Ed Morse, prominent and pioneering South Florida auto magnate, died Friday in Boca Raton at the age of 91.
He died of natural causes, a Morse company spokeswoman said.
Mr. Morse was chairman and founder of Ed Morse Automotive Group. The 66-year-old family business that spans four generations began in 1946, when Mr. Morse and his father, Alex Morse, started a small car rental company, the company said.
When that company, Morse Motors, grew to a 2,000-vehicle fleet, it merged with National Car Rental, where Mr. Morse was an executive.
In 1961, he bought into his first dealership, Morse Holland Ford, in Miami. The business expanded in 1968 with Ed Morse Chevrolet in Lauderhill and Ed Morse Bayview Cadillac in Fort Lauderdale.
Today, the business has an extensive Florida presence in five counties, offering 10 brands at 15 locations served by more than 1,000 employees.
Among them are family members who are or have been executives in the family business, including son Ted Morse, daughter Betty Anne Beaver and her husband Richard Beaver, and grandchildren Teddy Morse, Catherine Martinez, and Richard and Brian Danahy, according to the Morse Automotive Group website.
Mr. Morse was born in 1921. A decorated World War II veteran of the Pacific theater, he was a U.S. Army Air Corps navigator and survived a flight during which the pilot and co-pilot were wounded. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the company said.
His automotive career began when he was a valet at a Miami Beach hotel after the war.
Mr. Morse and his businesses have supported many events for local and national charities, including the American Lung Association, Toys for Tots, the iTRACE Foundation, Emerge Broward and the Humane Society of Broward County.
Mr. Morse’s company said it raised more than $1.3 million for the Muscular Dystrophy Association through an annual golf tournament.
Mr. Morse was in recent years dragged into the on-going scandal surrounding convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein.
Rothstein pleaded guilty to using a forged judge’s order to con Mr. Morse into handing over $57 million as bond for a non-existent court judgment.
According to a Broward County civil court docket, Ted Morse is seeking to dismiss a lawsuit filed December 2011 that accuses him of being a co-conspirator in Rothstein’s $1.4 billion fraud.
A lawyer for the family told the Sun Sentinel at the time that they were victims of Rothstein, their former attorney.
Mr. Morse is also survived by his wife, Carol; five great-granchildren; two sisters, Nancy Stringer and Pricilla Ropp; and brother-in-law Jack Stringer. A brother, Alex Morse, predeceased him in 2007.
A service will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. July 6 in the auditorium of Florida Atlantic University, 777 Glades Road, Boca Raton.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Mr. Morse’s name to the Muscular Dystrophy Association or The Lupus Foundation of America.