Remembering Ambassador David A. Straz Jr.
Beginning this Sunday, November 24, and all through this week, the University of Liberia website will run a special feature on the life and legacy of Ambassador David A. Straz Jr, who died suddenly last Monday, November 18, while on a fishing expedition in the U.S. State of Florida.
The death of Ambassador Straz sent immediate shock waves across the United States and elsewhere in the world, but the waves it jolted hit particularly hard more than 8,000 miles away on all the campuses of the University of Liberia, in the West African Nation of Liberia.
The tributes, heartfelt messages of condolence, prayers and sense of shocking disbelief still continue to pour in endlessly. Upon hearing the news, dozens at the UL—faculty, staff, students, alumni—took to social media to express their thoughts and prayers, inundating the UL social media platform and crowding the institution’s email domain expressing shock and incredulity, remembering Ambassador Straz as the largest, single individual benefactor in the University’s post-Liberian civil war history, if not in the history of the University.
His death was officially communicated to the UL family by Dr. Julius Sarwolo Nelson Jr., UL President. In his tribute to the late UL benefactor, Dr. Nelson stated: “It is with deep regrets that we officially announce the home-going of Dr. David A. Straz Jr., Ambassador-at-Large and Honorary Consul General for both the Republics of Liberia and Republic of Honduras.
“His death has come as a shock to all especially the University Family, as the Centennial Committee had invited him to the Centennial Commencement. The Committee had planned to honor him by unveiling the “Friendship Monument,” a statue of him and three elders of Sinje representing those that donated the land. The University will formally remember Ambassador Straz at Sinje on December 4 when the Arts and Craft opens the 2019 Centennial Commencement.”
Ambassador Straz donated US$1.5 million dollars of his personal money to renovate and refurbish Sinje, and served as the first commencement speaker, in 2017, of the David A. Straz-Sinje Technical & Vocational College, which is named in his honor.
As such, we will feature many of the condolence messages sent as well as special tributes written by past and present officials of the University of Liberia, present and former government officials, and others who knew him and had the opportunity to meet or work with him as a mark of last respects to his legacy and life.
So, we will open our archive to feature videos, pictures, speeches, among others, as we try to relive and remember some of his memorable time and visits here at the University and Liberia, just to show how close a friend he was. And if you would like to write a special tribute, please do so now and we will publish it on our website and in the local media. All entries should be emailed to email@example.com .
So, Let’s Begin! Below is an introduction of Ambassador David A. Straz, which was read verbatim by former UL President Dr. Ophelia Inez Weeks, when he served as the commencement speaker of the inaugural graduating class of the David A. Straz-Sinje Technical & Vocational College, in 2017.
“It is my pleasure to introduce to you a successful banking businessman who is extraordinary in his success, who enjoys the rugged outdoors, and the finer things in life like the fine arts and performing arts; a person who is internationally respected, and one who has a caring and considerate heart.”
The Honorable David A. Straz Jr. is a graduate of Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, where he earned a degree in Finance. Two years after his graduation, at the age of 25 years old, Ambassador Straz bought his first bank. Over time, this single bank grew into 26 branches, under the name, First Bank Southeast, and all of this happened before his 40th birthday.
Wisconsin, where he lived then, gets very cold in the winter you know, so after about 13 years of developing a banking empire in southeastern Wisconsin, Honorable Straz decided that he needed to move to some place much warmer. He moved to Tampa, Florida in 1980, and again bought a small bank, then another a few years, and in subsequent years consolidated many banks in the Tampa Bay area under Southern Exchange Bank that grew into 21 branches by the time he sold it. It now operates as the Florida Gulf Coast branches of Fifth Third Bank. Noteworthy is the fact that Honorable Straz also held on to his Wisconsin banks for 14 year after he left Wisconsin for Florida before he sold it. His Wisconsin holdings eventually became part of U. S. Bank.
Honorable Straz has served, and continues to serve on many Boards, which include boards of: Marquette University, his alma mater, University of Tampa, where he served as its Chair; Lowry Park Zoo Foundation, Carthage College, Tampa General Hospital, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Mayo Clinic Foundation, Southern Exchange Bank, serving as Chairman, and the Bank of Nevis Ltd., among others.
The philanthropic efforts of Honorable Straz are widespread. These efforts have earned him extensive respect and appreciation in the USA, South America and West Africa, and major buildings in these areas carry his name, as does our own Technical and Vocational College here in Sinje.
He holds honorary doctorates from Carthage College, the Catholic University of Honduras, Polytechnic University of Honduras, and from our own University of Liberia. He received the 19th Carthage Flame, the highest honor bestowed by that College.
Evidence of his appreciation can also be found in the number of notable recognitions he has received in the Americas and West Africa: “Alumnus of the Year” at his alma mater, induction into the Tampa Bay Business Hall of Fame; “Philanthropist of the Year” by the Association of Fundraising Professionals; Keys to the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County, and to the City of Monrovia; being knighted into the Humane Order of African Redemption.
In the USA, Ambassador Straz is Ambassador at Large and Honorary Consul General for Liberia in Florida, and Honorary Consul General for Honduras.
All work and no play is good for no one and Ambassador Straz relaxes by playing golf. As well, he is an avid fisherman, loves quail hunting, and is a sophisticated art collector.
He was in his early 40’s, a few years after moving to the Tampa Bay area, during which time he was introduced to Catherine Lowry, who he later married. They have a daughter Keebler and reside in the South Tampa area of Florida.