May 19, 2004 - Drugstore chain owner Jack Eckerd dies at 91
Drugstore magnate. Candidate for statewide office. Benefactor for troubled children, performing artists, and higher education.
All of those phrases describe Jack Eckerd, one of Florida's best-known names for decades, who died on May 19, 2004 with 2,700 stores bearing his name.
That name is gone from the front of those stores. Eckerd sold the chain in 1986, and its locations have been rebranded as Rite Aid and CVS stores.
But less than a decade ago, very few Floridians could say they'd never stepped foot in an Eckerd Drug Store.
J. Milton Eckerd, started the chain in Erie, Pa., in 1898, but it didn't really begin until his son Jack Eckerd, a U.S. Air Corps pilot in World War II, purchased three drug stores in Florida in 1952. The chain had 1,500 stores by the time Eckerd sold the company, well after Eckerd and his wife Ruth had contributed millions to philanthropic causes in Florida.
Those causes include a private liberal arts college in St. Petersburg, Eckerd College; a network of wilderness camps for troubled children; and Ruth Eckerd Hall, a performing arts center in Clearwater.
Eckerd knew failure as well. He ran unsuccessfully for statewide office three times -- twice for governor and once for U.S. senator. But because of the way he ran those races, he commanded respect from the state's most important politicians.
After his death, then-Gov. Jeb Bush described him as "a great Floridian, a great American, a great success story, a great Republican I might add and really a wonderful man with a big and caring heart," adding, "He will be missed."
Read the story in the Lakeland Ledger: Jack Eckerd, 1913-2004