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Family man, business man, gentleman: Norman Primeau

April 18, 2018
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

For Norman Primeau, life was a big adventure.

The Detroit native was always cooking up plans to do something spectacular.

He once made a bet on how fast he could climb out of the Grand Canyon - and won. He tried bullfighting. He was part of a group who wanted to see if they could be the fastest to fly a hot air balloon across the U.S. He went to Cuba just two months before Fidel Castro threw over the government.

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Norm Primeau was a life-long adventurer; he and his wife, Bev, took many cruises together.

All the while, he was a successful entrepreneur and a loving father.

"I don't know how he did it," Chris Primeau, his son. "I would always ask him, how did you do that. He had the Midas touch. He'd buy something and it'd turn to gold."

Norman Primeau died March 18 at the age of 88, but he left his mark in more ways than one on Fort Myers Beach.

Primeau got his start in entrepreneurial genius in the aluminum business in Detroit. In the 1970s, he moved to Sanibel - but shortly after, made the switch to invest in Fort Myers Beach.

Lisa Lagemann, one of his daughters, said he saw a tiny classified ad in the paper for a building for sale. He bought it and started a multi-location group of retail stores called the West Coast Surf Shop. It was so successful that Lisa helped expand the business into Naples. After working for her father for 11 years, she was working side-by-side with him in the family business.

His children described his personality as magnetic; he was quick-witted and funny, but also the definition of a gentleman, making sure everyone was comfortable and welcome.

"As much of an entrepreneur as he was, he always said to me, leave a little for the next guy," Lisa said.

He also had a bunch of signature catchphrases. If someone was thinking about a deal Norm thought they should pass on, he'd say "that's from Texas. It's El Paso."

Norm had invested in many properties throughout Fort Myers and Fort Myers Beach and turned to real estate as a business. He purchased a piece of property at 1397 Estero Blvd.with the intent to build a new store - but it instead became one of the island's first parking lots.

"He recognized parking was going to be an issue," said his long-time Fort Myers friend and business partner, Ed Bowkowski.

Norm became a mentor for many young entrepreneurs on the island, Ed said. The Surf Shop served coffee, and became a gathering place in the mornings for people to meet up and chat. He was instrumental in helping grow the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, was on its board of directors, and helped the Chamber hire its first director, D.J. "Petro" Petrocelli.

"He was a wonderful man. He was a major influence on people who were developing the island," Ed said. "He mentored a lot of young professionals. A lot of them are still here."

Ed described the island as somewhat of a "cowboy area" at that time with its dirt roads. Norm was able to watch and be involved in a lot of the development on the island.

But his parking lot remained a parking lot - and became a family business.

"He never stopped being dad," Chris said. "He stuck by his kids."

Norm had a total of seven children with his wife, Bev, to whom he was married to for 50 years before she died. Their first child, Clarence, died as an infant. Four of his other children had a genetic disorder, myotonic muscular dystrophy. His children Kevin, Mike and Keith died from the disorder; his daughter Kim survives.

The parking lot was somewhere his children could work with their disorder. When their dystrophy left them wheelchair bound they were still able to participate in the business.

"He kept it for my brothers," Lisa said. "That's something they could do."

When his children were hospitalized from their disorders, he always visited them, even taking a bus to St. Petersburg nearly three times a week when one child was hospitalized there.

Keith died in September 2017; even though Norm was being cared for full-time by then, he tried to visit his son about twice a week.

"He spent a lot of time in hospitals for other people, but never him," Chris said.

Last year, Norm got pneumonia and was hospitalized for the first time in his life.

Norm also had Alzheimer's. In 2011, Norm's nephew, Jim, and his wife, Kathie moved into his basement apartment. They began to help out with Norm when his health began to decline, and Kathie became his full-time caregiver.

"He missed his wife's cooking, so he loved to go out to eat," Kathie said. He was always up to grab lunch and dinner with his friends and family. His favorite stops were Plaka's near College Parkway; Bon Appetit; Skip One Seafood and Yucatan Beach Stand, or a stop in his club at Pelican Sound Golf & River Club. He loved to golf, and had made three hole-in-ones during his lifetime.

Kathie also took him to church every Sunday until the last few months of his life; he was a devout Catholic, his family said. He was a member of St. Columbkille on Iona Road for many years.

When they weren't eating out or visiting Keith, Kathie and Norm spent a lot of time talking. He'd tell her a lot of his adventure stories - certain commercials on TV would get him started, like one business commercial that featured the Statue of Liberty. He'd tell Kathie about the time he climbed to the top.

In his younger years, Norm served in the military during the Korean War. He still remembered Morse code, and would tap out "V" for victory to Kathie.

"He was proud of what he accomplished in his life," she said - but was most proud of what he was leaving behind. Norm didn't start his life out with prosperity; he'd built himself up with the American dream.

"He was proud of how far he'd come. He lived to know he could provide for (his children) and leave them with more than he had," she said.

Kathie said Norm remembered a lot of his stories, and loved to have his family and friends visit. He recounted his adventures to her - but was always ready for another.

"He wanted to go to Paris, because he'd never been," she said.

Norm's family will hold services Friday, April 20, beginning at 11 St. Columbkille, 12171 Iona Road, Fort Myers. A celebration of life will follow at Norm's home at 950 San Carlos Drive, Fort Myers Beach.



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