Monroe Carell passes away

Businessman and benefactor made a fortune running parking lots, then spent generously to support numerous local causes

Monroe J. Carell Jr., who parlayed a motley collection of Nashville parking lots into the world's largest operator of parking facilities, died of cancer this morning at his home. He was 76.

Carell leaves behind a legacy of civic largess matched by few other individuals in Nashville history. The wealth he amassed through Central Parking Corp. helped fund the children's hospital at Vanderbilt University that bears his name, Hendersonville's Pope John Paul II High School, a $5 million library at Harpeth Hall School, $13 million toward the expansion of the St. Cecilia Motherhouse, a sculpture garden at Cheekwood, and a host of other institutions, initiatives and causes related to the Nashville area.

Born into a family with deep Nashville ties, Monroe Carell earned a degree in electrical engineering at Vanderbilt in 1959. He worked as chief engineer for the Duck River Electric Membership Cooperative for several years early in his career.

In 1967, Carell and partner Richard Dennis co-founded Central Parking after taking over a group of lots assembled by their fathers over the prior decade. The company at that point was generating about $1 million a year in revenue.

By 1980, two years after Carell bought out Dennis, Central Parking was the nation's fourth-largest parking firm in terms of total spaces under contract. It operated 150 facilities.

In a Nashville Banner interview that year, he spoke of a future when the company would operate a fleet of small, fuel-efficient cars that drivers could rent for a few hours at a time — precisely the concept behind today's FlexCar system, but just a little premature.

Central Parking went public in 1995. At the time, it operated 1,200 facilities across the U.S. and four other countries. The public offering both created wealth for Carell and revealed how much he had quietly been creating for some time. In 1997, with assets estimated at $600 million, Carell made the "Forbes 400" list.

Central Parking became so dominant in its industry that federal antitrust authorities took notice. They initially opposed an attempt to purchase its closest competitor, Allright Corp. of Houston. In 2000, after lengthy negotiations, the company entered into a settlement so the deal could go forward.

"Joel Klein, who also beat the hell out of Microsoft, was the person on our case," Carell recalled in an interview that year. "We probably were fortunate to get out with what we did."

A private-equity consortium bought Central Parking in 2007. Carell family members, who owned almost half of the company's shares, cashed out with approximately $350 million from the deal.

Central Parking now operates about 2,700 parking facilities containing 1.3 million spaces. In the past year, it has sold almost all of its international operations, which had been spread across 14 countries in North America, Europe and Latin America.

After selling the company, Carell devoted his time to family and philanthropy. In addition to the bricks-and-mortar contributions he and his family made, they funded several full-tuition scholarships for Vanderbilt students working their way through college, an autism workshop series at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development and scholarships at Aquinas College for women entering the Dominican order, among other initiatives. Carell was also chairing Vanderbilt's current capital campaign.

Numerous honors and awards have recognized Carell's good works. In 2000, the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee gave him its Joe Kraft Humanitarian Award. Vanderbilt's School of Engineering named him its Distinguished Alumnus for 2001. Pope John Paul II, with whom he had a number of personal audiences at the Vatican, made him a Knight in the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great in 2004.

Also in 2004, recognizing not only Carell's $20 million monetary gift to the Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt but also the time he spent frequently visiting its young patients, the Tennessee Hospital Association presented him with its Meritorious Service Award. And just last month, Easter Seals of Tennessee named him Nashvillian of the Year.

Carell was preceded in death by his parents, Monroe Joseph Carell Sr., and Edith Haswell Carell. He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Ann Scott Carell, and three daughters, all of Nashville: Julia Carell Stadler (George), Edith Carell Johnson (David), and Kathryn Carell Brown (David). Also surviving him are six grandchildren: Julia Claire Stadler, George Monroe Stadler, Carell Elizabeth Brown, David Nicholas Brown, William Carell Johnson and Ann Scott Johnson. He is also survived by his brother, James W. Carell (Jan).

Visitation with the family will be on Sunday, June 22 from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. at the Fleming Center at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, 2015 West End Ave.

A public memorial service to celebrate Monroe Carell's life will be held at the Cathedral of the Incarnation at 3 p.m. following visitation. A private funeral and mass will be held at the St. Cecilia Chapel, with burial at Calvary Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, the Carell family asks that memorial donations be made to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, Gift Records Office, VU Station B 357727, Nashville, TN 37235-7727 or the St. Cecilia Congregation, c/o Development Office, 801 Dominican Drive, Nashville, TN 37228-1909.

Note: We plan to publish a separate article today with reaction from some of the many people whose lives Mr. Carell touched. If you want to share an anecdote or comment for publication, please e-mail it by clicking the author link at the top of this story.