From tomato farmer to UM fan to quest to ‘cure the incurable,’ Paul DiMare lived full life

BY SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN for the Miami Herald

Paul and Swanee DiMare at Gala in the Garden

Future first-round NFL Draft pick Alonzo Highsmith first met Paul DiMare in the early 1980s when Highsmith played football at Miami Columbus High with Scott, one of DiMare’s four sons. A few years later, when Highsmith was baptized during his illustrious career with the Miami Hurricanes, he chose DiMare as his godfather — then asked DiMare again to be his son Alonzo “Paul” Highsmith’s godfather when he was born. Naturally, DiMare — an 18-year University of Miami Board of Trustees member, father of head UM baseball coach Gino DiMare and nationally known, highly successful tomato grower — said “yes” to Highsmith. He also said “yes” to nearly all facets of UM, donating millions to a seemingly endless array of charities and organizations and causes in Miami and nationwide as a major philanthropist and volunteer.

After battling liver cancer, leukemia and multiple myeloma for several years, DiMare finally succumbed Friday to complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — known as ALS. He was 81.

“His influence was always with me,’’ Highsmith, now the Miami Hurricanes general manager of football operations, said Monday. “Paul DiMare was a very wealthy man, but our relationship was never about that. He was a mentor who was all about doing things right in life and wanting me to want more for myself. He loved sports and I loved sports but we talked about everything. His family became my family. “I only wish I had made it into the [Pro Football] Hall of Fame because I had it all mapped out that Paul would be one of the speakers to introduce me.’’ DiMare’s son Gino, 53, became the UM baseball coach in 2019 after being an assistant coach there for several years and starring for the Hurricanes decades earlier. Paul DiMare rarely missed UM sporting events until he got too sick this past year after being diagnosed with ALS in April 2021. “He was a great father, extremely caring and generous and always there for us,’’ said Gino, whose brothers, besides Scott, are Tony and Paul Jr. “He had a big heart and always loved sports. He would be at all of our practices, all of our games, all the way through high school. “If anyone ever met my dad, they’d say, ‘That guy is about as impressive a human being’ as they’d ever met.’’

DiMare, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, grew up in Belmont, Massachusetts, attended Georgetown University and moved to Florida in 1964 when he was 23. Named Agriculturist of the Year by the Miami-Dade County Farm Bureau in 2016, he was still running the DiMare Company and DiMare fresh, Inc., with sons Tony and Scott after Paul Jr. retired. DiMare’s stepson Jim Husk is one of the farmers, Gino said. The company eventually became the nation’s largest grower of fresh-market tomatoes. Gino said his dad’s career grew from being a “push-cart guy” selling vegetables with Paul’s father and two brothers at Haymarket Square, “and built it into a repacking company” near the Boston Terminal Market. UM SPORTS DiMare became entrenched in Miami Hurricanes sports around the time Howard Schnellenberger was hired as football coach in 1979. “He was a huge, huge Hurricanes fan,’’ Gino said, “and played a big role in helping to bring the basketball program back.’’ DiMare endowed many athletic scholarships at UM in various sports. The DiMare Champions Plaza at Mark Light Field is named in his honor.

In early 2019, after Gino was named UM head coach, Paul DiMare was asked by the Miami Herald if he were concerned that people would think his influence in the UM community and beyond helped his son land the job. “If they do,’’ DiMare said, “they don’t know the background, they don’t know the person, they don’t know the ability of my son. My feeling is you earn what you get. He certainly has earned everything he’s gotten at UM.’’ UM athletic director Dan Radakovich called DiMare “a pillar of our South Florida community and one of the University of Miami’s most passionate supporters.” “I knew Paul for many years, and he was always kind, encouraging, generous, and thoughtful. He was a true friend to both the University and the athletic department and he will be deeply missed.’’ But sports was only one of DiMare’s passions. He also was a supporter of the arts and sciences, medicine and education.


He gave significantly to the UM Miller School of Medicine, making a “transformational gift for medical student scholarships,’’ according to a UM news story after DiMare’s death. He funded an endowed chair at UM’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center — the Paul J. DiMare Endowed Chair in Immunotherapy. Paul and Swanee DiMare, his wife of 32 years, also donated for the 200-seat recital hall at the Frost School of Music, which named its lobby after the DiMares. “One of our University’s most ardent supporter, Paul lived a life worth emulating, marked by generosity, leadership, and a gregarious spirit that made him unforgettable,’’ UM president Julio Frenk said Friday. “He poured his heart into his family, his community, and his every endeavor. We have been fortunate to know him personally and we mourn the loss of this great man.’’ DiMare has also given millions to other areas of the South Florida community, such as Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, the Red Cross, the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science and Vizcaya. His efforts have helped support the underprivileged and greatly aided the Chapman Partnership for the Homeless. ‘A FORCE’

“Paul was a force in everything he did,’’ said Alberto Ibargüen, Chief Executive Officer of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and former Miami Herald publisher. “He was as successful a businessman as he was an effective philanthropist in support of medicine and sports at the University of Miami and the Chapman Partnership for the Homeless. He was a committed conservative who was also a strong supporter of immigrants in the U.S.” Said close friend Robert Barlick, managing director and head of Florida and Latin America at Goldman Sachs Private Wealth Management: “Paul DiMare left a legacy all over Miami in so many ways. He was just so passionate about making Miami a better place to live. It’s hard to do the man justice because he helped so many people in so many profound ways.’’ The cause that DiMare “was working on religiously right up until the end,’’ his son Gino said, “was my dad’s dream of the DiMare Institute to Find a Cure for the Incurable.’’ Gino’s mother and DiMare’s former wife Carole died from ALS in 2011.


“It’s a really suffering, debilitating disease that is hard to watch a love one go through,’’ said Gino, whose father was a grandfather to 14 and great-grandfather to four. The yet-to-be-established DiMare Institute to Find a Cure for the Incurable, Swanee said, would be run through the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and directed toward “neurodegenerative disorders that remain today without a cure.” That includes Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, ALS and spinal cord injuries, among others. DiMare wanted the project to be a place where scientists from varied backgrounds worked together to advance therapies and cures. Swanee said she’d like her husband to be remembered “as a great philanthropist who gave so much to this community, not just monetarily but of his time. We wanted to make Miami not just the sun and fun capital of the world, but a place for great doctors and scientific research.” Funeral services are open to the public and will be held at noon Friday at Church of the Epiphany, 8235 SW 57th Ave. in Miami. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Miami Project to help perpetuate DiMare’s dream.

This article was originally published by the Miami Herald


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