Musings, opinions, observations, questions, and random thoughts on island life, Fernandina Beach and more

Musings, opinions, observations, questions, and random thoughts on island life, Fernandina Beach and more

Amelia Island, Nassau County, Douglas, GA Lose Beloved Icon

Amelia Island, lost a beloved icon last Saturday, February 10, with the passing of Francis Lott, 87.

Francis & Diane Lott

Although he originally hailed from Douglas, Georgia, it didn’t take long for his good nature and word of his economic, community and charitable activities to spread throughout Nassau County. He and his efforts are held in as high esteem hereabouts as they were in Coffee County and his hometown of Douglas,  GA.

I was encouraged to meet Francis by mutual friend, Benita Dodd, vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an Atlanta-based conservative think tank.

Even though I’d never met him previously, when he walked through the front door of the restaurant where we agreed to meet, I immediately knew who he was. The signature red-rimmed glasses the tall, trim, nattily dressed octogenarian wore gave him away.

The six-foot two, 210-pound soft-spoken, jovial Lott immediately made me feel as if we were long-time friends. He introduced me to his wife Diane, daughter Marry Jane, and her husband Michael Brady, who accompanied him that day, some six or seven years ago. We’ve been close friends ever since.

Francis, CEO of Coffee County Georgia’s Lott Properties, was a 1958 graduate of Georgia Tech where he also earned a degree of architecture in 1959, a profession he never actually practiced.

His love for his Georgia Tech alma mater was always on display with the GT pins and caps he wore consistently. His fondness for the Atlanta-based Varsity Restaurant’s renowned hot dogs also never wavered as he considered them “gourmet food” and the Georgia Tech neighborhood Atlanta Varsity eatery the epitome of “fine dinning”.  He even convinced the famed hot dog joint to cater a party at his Douglas home, persuading them to haul their  famous “What’ll ‘ya Have” food truck on a 410-mile round trip trek they said was a once and done deal.

Francis Lott’s landmark Fletcher Avenue home “Sea Loft”.

His most visible connection with Amelia Island is “Sea Loft”, his 18-year-old ocean-front landmark home on South Fletcher Ave., an architecturally award-winning structure that took two and a half years to build and catches people’s attention no matter how many times they pass by it.

Following graduation from Tech and serving as an officer in the U.S. Air Force he returned to Douglas, GA, where he joined the family’s Lott Builders Supplies firm. However, his interests and ambitions led him in a different direction.

“It took me a while to figure it out — 12 years in fact — that I really just didn’t like what I was doing and wasn’t good at it,” he said. “So, I leveraged my building supply experience and knowledge of construction, along with my architectural design training at Tech, to transition into real estate development.”

Lott explaining to students why they should apply to Georgia Tech.

He expanded the family business into a highly successful real estate enterprise. He developed shopping centers, restaurants, banks, schools, apartments, single-family subdivisions, self-storage facilities, and more. Along the way he managed to create a number of productive projects and activities for the community and its residents.

He is considered the primary architect of Douglas-Coffee County Georgia’s unprecedented economic boom that began in the late 1970s and continues to this day. He was the Fredrick Olmstead and Robert Moses combined of Coffee County.

Long-time Coffee County residents say there hasn’t been a more prominent figure in the county since the end of World War II than Lott. Along with a dedicated team of like-minded citizens, he set out to put the county on the map as a prosperous and friendly place to do business and raise a family. He succeed as his group’s perseverance, ingenuity, creativity, and work put Douglas and Coffee County on the statewide economic radar. He initiated a wave of economic prosperity for the community that is still continuing.

In 2004, he established the local Economic Development Fund with a one million dollar endowment to the Community Foundation of Coffee County. He also bought the old Belk building in downtown Douglas in 1998. Six years later, he did a complete renovation on it, turning what was once a downtown eyesore for into one of the most striking buildings in Douglas. He renamed the building The Atrium and, in 2014, he gave the building to the Chamber of Commerce.

