Marti Huizenga’s husband, Wayne, once joked, “I’m always the second fiddle, except at the office.”
At the time he said that, Huizenga, the first U.S. entrepreneur to launch three Fortune 500 companies — Waste Management, Blockbuster Entertainment and AutoNation — was paying tribute to his wife for her own philanthropic activities which, in South Florida, proved legion.
Marti Huizenga, who died Tuesday at 74 after battling cancer, served on the boards of many organizations, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County and the Humane Society of Broward County. In 1999, she and her husband donated $4 million to Nova Southeastern University in Davie. The institution named its business school the H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship.
“Marti Huizenga was a pillar of our community,” said Nova Southeastern University President and CEO Dr. George Hanbury. “Her dedication and passion for such organizations as the Boys & Girls Club of Broward County, the Humane Society of Broward County, Junior Achievement, and of course her longtime dedication to NSU, demonstrate her kindness and compassion. She took a personal interest in education, and was a very involved and detail-oriented champion for the community.”
Brian Quail, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Broward County, said he was always touched by Huizenga’s hands-on enthusiasm and her advocacy for the organization as well as her role in partnerships between the Boys & Girls Club and the Humane Society of Broward.
Marti Huizenga’s position as Boys & Girls Club of Broward board chairman from 1994 to 1997, and her 30 years of giving, helped the organization raise $20 million and grow from a single club to 12 clubs, making the Broward branch the fifth largest in the United States, Quail said.
But she did more.
“She was truly an investor in our organization,” Quail said. “Some people who are donors will support the organization with their dollars because they want to see the mission unfold. But with an investor, like Marti and Wayne, they came to the table not only wanting to donate but they brought their ideas, their sweat equity, and they helped us to set the foundational and aspirational goals for our organization. She cared so deeply for the kids and the critters and the cancers — those were her three areas of what she cared about — and we were so blessed to have her as our leader.”
She also supported the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the Performing Arts Center Authority, Kids in Distress, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Horatio Alger Association and the Child Care Connection.
She donated $750,000 to Holy Cross Hospital to support the Dorothy Mangurian Comprehensive Women’s Center at Holy Cross Hospital. The hospital’s Marti Huizenga Meditation Chapel and Healing Garden was named in recognition of her. There is also a Marti Huizenga Animal Shelter in Davie.
In 1991, the couple kicked in $500,000 toward what would become the Marti and Wayne Huizenga Family Skywalk to connect a city garage to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Seven years later, in 1998, the couple donated $1 million to be shared by the Jewish Federation of Broward County, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation and the Jewish National Fund.
“It is remarkable of someone not of the Jewish faith to provide this kind of support. We consider it a godsend,” Jacob Solomon, then-executive vice president of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, told the Herald at the time.
“I don’t know anyone in my lifetime who have been more philanthropic than the Huizengas,” said Don Smiley, president of the Florida Marlins from 1994 to 2000, during the time Wayne Huizenga owned the team. “No one can measure up to Wayne and Marti. They did philanthropic things for our community — things that people won’t even know about for years.
“Marti was always very supportive,” Smiley said of her husband’s ownership of pro sports franchises — he owned the Miami Dolphins, Florida Marlins and Florida Panthers. “She was a superfan and supported her husband.”
In fact, she was a big part of the baseball team when her husband became the owner in 1992.
“Marti was totally involved in the naming of the Marlins,” Smiley said. “When we were awarded the franchise in July of ’92, Marti was involved in the logistics of the name-the-team contest, and she was really happy that the Marlins actually won the contest, because she considered it a strong fighting fish. And Wayne and Marti had caught many marlin around the world, including 1,000-pound black marlins, called granders in Australia. When the fish came out of the water, that’s actually the detail of our logo and how it was conceived. She had a lot to do with it.”
Wayne Huizenga also owned the Florida Panthers hockey team. There, too, his wife proved a hit with the team and fans.
“She hardly ever missed a game,” said an emotional Bill Torrey, who was the first hockey-related hire of the Huizengas after South Florida was awarded an NHL expansion team in 1992.
“She loved the game. The rats were right up Marti’s alley. She would come to the game with a shopping bag full of rats. And she could throw. Everyone was throwing them and she was an involved player.”
Born Martha Jean Pike in San Antonio, Florida, on Nov. 26, 1942, Marti Huizenga was working as a secretary at one of Huizenga’s companies when she became his second wife in 1972. She has received the American Heart Association Golden Heart Award, the Silver Boys and Girls Club of America Medallion Award, the Habitat for Humanity of Broward Spirit of Humanity Award, the Sun-Sentinel Publisher’s Community Service Award, and the Child Care Connection Child Advocate of the Year award.
In 1999, the Huizengas donated $1 million to United Way organizations in Martin and St. Lucie counties, where the Fort Lauderdale couple had a private golf course.
“We enjoy being seasonal weekend residents and are pleased to share our good fortune to help others, especially the vital needs of children and youth,” Marti Huizenga told the Associated Press at the time.
At the Child Care Connection’s Child Advocate Awards Dinner where Huizenga gave credit to his wife, she was to share the stage with Hillary Clinton. Alas, the then-first lady was derailed by a scheduling conflict. No worries, an event chair told the Sun Sentinel in 1994. “This is [Marti’s] night.”
Huizenga is survived by her husband, Wayne; their children Robert Jay, Pam, Wayne Jr. and Scott, brother Charlie and 11 grandchildren. Donations can be made in her name to the Boys and Girls Club of Broward County or Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.
Miami Herald staff writers Clark Spencer and George Richards contributed to this story.