Gary Morse, Florida's Most Powerful Developer, Creator of the Villages, Dead at 77

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H. Gary Morse, Florida's most powerful developer, died Wednesday night at the age of 77.

Morse didn't upend existing cities and build shiny new luxury towers along their coasts. Instead he created and kept careful control over his own make-shift city, populated mostly by people over the age of 55. The result, the Villages, sprawls out of over 5.6 square miles in the middle of nowhere in central Florida.

In turn, he spent much of his windfall fueling the campaigns of both state and national Republicans, and the Villages became a go-to stop for every prominent GOP politician.

Harold Schwartz and a business partner first started selling tracts of lands in areas of Sumter County back in the early '70s, but Schwartz's son, Morse, came along in 1983, assumed control, and started planning turning the area into a massive retirement village.

According to a Buzzfeed profile of the Villages earlier this year, most residents ominously refer to him simply as "The Developer." He controlled both the local newspaper and radio station, and essentially controlled local politics as well.

Though he lived in a massive compound in the Villages, few residents ever saw him and some have had problems with his strict control over the area.

Still, Florida's top Republicans offered their remembrances today on his passing.

"Gary was a champion of Florida innovation," said Gov. Rick Scott in a statement. "When molding The Villages into the one-of-a-kind community it is today, Gary demonstrated what makes our state so great - the idea that anyone can make a positive, lasting impact in the lives of generations to come. Gary's boldness and entrepreneurial spirit is known internationally and helped define Florida as the place where anything is possible."

"Gary Morse looked at the pastures and prairies of Florida's interior and saw the American Dream," offered Sen. Marco Rubio. "Not just for him, but for the tens of thousands of seniors who have been able to enjoy their golden years and continue to live them to their fullest."

"Gary was a true visionary, creating tens of thousands of jobs while re-defining and improving the quality of life for seniors and retirees in ways that many never thought possible," added Attorney General Pam Bondi. "While doing so, he found time to be a tireless advocate for those in need, providing educational and healthcare opportunities for countless individuals and families. I was blessed to call him a friend. will miss him deeply, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Renee, his immediate family, and the many impacted by the loss of this kind soul"

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