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David Straz died of natural causes, leaving charity worth $72 million

The future of Straz’s foundation remained unclear Tuesday. Meanwhile, police say Straz died of natural causes at a Citrus County waterfront home.
David Straz and his wife Catherine at Karamu, the annual black-tie gala at ZooTampa in April.
David Straz and his wife Catherine at Karamu, the annual black-tie gala at ZooTampa in April. [ AMY SCHERZER | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Nov. 19, 2019
Updated Nov. 19, 2019

TAMPA — Tampa philanthropist David Straz was found dead of natural causes Monday morning at the waterfront home of a longtime friend.

A call for emergency services was received at 7:38 a.m. from 11360 Grybek Drive, which property records show is owned by Tampa attorney George Gramling III, said Citrus County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Jodi Sanders.

Gramling, who is said by many to be a longtime friend of Straz, didn’t return phone calls requesting comment.

Deputies weren’t dispatched after emergency services personnel found the 77-year-old to apparently have died of natural causes, Sanders said.

Straz left behind many mourners across Tampa Bay who spoke of his warm heart and generous nature.

RELATED STORY: For David Straz, arts philanthropy resonated through Straz Center gift

A concrete example: His private foundation, which he founded more than 20 years ago, valued in 2018 at $72 million in assets.

On Tuesday, Straz’s former mayoral campaign spokesman Jarrod Holbrook, 43, said that he had been named executive director of the foundation in October.

Holbrook declined to answer any other questions pertaining to the foundation.

“At this point it would be inappropriate for me to say anything,” said Holbrook.

Before joining the Straz mayoral campaign in October 2018, Holbrook worked as a local television journalist for nearly two decades, mostly as an investigative reporter in Houston, Shreveport, Fort Myers, Providence and Boston before joining WFTS-Ch. 28 in 2015.

RELATED STORY: Tampa philanthropist David Straz Jr. dead at 77

The David A. Straz Jr. Foundation has offices at 4401 W Kennedy Blvd. And, at least until 2018, Straz was its only trustee, according to the charity’s filings and James Harmon, a Kenosha, Wisconsin accountant who has handled the organization’s books for many years.

Its most recent filings in 2018 list $1,268,000 in grants to more than three dozen organizations. The largest recipients were the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, which received $457,000; The Metropolitan Opera in New York City, which received $300,000; and Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, which received $200,000.

Generally speaking, when private foundations are structured as private trusts — like Straz’s is — they are usually run in keeping with the founder’s wishes and the original trust document, said University of Notre Dame law professor Lloyd Mayer.

A 2003 amendment to the trust document lists Straz’s widow, Catherine Lowry Straz, as joint trustee along with First National Wealth Management Company of Naples. It’s not clear if any more amendments to the trust were filed in subsequent years. Holbrook declined comment on the current trustees.

Often, the charities spend the income on grants while trying to preserve the principal, he said, but it’s not uncommon for private trusts to wither away in a few generations because of poor investments or squabbling among children or grandchildren.

“What often happens is that they appoint a friend, someone they trust. Then it’s pretty much up to that person what they want to do going forward,” Mayer said, noting he had not analyzed the Straz foundation and was speaking generally.

Some of the foundation’s local largesse in 2018 included ZooTampa at Lowry Park ($25,000), Tampa Pride ($20,440), University of Tampa ($15,000), First Presbyterian Church of Tampa ($10,000), St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital ($10,000), Ybor City Chamber of Commerce ($7,500), Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy ($7,000) and Tampa Jewish Community Center ($6,000)

Times staff writer Paul Guzzo contributed to this report