CLEARWATER - Spend some with Larry Dimmit, Sr. and you get the yen to spend yet more time. He is that delightful and he even speaks a little French he learned during World War II when he was stationed in North Africa.
The first thing one notices about Dimmit is that his appearance gives the lie to his age. At 91 he looks more like 71. Tall with wavy, silver hair and sparkling blue eyes, he could come out of retirement and start a modeling career if he so chose.
A recent interview with Dimmit began with chitchat about the latest local and national news. He gave an update on Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's medical condition, commented on the fight against terrorism and remarked about how the Clearwater area is changing to one of solid condominiums he described as skyscrapers.
He was born in Port St. Joe up in the Panhandle in 1914 and moved to Clearwater when he was 10. "I've been in the Clearwater area for a long time," he says. "My father had a Buick dealership in Savannah for the entire state of Georgia. He moved to Clearwater in 1924."
At that time, Dimmit's father bought a Ford dealership at the at the corner of Drew Street and Garden Avenue. In 1931, the dealership operation was moved to 603 S. Fort Harrison Ave. By 1933, the company was selling and servicing Chevrolet, Cadillac and LaSalle automobiles. Dimmit took over from his father in 1952.
He said one of the greatest challenges his father faced in business was during the Depression. "Banks closed. Nobody had any money. Nobody was buying cars. We had to repossess many."
In 1965, he created a separate dealership for Cadillac and opened shop at 907 Cleveland St. In 1986, the Cadillac dealership relocated to its present 14-acre site in Countryside.
Indeed, Dimmit has had a long history in the Clearwater area. He said when he first came here Clearwater was just a small town where wild pigs would sometimes come out of the pine flats.
When asked what he thinks about Belleair's 109 year old Belleview Biltmore he said, "My heart is with the Biltmore. I've been to a lot of functions there. The hotel always seemed to open its doors for philanthropic causes."
A lifetime of work as an automobile dealer paid off for Dimmit when he retired in 1993. He is well known for his philanthropic contributions. "I turned the business over to my two oldest sons. Now I sit and look out the window and watch the birds and try to support good things."
One of those good things is Belleair's soon to be completed Dimmit Community Center. "I'm looking forward to the opening," he said. Dimmit attended the ground breaking April 5, 2005. Belleair residents and guests attended the ceremony to honor him and the center's other major contributor an Doyle Sr.
The building is 14,000 square feet and will house Belleair's existing recreational programs and future events and activities. The building will also serve as a shelter for residents in times of crisis.
Dimmit also lists the Upper Pinellas Adult Retarded Citizens (UPARC) omelet party fundraiser as one of his favorite charities and events. "I support the omelet fundraiser. Over the years the group has raised a considerable amount of money to support adult retarded citizens. I'm very interested in education and have been supporting St Paul's School and also Berkeley Prep School in Tampa as well."
Dimmit attended an Episcopal Prep School in Alexandria, Va., then served in the Army Air Corps stationed in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco.
Of his war service he said, "I had an exciting experience when my unit took part in a convoy. The SS Texas took us across the Atlantic. It took 27 days because we had to zig zag around to keep Nazi subs from sinking us."
After the war, he returned to Clearwater and the automobile business and the dealership grew with the city. Dimmit said his secret of success was pure and simple hard work. "I stuck with my knitting and the business grew. I used to work very hard to keep the family company alive. I'd bring work home with me and work on it in between helping to take care of the four children."
Dimmit's family members include wife Marge, Lawrence Jr., who runs the Chevrolet dealership, Richard, who runs the Cadillac dealership and son Benjamin and daughter Arlene. There are 10 Dimmit grandchildren.
"My daughter lives out of state and though we're scattered all over we manage to get together at Christmas. We also spend time in the mountains in North Carolina."
One would think that being a second generation car dealer that Dimmit would collect cars. He joked, "I only collected cars when they didn't sell!"
He said he finds the Rolls Royce franchise intriguing. "It's very interesting to see who buys them . . . lately the buyers are wealthy developers and real estate investors."
Which car does Dimmit claim to be his all time favorite? "The Corvette," he said, with no hesitation.
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