Linton N. Tibbetts

Linton N. Tibbetts, a legendary entrepreneur who earned a fortune in the development of both Florida and his native Cayman Islands, died late Thursday, only seven days after the grand reopening of his prized lumber company’s original store in St. Petersburg.

He was 88 and fully immersed in rebuilding Cox Lumber — the family business recently renamed Tibbetts Lumber — back to its peak in 2006 when it generated $396 million in revenues.

“The lumber company was his first love and his dream was to see it re-opened as the family business,” said Juan Quesada, president of the Tibbetts Lumber. “By the end of the reopening ceremony, he was so tired people had trouble hearing his words.”

Mr. Tibbetts was taken to St. Anthony Hospital where he died with his family at his bedside late Thursday.

“Family was everything to him,” said state Rep. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and the oldest of nine Tibbetts grandchildren. “There was always a family dinner at his house. He just lit up every time he was around his great-grandchildren.”

Company officials expect little change in direction at Tibbetts Holding LLC or the lumber company. That’s because two years ago, Mr. Tibbetts started a succession planning process of the business now largely owned by his two daughters and grandchildren.

Arrangements are being handled by R. Lee Williams & Son Funeral Home. A viewing is scheduled for 4 to 8pm Monday at Northside Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, where services will be held at 10am Tuesday. Burial will be private.

“My life is like a bumper car ride at the carnival,” Mr. Tibbetts said in a recent interview. “You keep getting hit from all directions, but keep driving forward.”

Born the son of a master shipbuilder in tiny Cayman Brac, a sparsely populated island 90 miles from Grand Cayman island, Mr. Tibbetts at 9 survived a hurricane that flattened his family home and took the lives of his grandmother, sister and infant brother. Eight years later, he left to seek his fortune.

He landed in Tampa with $16 in his pocket, then built Cox Lumber into a force that reached 26 locations with door factories and truss plants across Florida.

Along the way, he never forgot the economic health of his native islands.

He was honoured with an Order of the British Empire title by Queen Elizabeth for his contributions to Cayman Brac’s economy.

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