Children of former Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse refuse to release mother's body as family feuds

The body of Joy Culverhouse, who died April 26, is still in a Tampa funeral home as her children and grandson battle.
The body of Joy Culverhouse, who died April 26, is still in a Tampa funeral home as her children and grandson battle.
Published May 10, 2016

TAMPA — Last Wednesday, a small group gathered at the Garden of Memories for services for Joy McCann Culverhouse, the 96-year-old widow of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse Sr.

Two people were notably absent: Culverhouse's only son and daughter.

Joy Culverhouse's body was not there, either. It has been kept at a Tampa funeral home while a battle plays out pitting her children against her grandson, who had power of attorney during the last years of Joy Culverhouse's life.

Now two weeks after their mother's death, Gay Culverhouse and Hugh Culverhouse Jr. still refuse to sign paperwork releasing her body from the funeral home.

They want an autopsy and medical records, alleging in court records that her care might have been neglected and that her fortune might have been whittled by transactions "not in accordance with (her) best interest."

They want to know whether her brain had been so damaged by age and alcohol that she didn't know her grandson, Christopher Lawrence Chapman, was selling off her assets, including a Bayshore Boulevard condo.

They want to know why he and her lawyer won't release her records and why they demanded people who worked for her sign confidentiality agreements not to talk.

"What is the point of a confidentiality agreement, she is dead,'' said Hugh Culverhouse Jr., 67, a South Florida lawyer and developer.

Hugh Culverhouse Jr. has sometimes been at odds with his sister, a former college president, onetime president of the Buccaneers and founder of an organization that helps retired professional football players. Now, though, the siblings are united in their demand for answers.

"We have nothing to hide and we don't need the money,'' says Gay Culverhouse, 69, who lives in Fernandina Beach. "We are just two children trying to figure out what happened to their mother.''

Chapman, a 43-year-old old lawyer-turned-filmmaker, referred requests for comment to Jordan Lee, a Tampa lawyer who represents Culverhouse's estate.

"This is a private family matter, and all our efforts are directed at maintaining Joy's privacy, and ensuring her wishes are carried out to the letter,'' Lee said. "Like anyone else, Joy had no interest in having details of her private medical life disclosed.''

A hearing is set for today on Lee's emergency motion to resolve the dispute "as to the disposition of (Culverhouse's) remains.''

But the drama is just the latest centered on the family who brought the Buccaneers to Tampa Bay and the feisty, hard-drinking amateur golf champion who met her husband while both were students at the University of Alabama.

A half century later, after Hugh Culverhouse died of lung cancer in 1994, his widow was outraged to learn he had been a serial philanderer worth far more than she had been told. In a sensational court battle, she claimed he had tricked her into signing away her rights to a fortune so he could dump her for a younger woman.

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The case ended in 1997 with a settlement that gave Joy Culverhouse $34 million and put her in charge of donating money from a family foundation to 38 charities, universities and hospitals chosen by her late husband. She contributed millions over the next few years.

Then, in 2001 at age 80, she married Dr. Robert Daugherty Jr., a medical school dean 15 years her junior. Instead of the designated institutions, money began flowing to organizations with ties to her new husband. That led to another court battle in which several spurned beneficiaries and Hugh Culverhouse Jr. challenged the foundation's new wave of gift-giving. A 2009 settlement required the distribution of millions of dollars to Tampa Bay nonprofits and medical institutions.

Joy Culverhouse's marriage to a much younger man wasn't all that raised suspicions that she wasn't always in full command of her faculties.

Gay Culverhouse said she, her daughter, Leigh Standley, and Standley's baby visited Joy several times in Tampa. After one visit in 1999 a letter arrived.

"She said she never wanted to see or speak to me or my daughter or the baby again as we never allowed her to see the baby,'' Gay Culverhouse recalled. "My daughter and I were astounded — we had just been there.'' That would be their final contact.

Hugh Culverhouse Jr. remembers an unsettling incident two years later. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, worried because his mother's condo was so close to MacDill Air Force Base, he called and told her she should go somewhere safer.

"She said, 'No, I've got a hair appointment.' I said, 'Please look at TV' and she said, 'Oh, I don't care.' She insisted on going on a (pre-planned) cruise and I thought, this woman is absolutely out of her mind.''

Estranged from her children and divorced from her second husband, Joy Culverhouse was close to others, including Chapman, her grandson, and her attorney Robert Waltuch. Her children say the men might have taken advantage of her.

Hugh Culverhouse Jr. said that in 2008 — "the worst possible time'' because the financial markets were collapsing — "significant millions'' of his mother's money was invested in hedge funds.

"They were not suitable investments for an elderly person,'' he said. "We see the stripping away of money from a woman who is not qualified, not competent, who is easily subject to undue influence.''

Money from Joy Culverhouse's trust account also was used to start and fund McCann Mortage Co. so it could lend money to build an office building and four drugstores, her son says.

Records show that McCann Mortgage loaned $325,000 to a foundation employee in 2006 and $650,000 to Waltuch a year later. Waltuch paid off his mortgage in 2009 after the market crashed. But the same year, the mortgage company loaned him $345,000 on another house and loaned Chapman nearly $900,000, records show.

Waltuch referred requests for comment to Lee, who said Joy Culverhouse was competent and aware of all transactions involving her money.

"Mrs. Culverhouse had a history of providing mortgages to many of her employees and other trusted individuals,'' Lee said. Asked why the loans didn't come from her directly and instead went through a company, he said: "That was for privacy reasons. She didn't like her name out in public.''

In 2011, records show, Joy Culverhouse gave her grandson power of attorney to act on her behalf.

In 2014, he sold an orange grove in Okeechobee for $4.75 million.

Last August, Chapman sold a condo that his grandmother used for guests. Sale price: $445,000.

Chapman is licensed as a lawyer in Florida and also is CEO of Zorya Films, a Tampa film company he started in 2014. Among its productions are City of Mermaids, about a Weeki Wachee mermaid who "must choose between a life … in the spring and an unpredictable future on the surface,'' Zorya's website says.

In a court paper filed Monday, Hugh Culverhouse Jr. said that his mother "had a long history of abusing alcohol and pain medications'' and that he and his sister were "concerned about the medical care provided to her during her last years.'' She was hospitalized for three weeks with pneumonia, then transferred to another facility where she died under hospice care.

Gay Culverhouse said her son scheduled a service knowing she would be in Ohio baby-sitting two of her grandchildren while another was competing in the Junior Olympics. Her brother said he will pay for the casket and hold a funeral only after Chapman releases the medical records.

Joy Culverhouse anticipated that even in death she would be at the heart of yet another sensational court battle. Her will sets aside $2 million for her attorneys to handle any litigation or claims involving her children or their descendants.

Filed last week, the will leaves nothing to Gay Culverhouse or Hugh Culverhouse Jr. because "they have each received sufficient gifts during my lifetime.''

"It's the strangest will I've ever seen," Hugh Culverhouse Jr. said. Wealthy in his own right, the developer of Sarasota's huge Palmer Ranch said he has given away $45 million and would donate anything he might get in a legal fight to golf scholarships in his mother's name at the University of Alabama.

His sister, who has a rare form of cancer affecting bone marrow, has lived years longer than doctors predicted. Her sole motivation in pressing for her mother's records, she says, is to find out what was going on during all that time that her mother refused to see her.

Says her brother: "My mother's mind was not right."

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.