Terry Doolittle, a beloved member of the city’s building department, retired in January.
In his nearly 50 years in the construction business, Jesse Carr said, he’s never met someone quite like Terry ‘Doc’ Doolittle, Plant City’s recently retired plan examiner and building inspector.
Doolittle, 70, a native of the Florida Keys, officially retired at the end of January after 15 years working in the building he built.
“We’ll never be able to find someone like that again,” Carr, director of Plant City’s building department, said. “I still call him for advice and I’ve been doing this all my life. The man is like Google walking.”
Despite a strong will to continue working, Doolittle retired because of kidney failure and the time and strain dialysis treatments have on him.
Doolittle had been working in construction for more than 50 years. But with the calls he still gets from developers and employees, some might say he still is.
“I’ll do whatever I can to help, as long as I am healthy enough to do it,” he said.
He started with the City of Plant City in October 2001, after supervising the construction of the new city hall building while he was working with Matthews Construction. The project finished early and came in under budget.
Doolittle almost found his career in construction accidentally. He was drafted into the United States Army in his teens where an aptitude test placed him in school for engineering. He and 35 other engineers headed for a tour of duty in Vietnam in 1966 as combat engineers. Only Doolittle and two others made it back alive.
“I built a small city while I was there,” Doolittle said. “That made me decide if I made it back I’d go into construction.”
During his time in Vietnam, Doolittle was exposed to Agent Orange, a chemical agent used in the war that has been acknowledged by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to have led to many serious medical conditions among veterans. An otherwise healthy man, Doolittle credits that exposure with the health problems he has today. In addition to kidney failure, a dermatologist recently discovered skin cancer on his face that will require 15 treatments with radiation.
Despite the health issues, Doolittle hopes he can get a kidney transplant and return to work part time with the city.
It’s more than a job to him. When he and his wife, Dale, moved here 15 years ago, Doolittle said, he fell in love with the city.
In fact, he said he started to fall in love with Plant City when he worked first on city hall and then the Randy L. Larson Softball Four-Plex. He had worked in the private sector since leaving the Army in 1967. Over the course of that career, he oversaw construction projects in 21 states, completing more than $640 million of construction work.
When his wife suffered a brain injury in 1993 that left her with short-term memory loss, Doolittle decided to go from owning companies to working for them so he could devote more time to caring for Dale. He took a job with Matthews Construction in 1994, which led him to Plant City a few years later.
Carr said there were three companies bidding for the city hall job when he met Doolittle.
“Terry was the deciding factor,” Carr said. “He stuck out to us like a Q-beam. You could tell he just knew his stuff.”
After completing a few projects in Plant City, Carr said Doolittle was the kind of guy he wished he could have on his team. At one point, Carr said, he told Doolittle he wished he could afford him.
“A few weeks later, Terry came back,” Carr said. “He said to me, ‘It ain’t the money, brother. I’m looking for a home.”
Doolittle said Plant City had heart. Having grown up in the Keys, he always thought he’d wind up living somewhere on the water. The people of Plant City changed that for him.
“I think it’s the reason my wife has done so well in the last 15 years,” Doolittle said. “It’s neat when doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs come over and talk to us when we’re out. I think moving here was the smartest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Contact Daniel Figueroa IV at [email protected]