The relationship between mothers and sons is unique. Sometimes the impact is not apparent — or manifested — until years later. Several prominent Tampa Bay men reflect on that special mother-and-son dynamic.
When your dad is the late Red Pittman, publisher of your city’s flagship (Tampa Tribune) newspaper, you might think your family is pretty important. Arguably, they are. And that maybe you were too.
But for the record, that wasn’t the case for Richard “Red” Pittman Jr., now 48. His parents — especially his mom — wouldn’t permit it.
“They (Richard and his younger sister Katherine) didn’t trade on that,” recalls Red Jr.’s 78-year-old mother, Dada Pittman, a former teacher and Red Cross Director. “They never knew you could. What they did know is that they were expected to do well in school and raised to be involved in their community.”
As a result, Dada has been most proud that her son, First Vice President-Investments for Smith Barney, has committed himself to a myriad of community causes and activities.
“A lot of folks know him from Ye Mystic Krewe (and as a 2001 King of Gasparilla),” says Dada, “but he’s coached Little League baseball and soccer and been active in everything from United Way to St. Joseph’s Hospital.
“He’s also been a great hands-on dad to his (three) kids,” she adds with a nod of admiration. “I can’t think of higher praise.”
To Red. Jr., raising his own kids has been an exercise in implementing some of his mom’s “pearls of wisdom.” That includes, he says, “‘Don’t sweat the little things.’ She taught me patience and tolerance.” She also stressed, he recalls, “being a good listener,” “disciplining without raising your voice,” “having dinner as a unit” and “reminding your kids that ‘you’re on their side.'”
And “having a good sense of humor,” Dada animatedly reminds her son.
He hadn’t forgotten.
“I should point out that my mother can’t cook fish,” impishly teased Red Jr. “We were brought up Catholic, and that meant frozen fish sticks every Friday. That was as good as it got, thanks to Mrs. Paul’s.”
When your mom is referred to as the “Mother Teresa of Tampa,” you know the die is cast for public service. That is 79-year-old Delia Sanchez’s legacy — and the ongoing challenge for her son, Frank, 44.
“My mother is my hero,” says Frank. “Her life has always been about service. She just takes it upon herself to help people.”
Delia, whose husband Francisco passed away last year, has more awards than walls to bedeck and closets to fill. It’s the result of a Hillsborough County career in social work that ranges from helping jumpstart the Head Start preschool program to teaching migrant children to read.
In 2002, she received the prestigious Tony Pizzo Award from the Ybor City Museum Society. She was honored for, among other accomplishments, her lifetime of contributions to those in need.
“If I have a legacy,” Delia says self-deprecatingly, “then let it be service, justice and love of people.”
By any measure, her son has paid attention — as well as homage. As the Managing Director of Cambridge Negotiation Strategies, he is a Tampa-based international consultant. An attorney by training, Frank is a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Transportation and Florida’s first Director of the Caribbean Basin Initiative Program. He ran unsuccessfully for Tampa Mayor in 2003.
He currently serves on numerous boards including The Spring, The Crisis Center and The Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa. Frank also mentors a student at Hillsborough High School and acts as a Spanish-language spokesperson for the Shriners Hospital for Children.
“My mother,” he says, “always said to look for ways to serve a good greater than my own.”
To Delia, the torch has been passed.
“I’m biased as a mother,” she says, “but I’m proud that he has feelings for people. And he really means it.”
Shaun King was a record-setting quarterback at St. Petersburg’s Gibbs High and then at Tulane University. He went on to lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to within a game of the Super Bowl. Although he now plays for the Arizona Cardinals, he remains very much the hometown boy who made good.
To his mom, however, he was simply doing what he was supposed to be doing: using his talents to the utmost. To Carolyn King, 50, it’s always been about more than touchdown passes and winning records.
“God gives us all tools and talents,” Carolyn explains. “Then it’s up to us to nurture and maximize them. That includes reaching out to others through your gifts.”
If you get the idea that Shaun — and his younger siblings Cedric and Candice — were brought up in a religious household, you get the idea. His father, Sam, is assistant pastor of Tampa’s Peace Baptist Church.
