THE VILLAGES, Fla. (AP) - Harold Gary Morse, the developer of one of the world's largest retirement communities and one of the biggest Republican donors in Florida, has died. He was 77.
THE VILLAGES, Fla. (AP) — Harold Gary Morse, the developer of one of the world's largest retirement communities and one of the biggest Republican donors in Florida, has died. He was 77.
Morse died Wednesday, according to The Villages Daily Sun, which received a statement from the family. No cause of death was given.
Morse took over a small mobile home park in central Florida from his father in 1983, when it had just 386 manufactured homes, a clubhouse and a few shuffleboard courts. The U.S. Census Bureau says The Villages is now one of the nation's fastest-growing communities. In March, The Villages topped the list of fastest-growing metro areas. It grew by 5.2 percent between 2012 and 2013 and now has a population just shy of 100,000 residents.
Morse's family released a statement to the community's newspaper on Thursday.
"Dad never sought the limelight," the statement read. "He was content to stay in the background and enjoy seeing Villagers revel in this amazing lifestyle of their adopted hometown. While he was a friend and adviser to captains of industry, presidents and heads of state, he never lost focus on this community and making it the greatest retirement development in the world."
The Villages is considered "Adult Disney World" by some residents with its 600 holes of golf, more than 100 restaurants, 76 recreational facilities and close to 4 million square feet of commercial space. One of the community's selling points: free golf for all residents.
Morse was also a prominent GOP donor who made his private jet available to the Republican Party of Florida. In 2012, The Villages gave a total of $350,000 to the state party and a political committee controlled by Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
On Thursday, the outpouring of condolences for Morse's death came from Florida Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and the Republican party of Florida.
"When molding The Villages into the one-of-a-kind community it is today, Gary demonstrated what makes our state so great — the idea that anyone can make a positive, lasting impact in the lives of generations to come," Scott wrote in a statement.
Rubio called Morse "a friend," and said that he "looked at the pastures and prairies of Florida's interior and saw the American Dream. Not just for him, but for the tens of thousands of seniors who have been able to enjoy their golden years and continue to live them to their fullest."
Morse is survived by his wife, Renee, son Mark, two daughters, Tracy Mathews and Jennifer Parr, and stepson Justin Wilson. He also is survived by 16 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. His first wife, Sharon, preceded him in death in 1999. According to The Sun, he will be laid to rest in a private ceremony.