In Memoriam: Raymond Knight Mason

In Memoriam: Raymond Knight Mason
Raymond Knight Mason and his wife, Minerva, all decked out and ready to attend the Ascot races in London, England

February 28, 1927 to January 2, 2020

One of Jacksonville’s most creative business leaders – a man who rubbed shoulders with presidents, world leaders and Hollywood celebrities and had the gumption to cut in on President John F. Kennedy so he could dance with Jackie at JFK’s inaugural ball – has passed.

Raymond Knight Mason passed away on the day after New Years at the age of 92. His death came less than a year after the passing of his beloved wife of 71 years – Minerva Rogers Mason – last spring.

The son of Varina Knight and William Marcy Mason, he was a native of Riverside and grew up on Post Street across from Riverside Park and the Riverside Presbyterian Church, where he was a lifelong member. He attended West Riverside Elementary, John Gorrie Junior High and Robert E. Lee High School. After serving in the Merchant Marine during World War II, he went on to graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After he was married in 1948, he and his wife remained in Riverside/Avondale, moving to Richmond Street, where they built two homes in succession as their family grew before moving to Epping Forest in the 1970s.

Mason was a creative businessman and deal maker with broad interests in many industries. Under his leadership, he shepherded the Charter Company, a small mortgage firm, into a diversified Fortune 500 company with acquisitions in the oil and gas, insurance and communications businesses. He was also active in Jacksonville’s financial community, serving as a board member of Florida National Bank and American Banks of Florida.

“My father was an idea person. He loved business and was a creative thinker,” said his daughter, Marcy Moody of Riverside. “He loved all types of businesses from mortgage banking to insurance to publishing to oil and gas to radio and TV – you name it, just fill in the blank. The business transactions Daddy put together were often so complicated one wondered how he dreamed them up.  He enjoyed buying and selling things, but he left the day-to-day management of his various businesses and investments to others. I think this made it great for others to work for him because he always delegated the day-to-day management. He attracted bright, ambitious people because of his creativity and because he gave them more opportunities at younger ages than more traditionally run business might have done,” she said. “I think this is his biggest legacy to Jacksonville, attracting bright young people who thrived in his orbit and went on to be very successful businesspeople afterwards.”

Arthur L. Cahoon, CEO of Rock Creek Capital, said he learned much from working under Mason’s tutelage. “Mr. Mason was quite a dynamic businessman, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with him, especially in his later years,” he wrote in a letter to Moody. “By creating the Charter Company, he gave many young men, including me, the opportunity to flourish by tackling challenging business situations well beyond our experience and training. These sink-or-swim experiences allowed us to develop skills and insights that prepared us to succeed in our own business careers. His unique perspective and always positive view of what could be possible was vitally refreshing in a world often limited by negative thoughts and tunnel vision. I will forever owe Raymond a great debt for the environment he created and his valuable contribution to my business experiences.”

Mason’s mentor and great friend was Edward Ball, brother of Jessie Ball duPont, and through his acquaintance with Ball, he purchased Epping Forest, the former home Ball’s brother-in-law Alfred I. duPont and his wife. Mason lived at Epping Forest for 11 years and during that time, he and his wife hosted many national and international dignitaries at the riverfront mansion, including President Gerald Ford, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, King Hussein of Jordan, the Shah of Iran, and Comedian Bob Hope, a man Moody remembers fondly. “Bob Hope was a wonderful man, just as warm and approachable as he seemed on the big screen,” she said.

In 1984, after he sold the duPont mansion to Gate Petroleum so that Herb Peyton could develop it into the Epping Forest Yacht and Country Club, the Masons moved to Orange Park, where they lived for more than 30 years. During the summers, the Masons spent time in a home they built on the grounds of Ballynahinch Castle in Ireland, a property that Mason had purchased and his wife operated as a first-class hotel that was visited by many notable public and private figures.

Minerva and Raymond Knight Mason in Ireland
Minerva and Raymond Knight Mason in Ireland

“Daddy loved to travel. He particularly like cruises and sponsoring family group trips where we could all be together. Ireland was his favorite vacation spot, and he built a vacation home over there on the grounds of Ballynahinch Castle, which he owned control of. He and Mama vacationed there for 45 years until declining health caused them to stop,” said Moody.

Mason’s favorite hobby was reading, and he especially enjoyed devouring history books, biographies, political works, romance and crime thrillers. “He particularly liked books by Stuart Woods and Tom Clancy. He even wrote a book about his friend and mentor, Edward Ball. His home library of hard-copy books was extensive. Someone once asked him if he had read everything there. He responded, ‘yes, but not all of them were particularly good. Some of them were really kind of trashy.’ And he would say this with a very gentlemanly air. His vocabulary was pretty tame. ‘Hot dog’ and ‘oh boy’ were two of his most colorful expressions,” Moody recalled.

Raymond Knight Mason and his wife, Minerva at the Cummer Ball
Raymond Knight Mason and his wife, Minerva at the Cummer Ball

Although Mason did not personally become involved with local charities, he was known to support many nonprofits such as Jacksonville University, Riverside Presbyterian Church and others with very generous financial gifts, including a $5 million to the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens in 2006.

In 2017, Mason and his wife moved from Orange Park to Riverside. While Minerva resided at St. Catherine Labouré Manor nursing facility, Mason lived across the street in Villa Riva enabling the couple to daily enjoy lunch and dinner together.

“I will remember my father most for his love of business and his love of reading,” said Moody. “I will miss his enthusiasm and optimism for the next big deal and the next great read.”

Predeceased by his wife, Minerva, his brothers John Dunham Mason and William Marcy Mason and two of his four children, Walter Rogers Mason and Varina Mason Steuert, Mason is survived by his daughter Marcy Mason Moody (Tom) of Riverside and son Raymond Knight Mason, Jr. (Cabeth) of Riverside; five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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