A little more than a quarter-century ago, Patricia Carroll, owner of Gulf Star Marina on San Carlos Island, among numerous other enterprises, met the late Mother Teresa, and it changed her life. “Even though I was already a Christian, she quickened my spirits. Everything she endured was never easy, but she did not give up, and became a wonderful inspiration!”
It was Pat’s turn to be the “wonderful inspiration” to a roomful of impressionable teenage girls on Tuesday afternoon, March 14. She is a member of the 2017 Grande Dame class for the PACE Center for Girls, Lee County, at its sold-out benefit tea at the Broadway Palm Theater, with an audience of 375 elegant women in their tea hat finery, along with roughly 30 brave men. Lee County Deputy Sheriffs, in dress uniforms with white gloves, escorted the ladies to their seats.
Pace Center for Girls, Inc., is a community-based, gender-responsive prevention, diversion and early intervention program serving girls age 12 to 18. PACE’s successful model earned national recognition for helping girls find success in school, with their families, and in their communities by integrating education, counseling, training and advocacy. PACE Lee initiated the Grande Dame Teas to honor women who play a major role in Southwest Florida through a lifetime of service, philanthropy and helping others.
Pat, 75, is the managing partner of Carroll Properties, a leader in philanthropy as well as business and supports PACE Center for Girls in many capacities, along with many other charities. This is the 10th anniversary for PACE Lee that opened in February 2007 and has assisted over 600 Lee County girls to date, and the 9th annual Grande Dame Tea to Honor The Female Spirit. Beverly McNew of Fort Myers and the late Lalai Sapp Hamric of Fort Myers joined Pat as 2017 Grande Dames, with Ms. Hamric sadly passing away in December to becoming the first honored posthumously. Current PACE students encircled the Grande Dames on stage, asking questions about their lives and experience.
In discussing her parents and siblings, Pat said, “I got along great with my folks and three sisters who were all three years apart, then my parents waited eight years to have another baby – I think to have a boy – but they had me. When I grew up, Dad, who was a businessman, took me everywhere he could take me in the business world, and I think that is where I get my instincts.”
Untouchables & Lepers
As to her encounter with Mother Teresa, she said, “In 1990 I went to Calcutta, as a Protestant in a group of Catholics, and of course I heard of Mother Teresa, but I never dreamed we would have complete access to her, as we did at mass at 5 a.m. There she sat, barefoot on the floor, constantly kissing her prayer book, and when she walked by, I said to her, ‘God Bless you, Mother Teresa,’ and she grabbed and held my hand just as someone took our photo. I was so inspired, thinking of all she accomplished, and how she literally walked the streets of Calcutta to treat the untouchables and work with lepers. She would feed the children at the dump, and you would not believe how many kids lived at the dump in the 1990s.”
Pat returned to the United States inspired: “About a year later I helped start Cornerstone Ministries in Dunbar, where we began with 10 children and within the first few years grew to 1,200 kids a week. To keep the whole thing going we needed a lot of money so to fund it we founded Second Chance Boutique on US 41. I never had the courage to reach out and go full ahead with these things until meeting Mother Teresa, and she made me conscious that everyone may need help and be vulnerable. I am so glad I met her,” related Pat while growing misty-eyed.
One of the girls asked about her long-time donation of the Embassy Suites Ballroom as the location of the ultra-successful PACE Center “Love That Dress” Fundraiser: “When they first had the concept, PACE asked every hotel in town to complimentarily host ‘Love That Dress,’ but no one would. When I learned what PACE was all about, however, and what they did for girls, that really touched my heart, so I said they could use our ballroom at no charge! That was a decade ago, so when we sold the hotel, we told the new owner that no matter what you do, this is something you must support so don’t blow it! ‘Love That Dress’ is now so successful other hotels try to hold the event but it is staying at the Embassy Suites. When you do things like that, those blessings come back to you every time. It was real honor to host it and still is!”
One Gift to Give You Girls
When questioned about her biggest dreams, Pat felt “one is being such a success as a woman in business; I never stopped to figure out all we accomplished! My husband and I opened our first hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio, with just 20 units, until eventually having 26 hotels in 8 states and 44 different businesses – that is pretty amazing when I think about it. My biggest success, however, is my relationship with God. Every single day I ask God to direct my steps; if I have one gift to give all you girls, it is to tell you that you can do anything you want with your future and goals if you believe and trust in God.”
Following the tea, Pat reflected on being part of the Fort Myers Beach community. “Well, it’s phenomenal! Through our businesses, we reached out to the island and got involved, and it is an outstanding sense of accomplishment. We witnessed a lot of opportunities and a lot of changes since we expanded to Southwest Florida in 1980, and everyone has been wonderful to us. Now, however, we are down to just one hotel and a few other businesses like the Gulf Star Marina and that is enough; while I am not quite yet ready to fully retire, I do want to slow down.”
Pat, in discussing what this day meant to her, said, “At first, I looked for a way to turn down this honor! I don’t do what I do for rewards but because it is right; also I am too young and have too much left to accomplish! To me, this is my way to give back to these girls, and to help them learn what I know, and that is if you give of yourself and believe in God, that generosity comes back over and over and over again. I have been a Christian as long as I can remember, and God is with you every second of every day, and not just when you need him or are in trouble, but every second. With that belief in Him and in yourself, you cannot fail.”
For more information on the PACE Center for Girls, Lee County, call 239-425-2366 or see pacecenter.org/locations/lee.