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Tampa’s A.R. Savage shipping celebrates 75 years and four generations of family

Bill Savage joined the company founded in 1945 with roots dating to Tampa’s earliest years.
Bill Savage is the fourth generation of his family to work for the A.R. Savage & Son ship agency.
Bill Savage is the fourth generation of his family to work for the A.R. Savage & Son ship agency. [ Courtesy of A.R. Savage & Son ]
Published Jan. 15

TAMPA — A.R. Savage & Son celebrated their 75th birthday in 2020 by making their Tampa shipping agency’s name literal again.

Not since Arthur Russell Savage was president of the company and employed his son William Savage has there been an A.R. Savage and a son working together in the company.

Arthur Russel Savage retired in 1968.

William Savage died in 1982 and his wife Shirley McKay Savage became company president.

“When I went to work for her in 1984, she joked she wanted to rename it Savage and Son and Daughter-In-Law and Grandson,” her son Arthur Renfro Savage, 59, said.

He took over as company president in 1998.

In December, he announced that his 27-year-old son Bill Savage had been hired as assistant vice president at A.R. Savage & Son, which the family says is the largest ship agency, ocean freight forwarding and maritime advisory services company on Florida’s west coast.

“I guess you can say we are officially A.R. Savage & Son again,” Arthur Savage said. “It marks four generations of our family in the company.”

Arthur Savage (left) and Rodney Kite-Powell stand for a portrait with the bust of James McKay Sr. in downtown Tampa in 2017.
[Times (2017)]
Arthur Savage (left) and Rodney Kite-Powell stand for a portrait with the bust of James McKay Sr. in downtown Tampa in 2017. [Times (2017)]

But their maritime roots date to Tampa’s earliest years.

Tampa was settled in 1823 and incorporated as a village in 1849.

Arthur Savage’s maternal great-great-grandfather is Capt. James McKay Sr., who relocated to Tampa from Alabama in the mid-1840s, then helped grow the village into a city.

The Scottish-born entrepreneur founded the cattle trade between Tampa and Cuba in the 1850s and “developed regular commercial shipping in and out of Tampa Bay,” Arthur Savage said.

McKay was elected Tampa’s sixth mayor and later served as a blockade runner during the Civil War to bring supplies to the civilians and soldiers.

Historic photo of The Cuba, a cargo ship from Tampa, with Havana in the background. The date of the photo is uncertain, but it is probably from the early 1900s.
Historic photo of The Cuba, a cargo ship from Tampa, with Havana in the background. The date of the photo is uncertain, but it is probably from the early 1900s. [ Courtesy of A.R. Savage & Son ]

Arthur Russell Savage was sent to Tampa in 1929 by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad to run Port Tampa.

“At the onset of WWII, Mr. Savage joined the US Army Transportation Corps, where he eventually became a Lieutenant Colonel and the Port Commander of Antwerp,” the company’s website reads. “Upon returning from the war, Mr. Savage elected to leave the railroad and start his own firm, the A. R. Savage Company.”

The “son” was added to to the company name when William Savage was hired.

As agents, the A.R. Savage & Son represents ships by “managing their logistics and compliance arrangements to get them into the port, loaded, unloaded or discharged,” Arthur Savage said.

His earliest memory with the company dates to childhood.

“We had Germans, Japanese, Greeks, people from all over the world, who wanted to see their ships loaded,” he said. “We took them out on a sport fishing boat. And as young as I can remember, my dad had me there serving food and explaining what each terminal was for.”

His son has a similar memory.

“We had a small fishing boat we used when I was 6 or 7,” Bill Savage said. “We’d use it for harbor tours.”

The father and son both wanted to gain experience outside the family business before joining.

Arthur Russell Savage, founder of A.R. Savage & Son.
Arthur Russell Savage, founder of A.R. Savage & Son. [ Courtesy of A.R. Savage & Son ]

Arthur Savage was 19 when his father William died. He considered joining his mother in company management, but instead spent the next two years at sea, first on boats servicing Louisiana’s oil rigs and then on a Del Monte refrigerated ship delivering cargo to Central America.

Bill Savage — a 1st lieutenant in the Army National Guard — has spent the last two years as an assistant program manager for Tampa’s Skybridge Tactical, coordinating logistics for Special Operations Command to move personnel and equipment in and out of Kuwait, Dubai and Afghanistan.

“It was a great career,” he said, “but I realized that working with A.R. Savage is not only a great opportunity, but there is a family heritage I wanted to continue.”