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She helped St. Mark's church get its start

Published March 9, 2007


CARROLLWOOD - It wasn't easy for Louise Dibbs to build a new life after her first husband died in the 1940s, when she was 26.

But the young mother became one of Tampa's leading businesswomen, building a company that eventually had international operations.

Mrs. Dibbs of Original Carrollwood passed away on Feb. 26 at age 90, after battling cancer for several years.

Along with her second husband, Joseph Dibbs, she founded and ran Dibbs Aluminum Products. In the 1950s and 1960s, the company was one of the leading manufacturers of jalousie windows.

"If you see jalousie windows in Florida or the Caribbean, they probably came from Dibbs Aluminum products," said her son, David Dibbs.

She took an active role in developing her real estate holdings, including Carrollwood's Dibbs Plaza, in her late 80s.

"She always had a positive attitude," her son said. "She'd always say 'Okay, you have a problem here, but we can work through it.' She had a way of sitting back and looking at the big picture and then knowing what needed to be done."

She was raised in Connecticut and attended college in Rhode Island. She returned to her hometown and married William Millea not long after she graduated. Their son David was 2 when Millea died of a brain tumor in 1943.

"Because of the war it was easy for a woman to find work," her son said. "She worked in clerical positions and waited tables at night. After the men came home it got tougher."

She found a post-war job working in the burgeoning nuclear industry in Oak Ridge, Tenn. She left her young son with her parents so she could try to make a living.

"She only stayed there a few months because she hated it," David Dibbs said. "She said everyone was from out of town. They were away from their families and they lived fast and loose, and that just wasn't her."

After leaving Oak Ridge, she drove by herself to Florida for a vacation, a bold move for a woman in that era.

"A woman in the 1940s didn't leave her son and go to Florida," David Dibbs said. "It just wasn't done. She came down here in January and discovered that people actually live here, and the sun was shining."

She brought her son to Miami and took a job selling ads for a local newspaper. One of her clients was a grocer named Dibbs.

"She was engaged to someone else at the time, but Joe Dibbs was persistent," her son said.

A few years later, her new husband got a distributorship for a garage door company and moved the family to Tampa. They settled in south Tampa and had another son, Stephen; Joseph Dibbs adopted David. One of the garage door customers asked Dibbs if he could do windows. Dibbs had no expertise in windows, but he accepted the job and then figured out how to do it.

Jalousie windows were trendy in Florida at the time, so the Dibbses expanded their window operation, opening offices on Platt Street and later a plant on Adamo Drive. They later sold their business and opened a smaller operation, Dibbs Products, on Hillsborough Avenue. Her husband passed away about 10 years ago.

In addition to her business work, Mrs. Dibbs was a 50-year member of the Tampa Women's Club, of which she was a past president and a longtime board member.

In later years, she was instrumental in the founding of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Carrollwood. She donated land to the church in her early days and continued to be actively involved until recent years.

The church's congregation had met briefly in a YMCA and then at an educational center until she and Joe dominated space. The church called Dibbs Plaza home for four years in the mid 1980s.

"She spoke quietly," said Father Ed Henley, rector of St. Mark's, which has since moved to Citrus Park. "But when she spoke, everyone listened."

[Last modified March 8, 2007, 08:21:48]

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