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Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Steve Otto Columns

Otto: There will never be another Olin Mott

Goodbye Olin, my old friend. I can't speak for a city or for kids or anything like that, but thanks for what you did for all of them and so much more.
Where does it come from, that inner something, almost like an extra gear, that seems buried deep inside certain special people?
It's not a gift you acquire from being born on the right side of the street, and it's nothing you learned in school, unless it was on the playground where you first learned to deal with other people on your own.
Does it have something to do with your upbringing, or maybe some event early on that determined you were going in a different direction?
I'm not sure where it came from, but Olin Mott, who died last week, got it. There had to be some work ethic that he learned from his family back in rural Coffee County, Ga., where everyone scratched just to put food on the table in the Great Depression.
Being one of eight kids, his family needed the income he brought in from selling peanuts on the side of the road or at the general store.
That was certainly where his strong religious roots were formed and an ethic toward reaching out to help others.
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Some of it must have come from his experiences in the South Pacific in World War II.
There was that December morning when he found himself walking across an open field from the base hospital, just released from an attack of appendicitis and headed for the chow hall to get his first full meal in several days.
He never made it that far, as the sky was suddenly filled with Japanese fighters and around him was a chaos of explosions and men screaming.
Olin and two others took over a .50-caliber machine gun and started blazing. A nearby ammunition truck exploded, sending an ammo box slamming off his back.
That had to be part of it. Olin was never afraid to show his patriotism. You could see it in his politics and his talk about being an American.
He was always tinkering with his tire business after he went out on his own from a job in a retreading shop. His was the first in the area to offer nitrogen in tires.
Olin was one of the founders of Joshua House, a magnificent facility for children who are abused or neglected. He raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the place every year, largely through his Michelin golf tournament.
One year he asked me if I wouldn't mind making up a batch of chili for the tournament. I said sure, and then he told me to make enough for at least 500. But then that's the scale he worked on.
Olin surrounded himself with good people, led by his wife of 65 years, Doris, and the likes of Doyle Carleton, Dottie Berger MacKinnon and the late Bob Thomas. I used to watch as they would get a table in the back room of the Valencia Garden and would wonder what new project was under way.
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For me, Olin's gift was his ability to bring forces together to do things that just didn't happen.
Olin's passion was education, and he figured a solution to many of the problems today was mentoring. He realized the real stumbling block was lack of family support in the schools, but the best solution was mentoring.
There are a lot of organizations in the "business" of education, and most don't like getting involved with anybody else.
They learned quickly to get out of Olin's way as he linked the area public school system with USF's College of Education and private donors such as Michelin and others to provide computers to establish sophisticated mentoring programs in local middle schools.
I watched in awe as this man, in his 90s, worked with unlimited energy, always calling to make sure we were writing about one project or another.
I suppose most of his projects will continue. Joshua House is strong, and USF and the school district have bought into the mentoring idea.
But I also know there was only one Olin Mott, and about the best we can do is try to capture a little of his spirit in whatever we do.
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