Detroit had Henry Ford of Ford Motor Co. fame. Boston birthed William Durant, co-founder of General Motors.
South Florida has the Morse family who, for generations, ran one of the largest volume auto dealers in the world.
Edward “Ted” Morse Jr. carried that name forward as CEO, owner/operator and chairman of the Ed Morse Automotive Group since the death of his father, Edward Morse, in 2012.
The senior Morse, who died at 91, founded the family business in Miami in 1946 as a rental fleet after World War II.
On Tuesday, his son Ted Morse Jr. died at Jackson Memorial Hospital at 66 after fighting a long illness, the family said.
Morse Jr. was practically born behind the wheels of a car on Dec. 19, 1949, in Miami. Soon after graduating from North Miami Senior High, where he met his wife, Patti Fornari, he married her in 1970 and joined his father’s company.
Morse Jr. worked his way up through the dealership ranks, first in sales and service, and he later served as general manager of Ed Morse Chevrolet in Lauderhill.
As Morse Jr. learned from his father, so he taught his son.
“The important stuff, how to treat people, that is what I got from my dad,” said his son, Edward “Teddy” Morse III.
The Morse children and grandchildren all started young, working as porters, detailers and up the ranks.
“My dad liked to say the customer comes second and employees come first. To treat our employees from our VPs to the porters — every position deserves respect,” Morse III said. “And when I was growing up, my father did that with me and that is what his father did with him. He understood how important every aspect was, and that helped me greatly going forward in my career. If you treat the employees well, they will treat the customers well.”
For five consecutive years, starting in 1990, Ed Morse Automotive ranked as the largest volume auto dealer in the world, according to a 1995 Miami Herald business report. In 1992, Morse Jr. was named president and chief operating officer of the company.
“Ted does all the day-to-day operations. I’m involved in acquisitions, strategies and borrowing money,” Ed Morse told the Herald in 1995. Father and son worked well together, quibbling on occasion, yet shared similar philosophies on growth. Both loved expansion. “It’s exciting to purchase another dealership,” Morse Jr. said.
“I disagree with everybody now and then,” the senior Morse said at the time. His son added, “To maintain your leadership, you have to continue to grow and withstand the volatility of the business itself.”
Morse Jr. added a Fiat franchise in 2011, followed by Mazda in 2012 and Alfa Romeo in 2015.
By 2012, the year his father died, Ed Morse Automotive Group operated in five Florida counties, sold 10 car brands at 15 locations and employed about 1,000 people. In 2015, Morse Jr. won the Concours d’Elegance Automotive Lifetime Achievement Award in Boca Raton for his impact on the automotive industry.
At the time of Morse Jr.’s death, the company had 13 locations and more than 900 employees. His son, Morse III, 41, the company’s executive vice president, will become chairman and CEO of the Ed Morse Automotive Group.
“We will continue to honor and grow the legacy of what Ted built, thanks in part to the leadership traits he passed on to his children, Edward (Teddy) J. Morse III and Catherine Martinez, and our over 900 employees,” the Delray Beach-based company said in a statement.
But there was more to Morse Jr. than cars. He was a lifelong Miami Dolphins and NASCAR fan, and held tickets for Dolphins games since the team’s inaugural season in 1966.
Loved early rock ’n’ roll. Morse Jr.’s first concert was The Beatles at the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach in 1964.
Cars and music, of course, go together. Morse III remembers the shift knob in his father’s Corvette was always scuffed because Morse Jr. wore a ring on his finger. As he tapped a beat to all those old songs the shift knob was “scratched to hell,” Morse III said, chuckling. He finds himself doing the same. “I hit the shifter all the time because of him.”
Morse Jr. was also on the board of directors of the Boys & Girls Club of Broward, and helped raise almost $2 million for the Muscular Dystrophy Association through the annual Ed Morse Golf Tournament. The Diabetes Association named Morse Jr. “Father of the Year” in 2014.
Above all, he was a dad, “in every sense of the word,” said Morse III. “I remember he was at the Super Bowl and they played on January 26. My birthday is January 27. Right after the Super Bowl he took the red eye from California so he wouldn’t miss my birthday.
“When I fell, he picked me up when I was real little. When I got older, he told me to get up. That was the difference. It’s wonderful for a father to pick a child up but more important to teach them to get up on their own,” Morse III added. “He loved the car business, but family is what he lived for.”
In addition to his son, Morse Jr. is survived by his wife, Patti, his daughter Catherine Martinez, three grandchildren, and his sister, Betty Anne Beaver.
Viewings will be at 6 p.m. Thursday and 4 p.m. Friday at Baird-Case Jordan-Fannin funeral home at 4343 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at First Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale, 401 SE 15th Ave.
Donations can be made to The Boys & Girls Club of Broward.