Once a person gets to know Manatee County ways, they learn fast that not being too showy is the Manatee County way.
But then there was socialite/fund-raiser Dottie McCarthy.
Mrs. McCarthy, who passed away at age 74 Sunday during Hurricane Irma’s onslaught — she would have objected to Irma’s appearance in Manatee without a formal invitation — was beloved by many here for taking her matchless personal style and free spirit to a level that Manatee just had to admire.
She was a grand lady, a person with a big heart and very generous to our community. She loved to dress up, loved to look her best and open her home to not-for-profit organizations to raise money for causes.
Vernon DeSear, Manatee Memorial Hospital
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“Dottie was a reigning socialite/fundraiser in this town for many years,” said former Bradenton Herald columnist Jeremy Murphy, who was invited to fundraisers and opulent parties at Mrs. McCarthy’s mansion on Riverview Boulevard in the early 2000s and was treated by her to his going-away party several years later.
“Her dog, Ashley, wore a Tiffany diamond collar around its neck that was worth more than a home,” Murphy recalled.
Mrs. McCarthy’s husband was the late Dr. Owen McCarthy, an orthopedic surgeon who had a much more quiet and behind-the-scenes comportment, while thoroughly enjoying and supporting his wife’s whirlwind of a social life.
Dr. McCarthy was the team doctor for Manatee High School for many years and was among a group of doctors who gave free physicals to students to help the community, said former Manatee educator and school board member Harry Kinnan, who learned about Mrs. McCarthy’s passing while evacuated to Alabama for Hurricane Irma with his wife, Sue.
“She loved Manatee County, she loved all of it,” Sue Kinnan said of Mrs. McCarthy. “She wanted the best for the county. She supported all things from political to social service. When I was president of Entre Nous, she had a gala at her house that raised money for college scholarships. She did a lot of things people didn’t know about, and did it without recognition. Recognition wasn’t her thing.”
Harry Kinnan’s mother, Marge, for whom Kinnan Elementary School is named, used to live for rides with Dottie McCarthy in Dottie’s sports car, Harry Kinnan said.
“Dottie would take Marge to Manatee Education Foundation meetings in that car, and Marge loved it,” Sue Kinnan said, adding that it was either a Corvette or Jaguar but either way was sexy. “I knew she was in hospice. I kept in touch through her daughter, Michelle. She was a dear, dear friend.”
Dottie had a gift for uncovering talent
It seems Dottie McCarthy was able to recognize greatness in people even if they didn’t see it themselves. And then she would nurture them to bring it out. Apparently, that gave her joy.
For example, Murphy has gone from a cub reporter to the president of 360bespoke, a New York City-based media agency.
Another youngster McCarthy saw hope for was a young Bill Galvano, who now is state senator for Bradenton. Mrs. McCarthy could have hired a more experienced person for her attorney, but selected him.
“She took a chance on me and had the courage to believe in a young lawyer, and for that I will be forever grateful,” Galvano said.
“I never met anyone more generous across the board for all causes than Dottie,” the senator added. “She taught me a lot in terms of community and charity. She was a major positive influence on my legal career and, later, my political career. She was an absolute force in this community and around the state.”
Harry Kinnan notes that “when you ran for office, you always went to Dottie first.”
“Like I did in 1996,” Kinnan said, referring to his tenure as a school board member. “You told her you were running and why, and you hoped she would support you.”
While Mrs. McCarthy was famous for her sparkly little blue dresses, she was just as famous for loving her friends unconditionally, said Vernon DeSear, a vice president at Manatee Memorial Hospital.
“I am so sad,” DeSear said Tuesday from New Jersey, where he had evacuated Irma. “She was a grand lady, a person with a big heart and very generous to our community. She loved to dress up, loved to look her best and open her home to not-for-profit organizations to raise money for causes.
“But most importantly to me, she was a friend who loved unconditionally,” DeSear added.
Her dog, Ashley, wore a Tiffany diamond collar around its neck that was worth more than a home.
Jeremy Murphy, former Bradenton Herald reporter
Mary Glass, president of the Manatee Education Foundation, called Mrs. McCarthy “an incredible human.” Glass grew up around Dottie McCarthy since Mrs. McCarthy and Mary’s mother, former Manatee County Commissioner Pat Glass, were close friends.
“She would call me nearly every day to see what was going on,” Mary Glass said of Mrs. McCarthy. “Dottie was on the original Manatee Education Foundation board. Whenever we needed something, she would help us out. She was a very generous soul. She was a free spirit, full of life. She always wore these beautiful colorful clothes.”
A celebration of Mrs. McCarthy’s life will be held in late October when all her family members can be present, according to her daughter, Michelle McCarthy.