University of South Florida


Video by John Tipton, USF Advancement. Photos by Fredrick Coleman, USF Health.

Surprise celebration honors Tampa Bay philanthropists Carol and Frank Morsani

By Dave Scheiber

Carol and Frank Morsani

Their road in life has unfolded in storybook fashion, starting with the humblest of roots in the desolate, Dust Bowl landscape of Arkansas and Oklahoma.

It entwines a quintessential American success story: A shared tale involving a ramshackle home with no running water or electricity to working with three U.S. presidents, building one of the nation's top car dealership businesses and – most notably of all – a marital partnership that has enriched a myriad of educational, medical and cultural institutions with a long list of transformative philanthropic endeavors.

Carol and Frank Morsani stands with leaders from organizations that they've supported

(L-R) University of Tampa President Ronald Vaughn, Moffitt Cancer Center President and CEO Patrick Hwu, Carol and Frank Morsani, USF President Rhea Law, Straz Center President and CEO Greg Holland

The enduring impact Frank and Carol Morsani have had in the Tampa Bay area and beyond was commemorated Monday in spectacular fashion – a surprise party held fittingly at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine building in downtown Tampa to celebrate their legacy of generosity.

The event was a joint show of appreciation hosted by representatives of four area institutions the Morsanis have supported over the years: USF, the University of Tampa, Moffitt Cancer Center and the Straz Center for the Performing Arts – each shared stories about how the Morsani's generosity has impacted their lives, careers and community. Through a video message, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor proclaimed the day Frank and Carol Morsani Day in the city of Tampa.

The Morsanis were visibly touched by the show of love inside the building that they helped make possible with a generous gift in 2011 – just one of numerous examples of their transformative philanthropic support of organizations throughout the area.

proclamation certificate

“This is such a great city and a great place to live – to see the change and the positive things that have come and are still coming, it’s all moving in the right direction,” Frank said. “We never get through setting examples, no matter what we do in life, that’s our obligation – leaving this world in a better place than we found it. We’re proud of the things we’ve been able to do, and it has been a wonderful experience.”

"Countless lives have been improved because of Frank and Carol Morsani's vision and leadership, and their passion for making lives better has helped elevate several programs at the University of South Florida and in our communities," said USF President Rhea Law. "Together, the Morsanis have been catalysts for positive change and growth across the Tampa Bay region, and we thank them for their extraordinary generosity and service."

Carol and Frank Morsani

The couple will celebrate their 73rd wedding anniversary on Feb. 9, and both turn 93 this year. Their journey together in impacting countless people and organizations started with a twist of fate.

Frank grew up in a one-bedroom home helping run his parents’ farm in Oklahoma. He met Carol in high school and went together to the senior prom. They lost touch as they both headed off, unknowingly, to the university later known as Oklahoma State. It wasn’t until the spring semester in 1950 that they ran into each other while Frank was standing on a campus street corner. 

Carol and Frank Morsani

The rest is Morsani history, the start of an amazing bond that has enhanced opportunities for others, guided by a principle that Frank has spoken about often. 

“The way I see it is that we live our life in thirds,” he once explained. “In the first third, we learn. That’s when we get our education from books and in life. The second third, we earn. We work and invest and live our lives. And in the final third, we return. Carol and I are returning our treasures to those we care about.”

One of their main beneficiaries has been USF, where they rank as one of the university’s all-time top donors with gifts that have paved the way to an array of landmarks, including the state-of-the-art USF Health Morsani College of Medicine building, the Carol and Frank Morsani Center for Advanced Healthcare and the Frank Morsani Football Practice Complex.

USF Health Morsani College of Medicine building

“The kindness of Frank and Carol that they demonstrate every day makes them the living embodiment of our mission statement. They are truly ‘Making Life Better,’” said Dr. Charly Lockwood, executive vice president of USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine.

They have also shared their wealth in support of the Straz Center, previously known as the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, with the named world-class Carol Morsani Hall. They’ve also supported Moffitt Cancer Center where Carol served on the Foundation Board and chaired the Research Committee and made estate gifts to the University of Tampa, resulting in the naming of the residential hall and student center as Frank and Carol Morsani Hall and the naming of the Morsani Honors College.

Carol and Barbara Bush

Carol Morsani with former First Lady Barbara Bush

Frank Morsani

Frank Morsani in Washington, D.C.

Frank Morsani meets President Reagan

Frank Morsani greets former President Ronald Reagan

Frank is a Korean War veteran who served in the U.S. Navy and saw active combat on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Antietam. It was on the ship that he developed his management style. His automotive career began as a service trainer for Ford Motors – later becoming a hugely successful owner of 30 dealerships nationwide, including the area’s first successful Toyota dealership.

He gradually became a national voice for small business, working with three presidential administrations (Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush), and was later elected as chairman of the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 

Carol has made her own mark as a leader and passionate supporter of initiatives in higher education, medicine and the arts. She spent the early part of adulthood raising two daughters, Susie and Leann. Among her many other contributions, Carol served as founding member of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, founder of USF’s Women in Leadership & Philanthropy and has held many civic volunteer posts.

More of their life story can be found in the 2015 memoir, To Be Frank: Building the American Dream in Business and Life. 

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