H. Gary Morse, the billionaire builder of one of the world’s largest retirement communities, the Villages in central Florida, has died. He was 77.
He died last night, according to a report in the Villages Daily Sun. No cause was given.
Morse’s development, on a 33-square-mile parcel (85-square- kilometer) south of Ocala, Florida, is the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the U.S., according to Census Bureau statistics released earlier this year. Its population is about 110,000.
More than just its developer, Morse was landlord of the project’s 4.5 million square feet of commercial space, including dozens of restaurants and retailers. He owned the local newspaper, a television channel and an AM radio station, and his bank and insurance company served the retirees in the community, Bloomberg News reported in 2012.
The article identified Morse as a billionaire, calculating that he and his family had a net worth of $2.5 billion. The Bloomberg Billionaires Index now computes that figure to be $2.9 billion.
“Dad never sought the limelight,” his children said in a statement quoted by the Villages newspaper. “He was content to stay in the background and enjoy seeing Villagers revel in this amazing lifestyle of their adopted hometown.”
Andrew D. Blechman, author of “Leisureville” (2008), a book on retirement communities, compared Morse to the Wizard of Oz: “He’s the man behind the curtain. No one really knows him at the Villages.”
Morse was also a major donor to Republican candidates and campaigns. He was a co-chairman of the Florida finance committee for Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012.
Harold Gary Schwartz was born in Chicago on Dec. 19, 1936, to Mary Louise and Harold Schwartz. After his parents divorced and his mother remarried, he took the last name of his stepfather, Clifford Morse.