Frederick E. Fisher

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Al Warrington

In Brief:

Frederick E. Fisher, UF Alumnus 1959

  • 1931: Born March 15, 1931 in Joliet, Illinois
  • 1954: Drafted into the Army
  • 1958: Joins Beta Alpha Psi Fraternity & Beta Gamma Sigma
  • 1959: Earns BSBA in Accounting (UF) in three years
  • 1959: Earns highest score of any Floridian taking the CPA exam
  • 1961: Becomes Partner, Darby, Darby, Odom
  • 1966: Fisher, Morrison & Company is founded
  • 1968: Becomes a founding member of St. Paul's School in Clearwater
  • 1969: Co-Founder of U.S. Home Corporation
  • 1972: Becomes one of four founders of Clearwater For Youth
  • 1980: Retires and sets sail
  • 1982: Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, U.S. Capital Corporation
  • 1982: Funds first College of Business MBA Scholarship
  • 1983: Ruth Eckerd Hall Opens - a founder
  • 1984: Becomes a founder of “Bull Gator”
  • 1985: Gives Multi-million donation to University of Florida
  • 1985: Fisher School of Accounting named in his honor
  • 1989: Created the Tracy Caulkins Super Scholarship for swimming
  • 1990: Receives University of Florida Doctor of Humane Letters
  • 1990: Founder of the Long Center Recreation Complex
  • 1993: Co-Founder of Daytop of Florida (now Phoenix House)
  • 2004: Receives University of Florida Distinguished Alumnus Award

“Life is a Series of Choices.”

The choices Fred Fisher has made throughout his life propelled him to a successful career in business and community service. His success, combined with his passion for children and education, led him to contribute to and establish many philanthropic organizations. The biography below provides a snapshot of his many achievements.

The Early Years...

Fred Fisher was born on March 15, 1931 in Joliet, Illinois. He is the younger of two children. Fred believes that he's been very lucky and that luck plays a role in everyone's life. However, Fred's life story is also one of hard work, long hours, persistence and creativity. Fred began working full-time at the young age of 8 serving root beer and sandwiches at Otto's Drive-In, located across the street from where he lived. He learned you work harder when you become aware of the rewards. Fred moved to Chicago when he was 12, where he continued to work at various jobs - the most unusual being that of plucking and cleaning chickens and an occasional duck.

By age 17 he was convinced he “had all the answers” and quit high school to get married. He moved to Colorado Springs where he drove a lumber truck and unloaded boxcars of cement and 8x12 bridge timbers. He determined that this should not be his life's work and moved back to Joliet, Illinois where he learned bookkeeping while selling real estate and insurance and filed tax returns - $2.00 short form and $5.00 long form!

In 1954, Fred was drafted into the US Army and after basic training was selected for enrollment in stenographer's school at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana where he ranked first out of 39 students. He was assigned to the Army's top command post in Heidelberg, West Germany as a secretary to four-star General Anthony McAuliffe, USARUR Commander. “What a challenge it was to be with such interesting men. My whole life changed.” Inspired, he completed his high school equivalency diploma while in Europe.

After returning to the states, he attended the University of Tampa for 18 months. Not wanting to have the same professors more than twice, he transferred to the UF and completed his accounting degree in 18 months. As a UF student, he worked part-time at the Gainesville CPA firm of Purvis, Gray, and Powers, graded professors' test papers, and maintained the general ledger for three local businesses to support his wife and two young children.

In 1958, Fred was invited to be a member of the Upsilon Chapter of Beta Alpha Psi. The accounting fraternity strives to promote scholarship and sociability and to encourage and foster the ideal of service. It also acts as a medium between professionals, instructors, students and others interested in the development of accountancy. As a junior, he was also invited to be a member of Beta Gamma Sigma which is the honors fraternity for business students comparable to Phi Beta Kappa.

In January 1959, Fred Fisher graduated with honors from the University of Florida with a BSBA in Accounting.

CPA, Businessman, Entrepreneur...

