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Entrepreneur had wit, generosity, humility

Ralph Kaul was wealthy and successful, but he often kept a low profile, friends say.

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 22, 2002


For years, Ralph Kaul and George Knutsson met each Tuesday at Malio's.

It was a luncheon date Knutsson hated to miss or see end.

"I learned so much from him. He was an entrepreneur's entrepreneur," Knutsson said. "He could do anything and everything. He has been in about every business I know and successful at each one."

The waitress who regularly served them was among the friends and relatives who attended a weekend celebration of Mr. Kaul's life. He was 87 when he died March 15 at his home at Georgetown, a S Westshore Boulevard apartment complex of 625 units, which he began building in the 1960s and completed about 15 years ago.

Mr. Kaul, who had an economics degree from Harvard University, helped build large projects in the 1960s for the federal government, including aircraft warning stations and the city of Page, Ariz., said his wife, Ginny.

In Tampa, he was one of the first to build large apartment complexes such as Georgetown and Colonial Village Apartments.

"He was a dynamic man who kept a low profile," she said. "He was known for pitching in and doing anything, including work on the lift station at Georgetown."

In the 1950s, he was involved in local politics in Arlington, Va., and he served as an adviser in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, she said. But in 1960 he lost his taste for politics in an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Congress.

A faded Kaul campaign brochure from that era includes endorsements from John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Adlai E. Stevenson.

Kaul was a widower and Ginny was a widow when they married in 1976 aboard his boat, "Kaul Girl."

"He loved a good laugh," she said.

Before their wedding, he wrote a letter to her children.

"He said he wanted to get control of my dog, Schatzy," she said. "That's why he wanted to marry me."

Knutsson met Mr. Kaul in the 1980s while the two were visiting beach homes.

"He could buy and sell people, yet he was always working on the sprinkler system at his Longboat Key house," Knutsson recalled.

In spite of his wealth, Mr. Kaul usually wore older, worn clothes to his standing luncheon with Knutsson and two other friends, his wife said. A restaurant worker once questioned why he was given one of the best seats in the house when he was dressed so shabbily.

But he didn't mind when the laugh was on him.

"He had enough self-confidence it didn't bother him," Knutsson said.

In 1988, he founded the Kaul Foundation to reward and encourage excellence in scientific, health, literary, fine arts and educational endeavors. The foundation gave to charities and organizations, including his alma mater, Reed College in Portland, Oregon. In 1997, the college named its auditorium after Mr. Kaul.

Recently, the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute benefited from Mr. Kaul's generosity.

"He lived a wonderful life," his wife said. "He gave a lot to the community."

In addition to Ginny, he leaves his son, James; his daughter, Judith of Albuquerque, N.M; his stepdaughter, Caroline Jones; two stepsons, Victor and John Holcomb; three grandchildren; and nine stepgrandchildren.

-- City Times chronicles the lives of the famous and not-so-famous. To suggest an obituary, e-mail or call 226-3382.

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