The mark of rancher and developer Don Porter is all over north-central Pasco County, from Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel to Pasco-Hernando State College to The Shops at Wiregrass, a popular open-air mall.
But to Porter's son, J.D. Porter, the true measure of his dad took place on a baseball field. That's where the elder Porter, a onetime minor leaguer and longtime local little league coach, would stay an hour late to help anyone who wanted to learn. “He led in actions, not words,” says J.D. Porter. “There was never a lot of dancing around a question.”
Don Porter died July 1 after an illness. He was 73.
Porter spent decades at the helm of Wiregrass Ranch, a master-planned community on more than 5,000 acres northeast of Wesley Chapel, at the last exit before Interstate 75 splits into I-275. Long-term plans call for up to 16,000 residential units built in conjunction with commercial, office and industrial space. The area includes the college, the mall and the hospital, in addition to Wiregrass Ranch High School.
With so many facets to Wiregrass, Porter spent a good deal of time in front of Pasco County officials, recalls J.D. Porter. Many meetings, especially ones with now-retired County Administrator John Gallagher, were heated sessions. But the elder Porter, says his son, never lost his cool — at least in public — and never interrupted someone. Porter would wait his turn, then speak about his project.
“He didn't need a PR firm,” says J.D. Porter. “He didn't need someone to tell him what to say. He just followed his gut.”
Don Porter was born in Plant City, one of three boys raised by Martha and James “Wiregrass” Porter. He graduated from Pasco High School and attended the University of Mississippi on a baseball scholarship. He was an All-American in baseball, and was drafted by the Houston Colt .45s. He later played baseball in the U.S. Army, stationed in Germany. He also coached an Army boxing team.
Porter settled into the family business after the Army. His family moved to what's now Wiregrass Ranch, sans electricity, in 1946, when Don Porter was 6. Porter went to a one-room schoolhouse, along with his brothers.
Business came first in cattle, and later, in the 1950s, in citrus. J.D. Porter now runs the company, along with his sister, Quinn Miller. J.D. Porter says several big development announcements are forthcoming, but things won't be the same without his dad. “What most people don't know about him was how much his family meant to him,” Porter says. “He will be sorely missed.”