It has been reported that he has been  responsible, either directly or indirectly, for creating some 4,000 jobs locally and  providing a pathway to prosperity for thousands of people throughout the area.

His community and charitable efforts were recognized when he was presented Georgia Tech’s 2018 Dean Griffin Community Service Award that acknowledges alumni who have performed exemplary community service in a variety of ways including “service in a long-term volunteer capacity, impact on the quality of life of others, leadership and creativity in dealing with societal problems and ability to serve as a source of inspiration for others.”

He was also been the recipient of many other awards for his philanthropic and volunteer efforts and was one of only two people to ever receive the “Volunteer of the Year” award twice from the Georgia Economic Developers Association, in 1995 and again in 2015. Wife Diane partnered with him in his efforts to provide scholarships and endowments to students who overwise would be financially unable to attend college.

He was honored by Douglas, GA, and Coffee County for his many endeavors to encourage economic development. The Community Foundation of Coffee County recognized its founding board member and community champion Lott by renaming the Douglas-Coffee County Economic Development Fund in his honor. The newly named Francis Lott Community Economic Development Fund makes grants to projects in Douglas-Coffee County that either support the county’s economic development activities or enhances the quality of life in Coffee County. Folks can read more about Lott’s impact on Coffee County and the state at https://bit.ly/3gQB4IZ

Francis and wife, Diane, endowed a $500,000 scholarship, dubbed the G. Wayne Clough Georgia Tech Promise Scholarship, to provide a debt-free education at Georgia Tech to students who could not afford to attend. Coffee County students are given priority when awarding these scholarships.

I was present recently when he generously hosted 40 Coffee County honors students at his Amelia Island “Sea Loft” home to hear a variety of Tech luminaries tell them the benefits of applying to Georgia Tech.

Francis Lott , left, and Diane Lott, right, flank the Georgia Tech Mascot during Francis’s award ceremony at Tech in 2018.

Among his numerous awards and accolades is the Dean Griffin Community Service Award (2018) from Georgia Tech, the Volunteer of the Year Award from the Georgia Economic Developers Association (one of only two people to receive that honor), and the Douglas-Coffee County Chamber of Commerce’s Garland Thompson Lifetime Achievement Award (2019). He served on a number of boards and authorities, including chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, the Community Foundation of Coffee County, and Wiregrass Georgia Technical College Foundation. He was also a founding member of Douglas National Bank, a locally owned and operated bank in Coffee County that has grown into one of the most successful financial institutions in the community.

Francis was loaded with as much genuine humility, humanity, and affability as he was with talent. He was also one of the kindest people I’ve ever met and despite his fame and wealth, one of the least pretentious.

When talking to a new acquaintance Francis took a sincere interest in that person, no matter that individual’s status, making them feel as though they were the only person in the room.  It has been a privilege to have known him and a honor to to have had him call me “friend.” He leaves a huge void and I will miss him tremendously.

Francis is survived by his wife, Diane; son, Jeffrey Lott and wife Joanne; son, Kirby Lott; daughter, Mary Jane Brady and husband Mike; step-daughter, Allyson Reeves Land and husband Ronnie; grandchildren, Andrew Lott, Paige Lott, Jack Brady, and Mary Kate Brady; and great-grandchildren Kirby Lott and Scarlett Lott. Funeral services were held in Douglas today, Friday, February 16.

  • Comment (20)
  • Thank you for writing this tribute. All who have met and interacted with Mr. Lott over the years would agree he was an exceptional person. He was blessed with that rare combination of business expertise coupled with a great appreciation of all things visual. He will be missed.

  • Francis was a true Southern Gentleman. He could light up a room when he walked in but his first question upon greeting you was always “How are you doing?” Or How’s things in your life? He was always infinitely more concerned with how you were doing than anything going on at the moment. His concerns for people in general were genuine and you could tell Francis was excited to see the people he would meet and interact with, succeed in life. And if being around Francis wasn’t enough of a cheer up if you were down, he always had words of encouragement. Francis Lott will most certainly be missed.

