By BRIAN GOFF
DUNEDIN – In many places in Pinellas County are signs identifying Dimmitt family automobile dealerships. Look beyond the signs however and you will find a family whose history in Pinellas County is as rooted and embedded as any other. In fact the family, going back five generations, has been in the county almost as long as the county itself.
It is difficult to tell the story of the Dimmitt family without including its involvement in the automobile industry. Almost from the moment Larry Dimmitt Sr. arrived in Clearwater in 1924, cars have been part of the family.
Larry Sr. and his wife Hebe arrived in Clearwater from Port St. Joe, where he actually owned a section of railroad. It was common back then to freight supplies down the Atlantic Coast and then send the goods on to New Orleans by railroad. Larry owned part of that railroad.
Before moving to Port St. Joe, Larry lived in Savannah, Ga., and had a Buick distributorship. It wasn’t long after he arrived in Clearwater he got back into the car business. He bought the local Ford Dealership and never looked back.
Richard Dimmitt, 60, and his brother Larry III are the third generation of Dimmitts to continue what their grandfather began.
“We and everyone else called him Potsie,” said Richard. “Back then Clearwater was small, maybe 5,000 people. There wasn’t even a bridge over to the barrier islands. He would stand on the bluff and look over and he thought he was looking at the next West Palm Beach.”
Eventually Larry Sr. began buying land and at one point it was said that next to the county itself, he owned more land in Pinellas than anybody.
Over the years “Potsie” continued to enlarge his automobile business.
“He sold Rio, White, LaSalle and finally got Cadillac and Chevy in the mid-’30s,” said Richard. “He did that when there was nothing east of Clearwater except trees and dirt tracks. Dad tells me downtown Clearwater was two blocks long and two blocks wide.”
Larry Jr., Richard’s father, already involved in the car business, had to go to war. He fought in World War II under General Patton. He met his wife-to-be Betty Jane Roth as he was recovering from a war wound in New York City. They moved back to Florida and went right back into the business.
“My dad used to tell me stories of how he would go door to door trying to convince people to buy cars during the Depression,” said Richard. “Life was a lot slower then. People came for three and four weeks at a time to visit and as the area grew, he grew with it.”
In the meantime Larry Sr. was turning his attention to charitable causes.
“He built gyms for schools, additions to hospitals and helped churches,” said Richard. “Then he retired in the early ’70s.”
Larry Sr. died at the age of 96.
“Potsie was a strong guy,” said Richard of his grandfather. “At 84 he was still painting his own house. They had to get him down off the ladder and convince him to stop.”
Eventually the Caddy and Chevy dealerships were split into two separate businesses. Richard, his older brother Larry III and their sister Eileen were involved in the businesses. Another brother, Ben, wasn’t interested and moved to New York City where he became a photographer.
Their father, Larry Jr., died in 2011 at the age of 97. It is his name that graces the Dimmitt Community Center in his hometown of Belleair.
Richard Dimmitt is semi-retired now.
“I’m slowing down and spending most of my time on boards and helping charities,” he said. His brother Larry III and his sister Eileen are both retired.
Now the mantle is being passed to yet another generation of Dimmitt’s. Larry III’s son Larry IV is running the Dimmitt Chevrolet franchise in Clearwater. Larry III’s daughters Mallory, Elizabeth and Genevieve are not involved in the business.
Richard’s sons Richard Jr. and Peter are running the Dimmitt Cadillac franchises in Clearwater and Pinellas Park.
None of Eileen’s children, Michael, Betty Jane, Andrew or Timothy are involved in the businesses, although Michael has two children Daniel and Abigail, the 5th generation of Dimmitt’s in Pinellas County and the great-great grandchildren of Larry Dimmitt Sr. It is too early to tell if one or both might follow the family tradition of selling cars.
Richard Dimmitt says he and his family are proud to be counted among the pioneering families of Pinellas County, and for good reason.
“Pinellas is a fabulous place to live,” he said. “There are still places where it is quiet, where you can glimpse at the way things used to be. You can still be connected to the big life, yet you can step away from the very intense type of activity. This area offers the perfect blend of life.”
Check out this great article detailing the origins of the Dimmitt Automotive Group from the TBNweekly.com!