He gave many college students in the area their first jobs. For years, he anonymously placed gifts on the doorsteps of poor people at Christmas. Recently, when he was lying in a hospital bed trying to beat leukemia, he prayed for visitors who had come to pray for him.
Serur Frank Dawahare Jr., one of the principals in a former Kentucky retail clothing dynasty, died Monday at his home in Lexington, apparently of complications from leukemia. He was 83.
Mr. Dawahare was vice president of the former Dawahare's Inc., a family business that operated a string of clothing stores across Kentucky and in West Virginia, Tennessee and Ohio for decades. He was in charge of the men's clothing departments in the stores, the last of which closed in 2008. He also handled the S.F. Dawahare estate, which includes the family's real estate holdings.
Mr. Dawahare was one of 11 children of Serur Frank Dawahare, an immigrant from Syria who moved to Appalachia after the turn of the 20th century, and Selma Cury Dawahare. Serur Frank Dawahare Sr. initially made his living selling goods out of a peddler's pack. The business grew, and the Dawahare children became involved in it.
Serur Frank Dawahare Jr.'s first job, at age 12, was sweeping the floors of the Dawahare's store in Whitesburg. He made a quarter a week, said his widow, Patricia Dawahare. Later, Mr. Dawahare worked with his brother, Harding, at the family's Pikeville store for about 20 years. After that, Serur Frank Dawahare Jr. and his brother, Woodrow, opened stores in Lexington.
Over the years, Mr. Dawahare's duties included toting around a very young George Clooney while Clooney's father, Nick, made commercials for the Dawahare family's Eight Brothers Store on Main Street in Lexington and hiring sales people.
He gave a lot of jobs to young people.
"He encouraged them. They've become doctors and lawyers and entertainers," Patricia Dawahare said.
Then there were the things Mr. Dawahare did quietly, such as taking items from one of the stores at Christmas, wrapping them up and distributing them to homes where he thought they might be needed. He did that for many years before his wife found out about it, she said.
"I said 'Frank, how do you know they can use it?' He said 'Well, they'll give it to someone who can,' " she said.
"I don't think there's a more caring person in the city in the 34 years I've been here. He just had a heart as big as you could possibly imagine," said WKYT-TV sports anchor Rob Bromley, a longtime friend.
Bromley recalled that when he needed a tuxedo for emceeing a Happy Chandler Foundation banquet, Mr. Dawahare provided the tux.
"I'd always get it rented from some place. Frank just put an end to that. He just up and gave me one one year," Bromley said.
"I've not met anybody here who had a heart as big as he did," he said.
Mr. Dawahare was a man who felt God had been good to him, his widow said.
A broken leg he suffered while playing football when he was 17 probably saved his life, she said. The break, which left him with a slight limp for the rest of his life, led to his being medically discharged from the Army. He had completed basic training and was preparing to serve in the Korean conflict when his commanding officer told him he should never have been accepted by the Army and to get a medical examination. Mr. Dawahare received a medical discharge. He was told later that his entire Army company, including his commanding officer, was killed in the war, Patricia Dawahare said.
Mr. Dawawhare, who was born in Neon in Letcher County and graduated from Millersburg Military Institute, was involved in a long list of professional and charitable organizations. He helped organize and served on the board of the Happy Chandler Foundation, which provides college scholarships; was instrumental in the creation of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Dawahare's Hall of Fame; had been a member of the Kentucky Horse Park Commission and Kentucky Horse Park Foundation boards; and was a University of Kentucky Fellow. He was instrumental in starting an all-star basketball game held annually in Pikeville.
For many years, Mr. Dawahare also was a regular at meetings of the ROMEO — Retired Old Men Eating Out — Club. He and fellow club members wore special hats and ate at McDonald's on Versailles Road.
In addition to his wife, Patricia Hangis Dawahare, Mr. Dawahare is survived by two daughters, Sadie Dawahare Tortora of Center Valley, Pa., and Amy Dawahare of Lexington; two sons, Serur Frank Dawahare III of Lexington and Christian Dawahare of Woodland Hills, Calif.; two sisters; three brothers; and five grandchildren.
Services will be at 2 p.m. Friday at Immanuel Baptist Church. Visitation will be 4-8 p.m. Thursday at W.R. Milward Mortuary on Trent Boulevard.