Dwayne Hawkins created an industry giant over the years with the Crown Automotive Group – one of the biggest dealerships in the Southeastern United States. But he was known as a man with a heart as big as his business feats. He supported numerous community endeavors – and that included a deep commitment to the work of the Pinellas Education Foundation.
Mr. Hawkins, who passed away of natural causes at age 85 on December 24, 2020, served as a member of the Foundation’s board of directors and advisory board. Over the past 12 years, the automotive empire he built has been a sponsor of Finance Park, which provides middle school students with a unique, hands-on financial learning experience, as well as Walker’s Rising Stars, a scholarship program for Pinellas County Schools’ most talented performing, visual and culinary arts students.
“Dwayne loved to support causes that impacted the largest number of people – education, medicine and the arts were his top three,” said Jim Myers, President and COO of the Crown Automotive Group, past Chair of the Pinellas Education Foundation Board of Directors and a longtime board member. “Education was certainly near and dear to his heart, because I believe he benefited so much from his education.”
Mr. Hawkins grew up with little means in farm country just outside of Birmingham, Ala. He eventually managed to put himself through college at what is now Samford University in Birmingham. “I think he saw how that helped him achieve things in his life and career that he wouldn’t have been able to otherwise do,” Myers added.
Over his 50-plus years in the automotive business, Mr. Hawkins not only grew Crown to include 21 dealerships in Florida, Ohio and Tennessee but supported such entities as the St. Petersburg Free Clinic, Florida Dream Center, and Christian Home & Bible School. In addition to the Pinellas Education Foundation, he served on the boards of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and Moffitt Cancer Center Foundation.
Mr. Hawkins always had immense respect for Dr. Gus Stavros, the visionary leader of the Foundation. “He saw Gus Stavros as a person who gave everything he had to advance education, and Dwayne always spoke of Gus in that way – with admiration,” Myers said.
Mr. Hawkins is a member of the Foundation’s Hall of Honor, as well as an inductee in the Tampa Bay Business Hall of Fame, and a recipient of the Lightning Community Hero honor.
“He was very interested in so many aspects of the Foundation’s work – whether it be Finance Park, or more recently Closing the Gap (a program that narrows the learning gap between boys and girls,” added Myers. “Supporting education in Pinellas County was something that just invigorated him. He also looked at it from the perspective of an employer. He wanted to do all he could to help the workforce in this area as well.”