By FRANK LEWIS
PDT Staff Writer
After news of his terminal illness, the Daily Times on Monday interviewed Roger Padron, one of Portsmouth best-known businesspeople. A day after the interview, the 83-year-old entrepreneur died, just minutes after arriving at SOMC Hospice.
Padron, a longtime Portsmouth resident, was the epitome of the American dream. He left his native Cuba, came to the United States, went into the tire business and made a fortune.
A year-and-a-half ago Padron was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, meaning his bone marrow was failing, but as he faced the end on Monday, he was still passionate about life and his adopted country, and its opportunities.
“I came to this country in 1950,” Padron said, lying on a sofa in his house. “I was born in Cuba Sept. 8, 1928. I got a business degree in Cuba. My father was with Colegate-Palmolive, and they wanted to send me to the States to learn English, and to work with that company.”
Padron came to the U.S. to go to school and learn the language. Padron, who was Presbyterian, attended a Presbyterian school in Cuba, attended Maryville College in Tennessee for a year, then attended Pikeville College in Kentucky, both Presbyterian schools. During that time, Padron met his wife, Mary Nell, beginning a lifelong love affair that lasted 60 years.
Padron took his bride-to-be to Cuba to meet his family. “They fell in love with her,” Roger said. They were married in Cuba in 1953, and she returned to the U.S., but left Roger in Cuba. The plan was for Padron to get his papers, then come to the U.S. and work toward becoming an American citizen in 1957. He became a citizen as soon as it was legally possible. Del Rice Sr., father of the Milwaukee Braves player, helped him learn all the things he was required to learn for citizenship, such as the U.S. Constitution.
“Fidel Castro came to power, and it forbade us from ever going back to Cuba,” Mary Nell said.
Roger’s brother owned three clothing stores in Cuba, but when he refused to become a Communist, he was placed in prison.
When Roger came to America he went to work for Mary Nell’s family, which owned a Goodrich Tire franchise.
“He learned tires,” Mary Nell said.
Roger went to work for Glenn Bright at Bright-Hawkinson Tire Company at the end of Ruhlman Avenue in Portsmouth.
“He took me to Akron and I met J.P. Seiberling (Seiberling Rubber Company, the founder of the Goodyear Tire Company),” Roger said. “He asked me, ‘What do you want to be?’ and I said, ‘I want to be as rich as you are.’ By the time I came home he sent me a truckload of Michelin tires on consignment, no interest.”
Padron was the first dealer in town with the cold retreading system, which he still owned. Padron began in business a couple of doors down from the former Harold’s Restaurant on Gallia Street. After that building burned in 1968, Roger Padron Tire Service moved to 1519 11th St., across the alley from what is now Southern Moon Pit Bar-B-Q, a building he still owned and rented to its current occupant.
Padron was not shy about talking about how much money he has made, but even proud of what he has given away.
Padron was one of the first to contribute financially to Shawnee State University, and still was paying for four scholarships every year. He was president of the Lions Club, where he founded the blind bowling league, and served in other local organizations. He has contributed to countless causes within the community, including the Scioto County Museum.
Padron is also known for the cars he has driven. In 1972, he bought a Jaguar convertible for $9,500. In 1972, that was top dollar for a car. He said he had seen similar models sell for as high as $1 million. A couple years ago, he bought a new Lamborghini, and he also owned a Maserati and a Rolls Royce.
“I am grateful for the opportunities I have had. This is the land of opportunity for everybody,” Padron said. “If you are a good worker you can make it.”
He said he sometimes thought about the conditions in Cuba, where he also owned a home. He said he was sad because he believed there is nothing anyone can do about the Castro regime.
When he talked with the Times Monday, Padron had advice for the next generation seeking to succeed. “Get an education. Look at my three daughters. For example, my youngest daughter has two degrees from Ohio State. She’s in Beverly Hills (California) today. Get an education. That’s why I give a scholarship to people.”
In a phone call to the Times Tuesday, Ken Rase informed the Daily Times that Padron has died.
“I was with him when he crossed over,” Rase said.
That was something Padron had looked forward to as he recounted the experiences of his life, always putting his condition into perspective.
“I don’t want people to feel sorry for me,” He said. “Because I go to a better place. I am close to God. So don’t feel sorry when I go because I am going to heaven.”
Mary Nell said Tuesday afternoon that their children are coming to town today to make arrangements.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-343-3101, ext. 232, or at email@example.com.