Dwayne Hawkins, founder and CEO of Crown Automotive Group, died on Dec. 24.
Hawkins, who was 85 years old, was a noted businessman and philanthropist. He built what originally was a single auto dealership on 34th Street in St. Petersburg into one of the largest privately owned dealership groups in the nation, with more than 1,100 employees. Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Tampa Bay Lighting are among the organizations that have recognized him for his community contributions.
“He truly loves St. Petersburg,” his son, Kevin Hawkins, said in an interview in 2019. “Being charitable is very important to him. But, for him, it’s not about leaving a legacy behind. The legacy is the people who are touched along the way.”
Funeral arrangements are pending, according to Memorial Park Cemetery, Crematory & Funeral Home.
Crown, which has 21 dealerships in Florida, Tennessee and Ohio, was launched on April 1, 1969, when Hawkins opened the door to his new one-car-showroom Pontiac dealership, the company said in a 2019 news release celebrating its 50th anniversary.
“I started with a simple idea – give people a better experience,” Hawkins said in the news release. “When you treat folks right, they’ll remember what you did for them and keep coming back to you.”
Six years ago, he was nominated for the 2015 Time Dealer of the Year award, one of the most prestigious awards in the automotive industry. “The dealers nominated for this award are dedicated business owners, auto lovers and, most importantly, champions for their local communities, with a willingness to give back on a grand scale,” said Tim Russi, president of auto finance for Ally Financial, one of the award co-sponsors.
Hawkins was named to the Class of 2020 at the Tampa Bay Business Hall of Fame earlier this year.
“I can’t tell you how proud all of us here at Crown are of Dwayne. His dedication and vision continue to inspire us to reach new levels as individuals, and as a company,” Jim Myers, president and chief operating officer of Crown Automotive, said in a news release announcing that award.
Hawkins was a long-time member of the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Board of Trustees, where he endowed the Hawkins Family Foundation Cancer and Blood Disorders Professorship. The hospital recognized his support in 2019 with the William S. “Bill” Belcher Award, named for the first All Children’s Hospital chairman of the board.
Crown has been a sponsor and partner of the Tampa Bay Rays since the beginning of team play in 1998, working together on community outreach projects and charitable efforts.
“You can’t put a price on the importance of the partnerships you make and the impact it can make in your community,” Hawkins said when he was given special recognition by the Rays during a game in April 2019.
The Tampa Bay Lightning honored Hawkins as a Lightning Community Hero in January. Hawkins received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program that he donated to the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, Florida Dream Center, Starting Right, Now and Christian Home & Bible School.
Hawkins also was a member of the Pinellas Education Foundation board of directors and funded 15 Take Stock in Children college scholarships. He received the Pinellas Free Enterprise Hall of Honor Award for outstanding support of public education.
He championed cancer research efforts while serving eight years on the Moffitt Cancer Center Foundation board. During his time on the board, Hawkins established the $600,000 Hawkins Stem Cell Endowed Chair at Moffitt Cancer Center in 2012.
Crown Automotive Group has funded seven Habitat for Humanity homes in Pinellas County and is a sponsor of Finance Park, which educates thousands of Pinellas County middle schoolers each year on how to make intelligent life-long financial choices. The company also has packaged over 200,000 meals for the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, Florida Dream Center and Pinellas County Schools, and annually donates to numerous other nonprofits, including Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Florida Dream Center.