Mel Sembler, a real estate developer who represented the U.S. in two high-profile diplomatic positions, passed away on Oct. 31 at his home in St. Petersburg, Florida. He was 93 years old and the cause of death was attributed to lung cancer.
Melvin Floyd Sembler was born on May 10, 1930, in St. Joseph, Missouri, and received a Bachelor of Science degree from Northwestern University in 1952. He launched The Sembler Company in 1962 and would go on to develop more than 350 shopping centers and retail venues across the Southeast. He served as the 1986-1987 Chairman of the International Council of Shopping Centers and was appointed to the board of directors of numerous banks and nonprofit organizations during his career. Sembler was also an active philanthropist whose generosity supported the Florida Orchestra and Florida Holocaust Museum.
In 1976, Sembler founded Straight, Incorporated, a drug treatment program for adolescents. The organization, which is now known as the Drug Free America Foundation, was the subject of two lawsuit by former patients who claimed they were mistreated while under treatment.
Sembler was an indefatigable fundraiser for the Republican Party and was a close supporter of the Bush family. He was named U.S. Ambassador to Australia and Nauru by President George H.W. Bush and was later U.S. Ambassador to Italy under President George W. Bush. Sembler raised more than $100 million for a super PAC supporting Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s presidential ambitions, but when Bush withdrew from the race he was named a financial vice chairman by the Republican National Committee in 2016 to generate donations to support Donald Trump’s successful bid for the White House.
“It is impossible to capture all the good that Mel did for Florida and the United States, but I know this: Florida and America are better today because of Mel Sembler,” said Florida’s U.S. Sen. Rick Scott in a statement.
Sembler was preceded in death by his wife, Betty, who died in 2022. The couple had three children, 12 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Photo courtesy of The Sembler Company