Only two days after graduating, Fred began his professional accounting career at Darby, Darby, Odom & Co. Certified Public Accountant in Tampa, Florida earning $80 per week. A few months later Fred sat for the CPA exam and earned the award for the highest score of any Floridian taking the exam for the first time. During his early years with Darby, Darby, Odom & Co., Fred was also a Lecturer in Business Administration at the University of Tampa where he taught Intermediate Accounting and Advanced Taxation. Within two short years in his accounting career he was promoted to partner.

In 1966, Fred Fisher, William Morrison and John Nord announced their withdrawal from the firm of Darby, Darby, Odom & Co. to become founding partners of Fisher, Morrison & Company with offices in Clearwater and Tampa, Florida. In 1968 he met with Bob Winnerman, the CEO of a Freehold, New Jersey homebuilder. This led to the joining of the Winnerman interests with his clients Charles and Arthur Rutenberg to form U.S. Home Corporation. During his tenure, U.S. Home became the largest homebuilder in America. Over the 12 years that he served as vice chairman and chief financial officer, U.S. Home revenues jumped from $10 million to $1 billion a year in sales and profits soared to $100 million. In December, 1980, Fred retired and bought a large trawler, spending the next 18 months with his wife sailing Florida waters and the Abacos.

In mid 1982, Fred briefly returned to work as chairman and chief executive officer and an owner for a bankrupt U.S. Capital Corporation in Columbia, South Carolina, and created a financial turnaround. He retired after nine months and the firm posted a $16 million profit the following year.

Giving Back...

Fred has always held the view that “There's only so much time we are given in life. I've decided that it's most useful to invest my time in people, not things.” His lifelong philanthropic activities have benefitted many, and his efforts started very early in his professional career. In 1968 Fred made his first significant philanthropic gift when he helped found St. Paul's School in Clearwater. The school offers a comprehensive educational program to students from preschool through eighth grade. Its motto “High Quality Involves Hard Work,” reflects its philosophy to challenge and motivate students to perform to their highest potential.

In 1972, Fred was one of four founders of Clearwater For Youth, Inc. (originally founded as a Kiwanis project in 1967), which supports youth sports programs so that thousands of children, regardless of family income, can participate in organized sports. His 40-year commitment as founder, principal benefactor and Chairman Emeritus culminated with construction of a $15 million, 150,000 square foot “Olympic” recreation center and education facility which opened in 1990 with a $6 million endowment.

In 1978, Fred was elected to the UF Foundation Board of Directors. In 1985 he served as Chairman of the first ever Capital Campaign for a public university in the State of Florida. The “Embrace Excellence” campaign concluded in 1990 and raised $392 million.

In 1984, representatives from the University of Florida approached Fred for a $3 million donation. Asked at the time to assist with a business deal up north, Fred sent a $100,000 check to President Criser and agreed to donate any profits that came his way from the transaction. Much to Fred's surprise, the business deal he committed to donate closed in 1985 and netted close to $7 million, a number far exceeding his expectations. True to his word, Fred donated all of the money to the University of Florida. The School of Accounting was renamed in his honor in 1985. While this gift was the largest in the history of public universities in Florida, even more important, this first ever Capital Campaign changed Florida's culture of giving that now provides substantial support to all public universities in Florida.

In 1979 Fred became a founding member of Ruth Eckerd Hall which is a 2,180 seat, 73,000 square foot performing arts and educational venue located in Clearwater, Florida. Dedicated in 1983, it is also the regular performance venue for the Florida Orchestra. Each year, over 350,000 adult and young audience members visit Ruth Eckerd Hall for performances ranging from world renowned classical artists and dance companies to Broadway musicals and pop stars. Through its many arts education programs, the education department of Ruth Eckerd Hall serves over 130,000 students and adults annually.

In 1993, Fred became Co-founder of Daytop of Florida which operates drug treatment programs for young men and women who would otherwise be in prison. It is dedicated to helping those afflicted with drug and alcohol problems to lead healthy, productive, and rewarding lives. In 1998, Daytop of Florida merged with Phoenix House of Florida, Inc.

Following his election by the faculty as an Honorary Professor of Accounting in 1989, and the conferral of an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by the University of Florida in 1990, he was honored for his lifelong contributions to the University by being awarded the University of Florida Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2004. Fred continues to be a presence on campus and continues to influence the future of the accounting program at the University of Florida and many community programs in Pinellas County, Florida.