Multimillionaire drugstore tycoon Jack Eckerd, 91, whose Florida-based firm grew from three rundown storefronts to the nation's second-largest chain, died of complications related to pneumonia May 19 at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, Fla.
Mr. Eckerd bought three down-at-the-heel stores for $150,000 in 1952. His father had owned drugstores in Pennsylvania since 1898, but the younger Mr. Eckerd borrowed only the family name for his business. He introduced self-service, two-for-one photo processing and discounts to the industry. By 1975, the Clearwater-based firm had 465 drugstores in 10 states, and Fortune magazine estimated Mr. Eckerd's wealth at $150 million.
He twice ran the General Services Administration, under Presidents Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter, and was active in Florida politics. He ran unsuccessfully three times for the U.S. Senate and Florida governor, but he could not duplicate his business success in electoral politics. His philanthropic efforts, however, grew into the nation's biggest nonprofit organization for troubled youth.
"My dad never had regrets. He never looked back," said one of his daughters, Nancy Eckerd Hart. "After he had a stroke four years ago, he couldn't speak . . . but when he couldn't say his own name, he could say 'the kids.' "
Mr. Eckerd, who was born in Wilmington, Del., graduated from Indiana's Culver Military Academy and attended the University of Pittsburgh and the Boeing School of Aeronautics.
During World War II, he enlisted in the Army Air Forces and became a pilot. He logged 2,000 hours ferrying bombers into the European war zone and supplies between India and China, and he was discharged at the rank of major.
He bought the drugstores and improved and expanded them. He took the company public in 1961. He partnered with Florida-based Publix grocery stores, which allowed the company to open pharmacies in shopping centers that the supermarket controlled.
His fortune funded many causes, including a college that was renamed in his honor and a performing arts hall named for his wife, but the cause he cared most about was a therapeutic wilderness program for at-risk and troubled youths, called Eckerd Youth Alternatives Inc. More than 60,000 youths have enrolled in its programs since 1968, an official said.
Mr. Eckerd stepped down from running his eponymous company in 1974 to run for public office. He won the Republican nomination for Senate but lost in the general election. Ford appointed him to run the GSA, and he was reappointed by Carter, but he resigned in 1977 and returned to Florida.
He was deeply involved in the state's politics, chairing the state GOP legislative campaign committee and the successful "No Casinos" campaign and working for prison reform. He formed the Florida Economic Council in 1975 and served on the Florida Council of 100. He fought a corporate profits tax. He fought school busing in 1972. And in the mid-1970s, he fought a ban on eyeglass advertising in a suit brought by Eckerd Optical Centers Inc. A judge ruled the ban unconstitutional.
Mr. Eckerd had a hand in national politics as well. President Ronald Reagan appointed him to serve on the Grace Commission's President's Private Sector Survey on Cost Control in 1983. He was a trustee of the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
He returned to the Eckerd Corp. in 1979 as director and chairman of the executive committee and retired in 1986.
J.C. Penney Co. bought the Eckerd chain, 2,600 stores in 20 states, in 1997 for $3.3 billion. The company has stores in Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland. Penney announced last month that it was selling the struggling chain to rivals CVS Corp. and Jean Contu Group Inc. for $4.53 billion.
Mr. Eckerd wrote an autobiography in 1987 and a booklet offering solutions to the nation's prison crowding crisis in 1990. He co-authored a book with Charles Colson in 1991 on the decline of the work ethic in America.
His marriage to Rose Eckerd ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife of 47 years, Ruth Binnicker Eckerd, of Clearwater Beach; four children; three stepchildren; 17 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.