I was extremely saddened to learn about the passing of Bob Powell. Bob and Ann, along with his brother Steve and wife Carol, rank among the most generous supporters of the Florida Museum of Natural History. In fact, their lead gift made possible ‘Powell Hall,’ home to the Museum’s Education and Exhibition Center at the UF Cultural Plaza. It was my privilege to know Bob Powell for more than 25 years, not only as a Museum donor and advocate for natural Florida, but as a friend. He will be missed.

– Florida Museum Director Douglas Jones

Robert Otis Powell (aka Bob, Bobby, Otis, Hut, Hook, Wingman) passed away peacefully on May 30, 2020, with his wife and children at his bedside. He was 88 years old, born on March 8, 1932, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to John Stephen and Dorothy Jones Powell.

Bob and Ann Powell
Bob and Ann Powell at the Florida Museum’s 100th Anniversary Gala (2017)

He enjoyed growing up in Fort Lauderdale when it was a small town and he would ride his bicycle to the beach to hang out with his friends shooting baskets. He attended South Side Elementary School and graduated from Fort Lauderdale High School in 1950 where he lettered in basketball. He went to the University of Florida where he joined the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, graduating with a degree in Civil Engineering in 1955. He was a loyal and supportive “Gator” all his life, donating generously in support of the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida and establishing the Powell Family Structures and Materials laboratory.

After graduation, he went into the Air Force where he fulfilled his dream of becoming a pilot flying jets. Following his service in the Air Force, he returned to Fort Lauderdale to become a partner in the family marine and bridge building business, Powell Brothers, Inc., where he still went to the office every day. He served as a Director on the Board of what is now Trust Bank through its many transitions from the 1970s until he reached mandatory retirement age in 2002.

He was an enthusiastic outdoors man who enjoyed hunting and fishing locally and in countries around the world. In his later years, he loved spending time at his property near Okeechobee sitting on the porch of the cabin watching the deer and turkeys come up to feed or riding around in his Polaris observing the wildlife. He was an active member of Shikar Safari Club International, African Safari Club of Florida and Ducks Unlimited conservation organizations.

He was an avid NASCAR fan always pulling for the Fords as his family had a Ford agency in Fort Lauderdale for many years. He attended races all around the country, often camping out at the track in his motor home. He was a partner in a race car at one time, but they never made it to the big races. He loved tinkering with engines and built go-karts for himself and his wife which they raced as part of a local club. He also built a small race boat which he raced locally.

He enjoyed spending summers at his home in the mountains of North Carolina and at his house in the Florida Keys. The mini-lobster season was an annual family event with him as captain of the boat and the children diving – lots of war stories and good times.

He was preceded in death by his parents, his brother John Stephen Powell, Jr., and his son John Casey Powell. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Ann Selle Powell; his son Robert Otis Powell, Jr. and his wife Dorothy, and grandsons Robert Otis Powell III and Rogan Armstrong Powell; his daughter Ann K. (Kaki) Gambardella and her husband Steven Gambardella, and grandsons Steven Nicolas Gambardella and Gavin Thomas Gambardella.

He was a devoted husband, father, grandfather and good friend who will be missed by many. He was fair, honest, kind and loyal – a true gentleman respected by all who knew him.

“Your presence we miss, your memories we treasure; Loving you always, forgetting you never.”

A celebration of his life will be held at some future date. If desired, a contribution in his honor may be made to Children’s Aid Club, 3296 N. Federal Highway, #11503, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33339-1503, or the UF Foundation Florida Museum Building and Renovation Fund #014717, P.O. Box 112710, Gainesville, FL 32611.

All gifts given in Powell’s honor will be directed to the Florida Museum’s Building and Renovation Fund.