“From an early age, she made it clear that ‘To whom much is given, much is expected,'” recalls Shaun, 26. “It’s about more than sports.”
While Carolyn, the director of administration for the Pinellas Opportunity Council, is an unabashed “Shaun King fan,” she says she’s proudest of his deportment off the field.
“He has stayed humble,” she underscores. “Any success he’s had hasn’t changed him; he’s nice to everybody. And I’m so proud of how he comports himself through the ups and downs of his career. There will always be adversity; you just have to grow from it. I love his inner person.”
The feeling is mutual.
“My mom is the most loving, caring person I’ve ever met,” says Shaun. “She keeps me grounded — and reminds me how much I’ve been blessed and how much I have to give back and hopefully inspire some young people along the way.”
Dick Greco has dined with presidents. He’s been mayor of Tampa four times. He calls Steinbrenner “George” and Gen. Franks “Tommy.” He’s a 70-year-old grandfather.
And his mother still checks up on him.
That would be 97-year-old Evelyn Greco, who still calls her only child to remind him “to be careful with your driving.” Which is typically the prelude to “Call me when you get home.” And for good measure: “You seem to be putting on some weight.”
“I think it’s funny,” says Dick. “Still calls me ‘baby.’ The other night I told her I was going to a party at Avila. She says, ‘Are you driving? Well, don’t drink then.’
“It comes from a good place,” he adds, “and I’m lucky to still have her.”
Over the years, he says, he’s learned more from example than counsel. His mom worked with his dad (Domenico) at the family hardware store in Ybor City. She also kept the books. Later, after Mr. Greco had died and she sold the store, Evelyn went back to work — at age 70 — keeping the books for the old Broadway National Bank. She finally retired — for good — at age 83.
“She obviously taught me a work ethic,” Dick says. “But I also learned that it was good to show your emotions; we hugged a lot. I learned to be fiercely loyal and polite. My mother is polite to everybody. It’s the way you’re supposed to be.”
Those traits became hallmarks of Dick’s political career, a long chapter that came as no shock to Evelyn.
“I’m not surprised he went into politics,” she says. “He likes to talk and he likes people. But I’ll tell you what I’m most proud of. I don’t follow all that city business. But what means most to me is that he was a nice, polite boy who worked hard — and it never changed. I must have raised him right.”
Rob Elder is president of Aston Martin Jaguar of Tampa. The dealership, ensconced on an $8-million, north Tampa nature-park-of-a-campus, is flush — with a client base that is as well heeled as it is well wheeled. It is one of only two dozen Aston Martin sellers in North America. The energetic 33 year old, who will sometimes take a $300,000 AM Vanquish for a test spin, has done very well.
He paid attention and has learned the business — from his mom.
That would be Irma Elder, the unlikely looking driving force behind his success.
Petite and soft-spoken, the
60ish mother of three was widowed in 1983 — and took over her husband’s (Jim) Ford Dealership in Troy, MI. She became the first woman to own a Ford dealership in greater Detroit.
The native of Xicotencalt, Mexico, also became an icon in the Hispanic community. The Elder Automotive Group is consistently in the top 10 of Hispanic Business Magazine’s leading Hispanic-owned corporations. Irma herself is a staple in Working Woman magazine’s annual list of highest-ranking women in America.
Today the Tampa operation is one of several dealerships under the Elder Automotive Group corporate umbrella.
“I think a lot of people didn’t think I would make it,” recalls Irma. She credits faith shown by Ford, hard work and “very supportive kids.”
“To my amazement, I loved the business world,” says Irma. “But after all is said and done, I’m a mom first.”
A mom whose instincts were the keys to success, says her son.
“You need to be a good listener, be polite and be able to read people,” explains Rob. “I got that from my mother. I also learned that it’s important to win, but there’s a right way to do it. Plus whatever you win, you win as a team.”
Call it the Elder Ethic. “Rob has done wonderfully well with the business,” underscores Irma, “but more importantly, he’s a good human being.”