The World’s Busiest Man?“
"I have to be doing something all the time. I can’t sit still,” David Dignam admits in a moment of introspection.
Bingo! He’s got that right. He is one busy guy—a founder, a funder, a fixer, a door-opener, a donor and a doer. He started life in high gear, and he doesn’t intend to stop until Mother Nature tells him, “Enough already.”
If you were to Google him, David is credited with having founded 25 companies in his career. Asked if that’s true, he says, “Maybe, I don’t know, but a lot of them were nonprofits or were set up just to perform a specific purpose.” Huh? How many of us retirees have been involved in the founding of even two or three companies in a lifetime, let alone 25? And who says David is done?
David was born in Venice, grew up on Manasota Key and went to Englewood’s Lemon Bay junior and senior high schools, graduating in 1982. “I was probably a C+ student, maybe a B-,” he says with a laugh. “I wasn’t real focused then. I was into fishing, playing football and baseball, and I ran track.” He was also into hiking, camping, boating, biking and outdoor activities, which led him to join the Cub Scouts and then the Boy Scouts. He went on to become an Eagle Scout and a Captain in Explorer Scouts, two marks of achievement and dedication. He has maintained his association with those entities to this day.
He was class president his senior year in high school, a big man on campus, and he looked the part in his blue corduroy jacket, jeans and cowboy boots. “I was a good kid, (‘Digger’ to his friends), and I was popular in school,” David acknowledges. It’s easy to see why. He has a relaxed and easy manner, open and friendly. He shows an interest in the people he meets. He listens, and if they have a problem, he wants to help them. But he doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk, to use an idiom from sports world.
As the scion of a wealthy family, it was more or less preordained that David would become the president of the Key Agency, the family’s privately-owned insurance firm headquartered in Englewood. But for a while at least, he wanted to be a cop. As an Explorer Scout in his junior and senior years in high school, he worked with the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Department to set up an Explorer post in Englewood. “I helped in recruiting about twenty of my friends for it,” he remembers. “We got to wear a uniform, work the front desk, ride with the deputies, work with the dispatcher—all of this in junior roles, obviously, but great preparation for Police Academy training if we wanted to go into law enforcement.”
David signed up for the Police Academy’s auxiliary training program when he enrolled in the University of South Florida in 1983, but he didn’t go on to a career in law enforcement. He got his bachelor’s degree in political science, which led him into the world of politics. In his junior year, when an opening occurred for an internship on the campaign staff for Tampa’s Mayor Bob Martinez in his bid for Governor of Florida, David applied. Martinez had changed parties to run on the GOP ticket, and David (from a family of long-time Democrats) duly registered as a Republican and landed the job. “I was just a grunt,” he says, but he got the lofty title of Deputy Director of Communications, effectively Deputy Press Secretary.
The hours were long, the pay low, and the excitement level high, with chances for David to mingle with high-ranking leaders from Florida, Washington, DC and elsewhere—including President Reagan, President Bush the elder and Pope John Paul II.
Martinez, a huge underdog, won the election, and David stayed on for a total of 18 months, delaying the completion of his college degree until 1988. As an assistant to two different chiefs of staff in the Martinez administration, he seriously considered the prospect of going into electoral politics himself as a candidate. Eventually he decided against it, but he formed friendships and relationships that would stay with him for a lifetime. Indeed, his experience in Republican politics subsequently got him the vice-chairmanship of the Charlotte County GOP on two occasions during his long involvement with that organization.
“I’d gotten married to Laurie in 1986, and I began thinking it was time to settle down here in Englewood, help my dad in the family business and start a family of my own,” he says. The Key Agency had been founded by his grandfather, George Dignam, in 1952 and carried on by his father Tom when George retired. David had worked in the company since his sophomore year in high school. “I was the mail boy, the files boy, the ‘gofer,’ whatever needed doing,” he recalls. His dad knew he needed to learn the business from the bottom up to earn the respect of the employees rather than just be the owner’s kid. Upon his return he started as a customer service rep and then served as a salesman. He became president in 1998 and the company prospered, growing from a staff of 11 to its present total of 46.
Grandpa George had instilled in David the importance of giving to others, not just to promote business, but because it was the right thing to do. “He told me, ‘Give, and it will be returned to you tenfold,’ ”
David remembers. That principle inspired him to make commitments to a staggering number of charitable and volunteer organizations over the years, in every case as a leader. He’s been associated with the YMCA (the institution, not the song), the police academy (the training school, not the movie series), and the Explorer Scouts (the organization, not the car) all his life. He’s a longtime board member of the Southwest Florida Boy Scout Council. He was a founding board member of the Englewood Family YMCA, and in August he will become Board Chairman of the YMCA of Southwest Florida.
Add to that his involvement with the Charlotte County Development Authority (elected official), the Charlotte County School Board (elected member), the Charlotte County Boys and Girls Club (founding board member), the Charlotte County Police Athletic League (founding board member), Drug-Free Charlotte County (founding board member), Gulf Coast Community Foundation (Chairman of the Board), the Lemon Bay Sunrise Rotary Club (President), the Englewood Community Health Clinic (co-founder and board member) and the USF Sarasota/Manatee Community Leadership Council (member), and you can see a pattern of leadership in giving … and one busy guy. And oh, yes, David was also a co-founder of Premier Community Bank and Florida Shores Bank, and he now serves as a board member of Gulf Coast Strategic Investments, just to have something to do in his spare time.
Of all his charitable activities, the one that stands out for David is helping the father of Denise Amber Lee establish a foundation in her name. Denise, a 21-year-old Englewood resident and mother of two young children, was abducted, raped and murdered on January 17, 2008. The crime could have been prevented if there hadn’t been a complete mishandling of five separate 911 calls, including one from the victim herself. Help arrived too late.
“When you call 911, it’s the first line of defense, and these people need to be trained,” David asserts. Through the foundation, whose board David has chaired for the last nine years, he was able to push through changes in legislation in Florida requiring mandatory training and certification for 911 operators. The Denise Amber Lee Act serves as a model for other states to use, and the foundation is working on getting similar legislation passed. “We’ve gotten it in 14 other states so far,” David notes, and they continue to work toward nationwide reform.
Now at age 58, David is beginning to give some thought to the strange concept of “retirement.” Once he’s ready to step down as head of the family company, he’ll turn the reins over to his son Brandon. What then? Well, don’t expect him to don his cowboy boots, mount his trusty roan horse and ride off into the sunset. He won’t be the world’s busiest man, but you can bet he’ll be the busiest cowboy in Southwest Florida.
Dean Laux is exploring interesting folks living in our community. If you know of anyone with an interesting background please send an email to: email@example.com. Include the person’s name, contact info and give a brief description of the person’s background.