Alabama beach condo developer Tillis Brett passes away

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BY LAWRENCE SPECKER lspecker@al.com

Tillis Mitchell Brett, a co-founder of coastal development company Brett/Robinson, died Monday at 82, according to information released by the company.

According to information provided by Brett/Robinson, Brett suffered a medical emergency on Saturday that led to his death in a Mobile hospital.

Few have done more to literally leave their mark on the Alabama coast: Brett/Robinson holdings include more than 20 condominium developments, notably the massive Phoenix condominium towers that line Gulf beaches.

One of his sons, John Brett, said Tillis Brett had been relentlessly active, both in company business and personal pursuits, until he fell ill. John Brett said his father came to work five days a week at the Brett/Robinson home office in Saraland, and regularly worked on weekends as well. He did everything from attending open-house events in the company's subdivisions - "He was an active sales agent," John Brett said - to generally exercising a comptroller's oversight of financial affairs at the office.

"He would chop wood ... He could ride a Harley-Davidson until the gas ran out, that's how active he was," said John Brett.

However, it wasn't Harleys that defined him, his son said: "He had three principles that he lived by," said John Brett. "He loved the Lord, he loved his family, and he loved his country." In fact, he said, one of his father's recent activities had been planning a summer family reunion involving 70 or so people.

Herb Malone, president and CEO of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, praised Brett and his partners for their role in creating coastal economic activity.

"Tillis Brett, his brother Gene and their longtime partner Tommy Robinson were pioneers in the condo developments of Gulf Shores & Orange Beach dating back to the early 1980s," said Malone. "Their creative leadership has been a driving force of our area's economic growth. Our prayers go out to the entire Brett family and all of the Brett-Robinson employees. Tillis will be greatly missed."

The company had humble beginnings. In 2008, when Brett/Robinson was aiming to top $180 million in condo sales, Gene Brett said that he and his brother started with a $500 inheritance in the mid-'60s.

"We didn't know any better so we started knocking on doors, selling real estate," Gene Brett told municipal officials and Orange Beach residents at a 2008 City Council meeting, according to a Press-Register account. "We started selling houses, then we started selling land and, of course, years later commercial property."

Early in the venture the brothers were joined by a friend, Tommy Robinson, who owned a building supply company. According to that 2008 story, the partners built their first home in south Baldwin County for a charter fishing captain in the late 1960s. By the late 1970s they had built their first condo tower, Island Winds East.

Tillis Brett was the original broker for Brett/Robinson and oversaw the sale of over 3,400 Phoenix condo units (not counting resales, a far higher number) and the development of over 1,000 acres, about 30 subdivisions, mostly in Saraland, according to information provided by Robinson.

John Brett said that though his father had long ago reached a point where he could have retired or sold his interest in the company, he was interested in neither. "He just believed in real hard work," he said. That belief had seen him through a variety of economic downturns, from the savings-and-loan crisis of the '80s to the more recent recession. And he'd believed in passing the company along to younger members of the family, John Brett said.

In an In Memoriam statement on its website, Brett/Robinson said: "From his office in Saraland, Tillis helped build the real estate development company based on faith, sacrifice and determination. He once said, 'It's not one person, it's not three people, it's 750 people, and we're all obligated to make sure it keeps going, so everybody has a job and takes care of their families. That's what it's all about. It's not one person, it's the Lord letting us work hard together.' ... From Spanish Trace subdivision in Saraland to the Phoenix condominiums on the Alabama coast, Tillis' legacy will live on through his honest work of the past and through all of us at Brett/Robinson in the future."

Born Oct. 2, 1934, in Atlanta, and grew up in Sylacauga, Ala. Brett served in the U.S. Army at the end of the Korean War and then attended Auburn University (then called Alabama Polytechnic Institute), graduating in 1959.

According to an obituary notice, he is preceded in death by his father, Tillis Coty Brett and his mother, Eugenia Mitchell Brett. He is survived by his loving wife of 63 years, Claudette Hinds Brett. Their children are Tillis Hinds Brett (Sharon), Gay Brett Johnson (Gary), Lee Ann Brett McVay (Mike), John Mitchell Brett (Lizzie), and Mary Eleanor Brett. Tillis and Claudette are blessed to have 11 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren. He is also survived by his four siblings, plus many nieces, nephews and friends.

According to the obituary notice, The family will receive friends at Radney Funeral Home in Saraland on Thursday, May 11, 2017 from 5-7 p.m. Funeral services will be held Friday, May 12, 2017 at 11 a.m. from Chickasaw United Methodist Church. Interment will be in Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens, 10000 Celeste Rd., Saraland, AL 36571.

A memorial service will be held at Orange Beach United Methodist Church, 28751 Canal Rd., Orange Beach, AL 36561, on Monday, May 15, 2017 at 1 p.m. Memorial offerings may be made to Chickasaw United Methodist Church, 108 Lee St., Chickasaw, AL 36611; condolences may be offered at www.radneyfuneralhome-saraland.com.

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