George Livingston, founder and chairman of NAI Realvest, died Sunday night at age 81 after complications from acute pulmonary edema, leaving behind an immeasurable impact on Greater Orlando's commercial real estate market.
Born in January 1936, Livingston was a fourth generation Orlandoan, raised in a citrus and cattle farming family with land around Lake Conway in the Lee Vista area of south Orlando.
He served in the Vietnam War with the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division as a paratrooper, living in Asia and the Middle East for eight years and recording 100 career air jumps.
Livingston cut his teeth in real estate by selling the family's farm land in the early 1980s. He founded NAI Realvest in 1988, and helped lead the company's growth to what is now one of Orlando's largest commercial real estate services firms, with a staff of 70 and more than 35 brokers.
"He was one of the most giving people to a fault, and you can't count all the people he's brought into this industry and all that he's given of his time and himself financially to help others," said Patrick Mahoney, president and CEO at NAI Realvest.
Livingston had been involved in the development of close to 2 million square feet of warehouse and flex properties. He began transitioning out of a lead ownership role at NAI Realvest in 2008, when he reduced his stake and sold ownership stakes to a handful of the company's top brokers.
Paul Partyka, now a partner at NAI Realvest and veteran broker specializing in investment and retail properties, met Livingston in June 1999 after the sale of a golf equipment company closed an entrepreneurial chapter in his life.
"I just got my commercial real estate license, thought where I could go to make some money, and a friend said to go see George Livingston. I went over there unannounced, George let me right in to see him ... and the next day said he'd have me on board," Partyka said. "I only have two mentors in the real estate business, and he's one of them. George was an icon. I thought I knew a bit about politics and zoning, but he showed me how it all really works, how development happens, and how to be a master networker.
"George was great in that he took people in from all different walks of life and gave them a chance," Partyka continued. "It didn't matter how old you were, whether you were out of school or from a different career, he gave you the opportunity. Some of the most successful people in Central Florida real estate got in the business directly because of George Livingston."
Angel de la Portilla, governmental consultant with Central Florida Strategies, Inc., benefited from Livingston's help when he chose to leave brokerage with NAI Realvest after just 18 months.
"George Livingston was a good friend and mentored me when I started my government consulting firm in 2008," he said. "George will be missed greatly by all those that knew and worked with him."
Angie Brown, vice president at Winter Springs-based Meridian Appraisal Group, Inc., worked with Livingston at NAI Realvest from 1992 to 2007 and recalled him on Monday as "the best business mentor I ever had."
"It was 1992 when they reached out to me. I was working at First Union Bank, and they asked me to come head up the real estate appraisal department at Realvest. We worked out a deal and I became his business partner for what was known as Realvest Appraisal Services," Brown said. "George was the most giving man of his time. Always smiling, laughing and positive.
"I remember when I went in on weekends he'd be there with his two dachshunds. For a man who really didn't need to work he loved his job so much, he'd be in there catching up on correspondence," she continued. "Those were the times you got to sit down and enjoy him as a person, as opposed to the office-hour people we are."
A key memory for Brown that defined Livingston was the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and day after.
"The morning the planes hit (the World Trade Center) George had everyone in his office that day watching the TV together. By the next morning, because of his military connections he held a very informative meeting for everyone in the company to give us perspective on what had happened," she said. "Very few people could have done that, and it gave the assurance many of us needed because we didn't know what would happen to the country and the market."
For Michael Heidrich, principal at NAI Realvest, meeting Livingston in the late 1980s through a warehouse lease on his family's citrus land led to a 27-year friendship and business partnership that will be hard to replicate.
"I joined him in 1990, we both came from farming families and hit it off really well. I wanted to develop and so did George, so we went on to form our Small Bay Partners development company and built office-warehouse projects all over (Greater Orlando)," he said. "George was the best man at my wedding, that's how much I thought of him."
Michael Wright, president of MMI Development, valued Livingston as a mentor on his first real estate development projects after leaving law practice, and respected the former paratrooper's nerves of steel.
"Years back we were going to a conference in Toronto, I flew my (Cirrus) airplane and he rode with me. The weather was really bad, and George was asleep most of the time," Wright said. "I woke him at one point and said 'George the weather is getting really bad, I may have to pull the parachute on this plane.' He smiled and said 'Hey, that should put me over 100 (parachute) jumps,' then he went back to sleep."
Trevor Hall, Jr., managing director for land services with Colliers International Central Florida, recalled Livingston on Monday as a peer he always admired.
"A group of six gents went on a rafting trip years ago ... to West Virginia and paddled the Upper Gauley, which had some Class 5 rapids. I saw George get nearly knocked out of the raft, only to see him show incredible core strength and, with a toe hold, haul himself back in," Hall said. "He had a 100-watt smile, was great to be around and really ran a good shop."
Livingston is survived by his wife Sue Livingston, stepson Jule Felton and extended family members across Central Florida. The principals at NAI Realvest will plan an event celebrating Livingston's life in the coming weeks.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to an active scholarship fund in Livingston's name at UCF's Dr. P. Phillips School of Real Estate. Follow this link, click "Donate Now," choose "Yes" when asked if this donation is a tribute, and type "George Livingston" in the indicated field.