    • Fantastic tribute from Dave and all the commenters. Francis was a great friend who was encouraging, inspiring, and so caring. He made me feel like his best criend. He wanted so much to help our community. Sad that he is no longer with us, but celebrating for him bringing his love to heaven!

  • Francis will be missed. He always made it a point to say Hello to me and made everyone feel like a friend. Beautifully written, Dave.

  • Francis always brought a little light into everyone’s life. He would always greet me with genuine joy to see me again and concern for my wellbeing. He was a very generous person who lived a full life. I will miss him. My prayers are with Diane.

  • What an incredible role model Francis Lott has been to all who knew him. A true southern gentleman who was interested in everyone, and so incredibly generous to so many. We should all strive to be so gracious, warm and loving. Francis regularly attended We the People meetings and always left his name tag at the front desk to make sure he would have it to wear at the next meeting. That name tag will always have a special place of honor…waiting for him at We the People meetings. I know for sure that Francis will be there with us in spirit.

    Here’s to a tremendous patriot and friend. God surely blessed us by sharing this angel of man with us for the time we had him. All our love and prayers go to Diane and family.

  • What an interesting guy Francis was – he will be missed! He was also very generous with his time, home etc. Good tribute Dave!

  • A fitting tribute to a humble and genuine gentleman. Well done, Dave. He will be missed. What a life!

  • Thank you Dave for the wonderful tribute to Francis. I was proud to call Francis a cousin of the Lott clan that came down originally from North Carolina. Francis’ side of the clan settled in Douglas/Coffee County and were involved primarily in land and farming. My side of the clan (Warren Lott) settled in Waycross/Ware County.
    As you carefully documented, his generosity of time and financial resources benefitted so many in Coffee County as well as Nassau County. Prayers for comfort and peace to Diane and all the family and friends.

  • Nice job, Dave. Me and a couple of the Pajama Dave guys are just back from Francis’ funeral in Douglas. That town gave our guy one major league send off. Francis was a class act from a class family.

  • I didn’t know Francis Lott, but after reading your story Dave, I wish I had. What an incredibly generous individual and a role model that more of us should endeavor to emulate. God rest his soul.

  • Dave,

    A masterful tribute to our dear friend. My gratitude for doing so. I thought I knew everything about the man but learned a few new facts. I have sent this to members of my family as well as to some of his GT friends. He will be missed by all who loved him. His generosity was exceeded only by his graciousness.

    Jess

  • I was blessed to meet Francis and Diane through my parents, Jess and Judy Newbern. From the moment he greeted me in his funky Andy Warhol style glasses and that big smile, I knew he was one of a kind and that I’d enjoy being around him. I immediately loved watching he and my dad banter back and forth as if they’d known each other all their lives.
    One of my favorite memories is when Diane and Francis invited myself, my mom and a bunch of my girlfriends down for a pre-dinner drink. Francis greeted us at the door in his silk PJ’s (think Mr Howell from Gilligan’s Island), a cocktail in hand, and of course his signature frames upon his smiling face. My girlfriends immediately fell in love with our gracious hosts. I will cherish all the times I was fortunate to be in Francis’ company and I know his presence will be missed greatly.

  • Great job Dave! A wonderful tribute to a wonderful man, I will miss him as well as his wise counsel.

  • Francis Lott was a great man! He will be missed! Truly a Great American! He’s in heaven now!

  • My dad, a meager carpenter, would only buy his supplies from Lott Builders Supplies. There were other building supply companies in our little community, but my dad always said they were honest with fair prices. Mr. Lott came from good stock.

  • A great tribute to a great man. I pray for God’s grace and relief for his family and friends. I wish I would have had the opportunity to meet him myself. May the Lord welcome him with open arms as a good and faithful servant. Rest in Peace Mr. Lott.

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