeal with tumeric that Chivas cooked in the kitchen, they bounced ideas on how to make the biggest impact. Droste and McIntyre brought glossy folders and paperwork. Chivas pulled out years of ideas scribbled on cocktail napkins.
In August they flew to Iowa to make their presentations to the Foundation's board. The next day they got the call.
Droste's $5 million will support Moffitt's Center for Excellence for Evolutionary Therapy, which is improving cancer therapy by using mathematical models to predict how tumors grow and spread. It will support an endowment to fund the work of a tumor board oncologist. It will also pave the way for Integrated Mathematical Oncology clinical trials, said Moffitt director of corporate and foundation relations Lindsay Voltz.
This is on top of Jacobson's $1 million gift to Moffitt in 2017, which created an endowment chair in mathematical oncology, held now by Dr. Alexander Anderson, who is using mathematical techniques to improve cancer therapy. The gift also provides scholarships to high school students interning in the integrated mathematical oncology department.
McIntyre's $5 million from the Jacobson Foundation will help the Pinellas Education Foundation construct a veterinary science building at the Seminole campus of the Richard O. Jacobson Technical High School, which opened in August and replaced the county's career technical academies.
The $5 million gift, the largest in the Education Foundation's history, will also fund Elevating Excellence, a district-wide initiative to provide high-achieving minority and low-income students with support to get to college. The $1 million in 2017 created an endowment fund to pay for a variety of career and technical initiatives in perpetuity, from student internships to certification programs.
"You see gifts like this going to higher education all the time, but for an organization to say we're doubling down on K-12 education ... that we're willing to invest in their potential to succeed, it's a moment that lends credibility to investing in K-12 education," Pinellas Education Foundation president Stacy Baier said.
Chivas said he had talked to Jacobson over the years about the transformative experience the Clearwater Marine Aquarium gives to disabled children and veterans who come to see Winter the dolphin thriving with her prosthetic tail. Chivas put half of the Jacobson Foundation's $1 million gift in 2017 and half of Jacobson's $5 million gift this year towards the aquarium's $66 million expansion of its aging facility on Island Estates.
Chivas spread the remaining $500,000 in 2017 between about a dozen Tampa Bay charities and is putting the remaining $2.5 million of this year's gift to the development of a culinary college in partnership with Pinellas County and St. Petersburg College.
Aquarium CEO David Yates said the combined $3 million will build a 7,000 square-foot R.O. Jacobson Education Center in the new facility, which will host school groups and other educational tours on marine life and conservation.
"The initial $1 million grant Dick gave us in 2010 changed the trajectory of our organization," Yates said. "These donations have been a true game-changer, allowing us to expand our mission, including care for more animals and new species, such as manatees."
Between the gifts through his three friends, and independent donations he made in his lifetime, the Jacobson Foundation estimates he made at least $25 million in contributions in Tampa Bay.
It's been more than two years since Jacobson died, but Chivas said his philanthropy to the community will have a longtime impact. These gifts were intended for longevity: endowments to fund research for years to come, a school to reach generations of children, an educational aquarium that is poised to further conservation in Florida.
"This will never be the last mark," Chivas said. "He didn't do things that affected one or two people. He made sure it was going to affect the masses. He's given things here that will last forever."
Contact Tracey McManus at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.