Putnam County businessman Carl Beck, who had many ties to the St. Johns County community, died Wednesday due to coronavirus-related issues, according to those close to him. He was 81.

Beck, founder of The Beck Auto Group, was also a known animal advocate and humanitarian and his generosity extended to issues near and dear to his heart, including the financial backing of St. Augustine-based S.A.F.E. (Saving Animals From Euthanasia). Those close to Beck said he was fully vaccinated. Beck, an Indianapolis native, established and grew the Beck Automotive group in Palatka, which consists of Buick, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Nissan dealerships in Putnam County and the surrounding area. Many of his 380 employees have been St. Johns residents over the 30 years he ran the company and many thousands more, customers.

“You don’t hear about that many 20-, 25-year-plus employees in this business very often,” said Wayne McClain, vice president of Beck Automotive. “The ‘Boss,’ as many of respectively called him, was very good to his workers.” He was also extremely benevolent when it came to causes he personally championed.

Robin Kantner, founder of S.A.F.E, said Beck helped her launch the animal-rescue agency and continued to be a big donor in the years that followed. “Whatever it was we needed, it didn’t matter — you could call him for anything,” Kantner told The Record Thursday. “He helped us get a transport van, and before that, he gave us one of his own vans to use for the animals.”

McClain added: “He definitely had a soft spot in his heart for the four-legged members of our community.” That included both cats and dogs, many of which he rescued from shelters, giving them vehicle-themed names like Mopar.

Beck also sponsored dozens of events to benefit S.A.F.E. through the years, including chili cookoffs and giveaways for tickets to see his beloved University of Florida Gators. “He was just a really, really good guy,” Kantner said. “It’s such a terrible shock and loss.”

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