ALBANY, Ga.—In the months after Maurice D. Gortatowsky died on April 26, 1999, at age 87, many business associates and acquaintances of the founder of Georgia Tire and Battery were surprised to find out he also was a multimillionaire.
They were even more shocked when they learned Mr. Gortatowsky left every cent of his $5 million estate to local charities and to the college he attended.
In the early 1950s, Mr. Gortatowsky founded Georgia Tire in Albany, a city of 25,000 in southwestern Georgia, said Norman Pritchett Jr. of Albany. Mr. Pritchett said his father and Mr. Gortatowsky were longtime friends who liked to hunt and fish together.
Mr. Pritchett, who is co-executor of Mr. Gortatowsky's estate, said he had known Mr. Gortatowsky all his life. Several years ago, he and Mr. Gortatowsky talked about how the estate would be dispersed.
Mr. Gortatowsky's wife of 50 years, Lois, died about six months before him and the couple had no children. So Mr. Gortatowsky stipulated in his will that 10 percent of his estate would go to the local affiliate of each of seven charitable organizations: the American Heart Association, the YMCA, the American Cancer Society, the United Way, the Alzheimer's Association, the Salvation Army and the Lord's Pantry of Albany, a local food bank.
The remaining 30 percent of the estate—$1.2 million—went to Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC) in nearby Tifton, Ga., a two-year college specializing in technical programs and agriculture that is part of Georgia's state university system.
In 1930, Mr. Gortatowsky received an associate degree in science from Georgia College for Men, which later became ABAC.
"He didn't have any family," said Bob Langstaff, who was Mr. Gortatowsky's attorney. "He was very benevolent," he added. "And Uncle Sam didn't get a dime."
"He had a lot of dry humor," Mr. Pritchett said of Mr. Gortatowsky. "He was very intelligent; he liked a good joke."
Cleve Wester, owner of Cleve Wester Commercial Tire Co. in Albany, began his tire business career in 1961, working for Mr. Gortatowsky at Georgia Tire.
Mr. Wester described Mr. Gortatowsky as conservative and "a hard person to get close to." But, he added, Mr. Gortatowsky was "awful fair and an awful good man."
About six months after Mr. Wester started to work at Georgia Tire, his uncle bought the dealership from Mr. Gortatowsky. The Wester family operated the business until the mid-1980s, when it was closed.
Mr. Wester worked for his uncle at Georgia Tire until 1969, when he started his own dealership.
Georgia Tire carried Seiberling tires and other brands as well as batteries. The dealership was a wholesale tire and battery supplier for auto service stations within about 75 miles of Albany, Mr. Pritchett said.
In addition to hunting, both Messrs. Pritchett and Wester said Mr. Gortatowsky liked fishing and was an avid golfer who played almost every day.
Mr. Gortatowsky made most of his fortune through investments and usually re-invested the dividends, Mr. Pritchett said. Two of his largest holdings were in Georgia companies—Columbus, Ga.-based insurer AFLAC Inc. and Coca Cola Co. in Atlanta. Mr. Gortatowsky also held municipal bonds and real estate.
Mr. Wester said Mr. Gortatowsky provided him with financial assistance in starting Wester Tire. Asked if Mr. Gortatowsky was a venture capitalist, Mr. Pritchett said, "he probably would have liked that word."
Officials at ABAC said Mr. Gortatowsky's gift was the largest the college ever has received. Mr. Gortatowsky did not specify how the money was to be used, so the college will place it in four endowments—the initial sum will remain untouched—and use interest and investment returns from each fund to provide additional money for programs in music, academics, athletics and for landscaping improvements at the campus.
So why did Mr. Gortatowsky give the largest portion of his estate to the college? "He had fondness for what they did for him," Mr. Langstaff said. "The gift came as a shock to them."
Mr. Gortatowsky periodically made donations to ABAC, including a gift of $1,100 in 1985, said Betty McCorvey, assistant director of development. "He was invited to dinner with the president and other activities for contributors," she said, "but he never accepted."