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Longtime builder ‘sketched out Gulfport’

By Andrew Meacham, Times Staff WriterTampa Bay Times
In Print: Thursday, July 9, 2009


GULFPORT — R.W. Caldwell didn’t just develop Gulfport, he lived there, putting down roots in its sandy soil. He lived for the outdoors and fishing — priorities that never changed even as his company became one of the Tampa Bay area’s most recognizable names in real estate.

He added construction to a company that specialized in real estate and insurance. The expansion resulted in hundreds of new homes in Pinellas, Pasco and Charlotte counties, including some of the area’s largest subdivisions and an influx of high-end homes to Gulfport.

Mr. Caldwell died of a stroke Saturday. He was 88.

“He was a remarkable pioneer,” said Gulfport Mayor Michael Yakes. “He really sketched out Gulfport in his own right.”

While franchises of huge companies like Coldwell Banker and Keller Williams dominate coast to coast, Mr. Caldwell’s name has endured locally.

“The whole real estate industry was started by fellows like R.W. Caldwell,” said Victor Adamo, chairman of the Pinellas Realtor Organization.

After getting a degree at M.I.T. and working as an aeronautical engineer in California, Mr. Caldwell moved back home to rejoin his father’s business in 1951.

He had foresight, buying properties dense in trees, then endeavoring to save as many as possible in subdivisions. He predicted the coming of multifamily homes as cities built to their boundaries.

“What has happened in Gulfport will, in many cases, happen elsewhere in Pinellas,” he wrote in a guest column for the Times in 1960.

He trusted his know-how, maintaining his 1994 Chevrolet station wagon himself. The car still runs with 200,000 miles on it. He built a single-engine boat he later took to the Bahamas for a fishing trip.

Mr. Caldwell also trusted his instincts with people, quietly helping those he believed were doing all they could for themselves. At least twice, he shipped $12,000 worth of beans to Haiti.

When his housekeeper couldn’t qualify for a mortgage, Mr. Caldwell took one out himself, then collected monthly payments. When the housekeeper’s family finished the payments years later, he handed over the deed.

He enjoyed a daily martini with his wife, Adele, and eating smoked mullet with childhood friends, including the mayor and other city officials.

After selling Jordan-Caldwell, the construction arm, to U.S. Homes in 1972, Mr. Caldwell stayed with U.S. Homes until the late 1970s. ask a ninja . He remained with the family company as an adviser.

“There are a lot of developers who have taken their piece of the pie and not made a better place to live,” said Tina Douglass, wife of former St. Pete Beach Mayor Bob Douglass. “Wherever R. W. was, he always made it a better place. He left a good mark.”


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