Fort Myers icon Tom Cronin died last week. To the business community, he was brilliant. To his friends, he was a joker who would make you laugh at the drop of a hat especially if he thought you were feeling down. To North Fort Myers residents, he was the guy who took a rundown tourist attraction and made it into a fun family destination. The good lord took Tom too young, only 78 years young.
He took over the Shell Factory about 20 years ago, back when the quirky tourist attraction had almost gone under, and turned it into a bustling theme park that reflected his quirky personality—taxidermy and all.
People remember him as a man who worked hard and played even harder, living every day to the fullest.
He is also remembered as a family man who loved his children and wife very much.
"Tommy was the absolute love of my life, soul-mate and partner in every sense of the word. He encouraged me and supported my endeavors with love as I did his. Butler and I will miss him every day of our lives," said Pam Cronin, his wife.
"He lived life with gusto. He had a way of enjoying life to the fullest and then some," said friend Susan Bennett, who has known him since the 1970s. "If there was a P.T. Barnum for Southwest Florida in the 21st Century, it was Tom."
And even in death, the show goes on, the Shell Factory is open for business as usual.
At 4:46 am Friday, February 16, Southwest Flor¬ida lost a true icon. Thomas R. Cronin, Sr. passed on from this life in the finest way possible; peacefully, in his sleep with his adoring wife at his side.
Thomas (affectionally known as Tommy) was born in Hartford City, Indiana to Thomas E. and Pau¬line R. Cronin on February 23, 1939. He went to St. Francis Xavier Catholic School through Junior High and Graduated from Fort Myers High School in 1956. One of his favorite stories (he has a letter as proof) was that the principal said that he was not college material and would most like not go on to accomplish "much" in life.
He very proudly served in the United States Army where he held Top Secret Security Clearance received a Good Conduct Medal, and Graduated Classes in Microwave Radio, Equipment Repair, Business Law and Real Estate, which would be the first step of a life-long career that he loved.
When he returned to Fort Myers he joined his father in the wholesale beer company, Cronin Distributors. He later purchased that company from his father and expanded it to over 60 product brands.
As Chairman of the Board of Flordeco, and General Partner of CSL&G Development he and his contemporaries were instrumental in the growth and development of Lee County. Daniels Road was a dirt path from US 41 to the airport, when his group began selling five-acre parcels for $50 down and $50 a month. He worked with a group of doctors to develop Southwest Florida Regional Hospital (now Gulf Coast Hospital) for which he was its first Chairman of the Board for 19 years, further developed distressed properties, which has greatly impacted the Lee County YMCA, assembled the property for City of Palms Park Stadium, redeveloped neglected properties such as Beacon Executive Suites (once a nursing home), Renaissance Executive (once the Rafters Mall), Carrell Corners to the Strip Centers and Condos to the East. His father leased the property where Joe's Crab Shack is located (Pleasure Pier at the beginning of the last century) years later Tommy purchased that property and developed the Chart House. His specialty in development for the past 20 years has been redevelopment of distressed properties which has greatly impacted the attractiveness of buildings county-wide, most recently (20 years ago) The Shell Factory and Nature Park became his pet project and there were too many other properties in between to mention.
Organizer and Chairman of several local banks, a Trustee of International College (now Hodges University), Chairman of the United Way of Lee County, President of the YMCA, President of the City of Fort Myers Planning Board, Chairman of the Downtown Redevelopment Agency and again too many more charitable commitments to mention. Tommy was a philanthropist, donating money, time and talent to hundreds of local organizations through the years.
In 2006 he was one of the first recipients of the Junonia Award, selected by the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau, it is a recognition of in¬dividuals who have demonstrated leadership, commitment and dedication throughout the local tourism community. He has 13 civic awards, the most notable of which are: Citizen of the Year, Freedom of Brotherhood from the NAACP, Hadassah Service Award, President's Award for YMCA Capital Fund Drive and Outstanding Young Man of America. He was a honorary Mayor of North Fort Myers!
Tommy is survived by his wife, Pamela J. Cronin, his son, Thomas R. Cronin, Jr., daughter Constance Martine Cronin, Sister and Brother-in Law, to Mary ( Prudy) Rubin and Harry Rubin, nieces and nephews, Brenda and George Brincku, Denise and Trey Sones, Dennis Peterson Jr., numerous loving great nieces, nephews and other relatives. Tom is preceded in death by both his parents.
At his request, a joyful celebration in the form of an Irish Wake will be held in his honor on March 1, at 5:30pm at his beloved Shell Factory and Nature Park. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Nature Park Environmental Education Foundation, 2787 N. Tamiami Trail, N Fort Myers, FL 33903 which is where Tommy would like his ashes spread so he may spend the rest of time with the creatures he loved and cared for.