About Us

Edward B & Joan T Knight

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48  

Edward and Joan Knight were a dedicated couple who deeply believed in the power of charity, and how their gifts of time, talent and treasure could transform lives and organizations.  Through this foundation, their generosity will continue to impact lives in their memory. Together, this extremely private and modest couple, decided to establish a foundation in their name, and for it to continue with their charitable works after they’ve passed. Joan died on August 29, 2000, while the true love of her life, Edward, died on August 28, 2016. In life, they chose to give away large amounts of money, more often than not anonymously; in death their generosity will continue. 

To understand their values and focus, it is important to understand who Edward and Joan were. 

Joan Thompson was born in New York on July 14, 1918, and was raised in Key West.  She attended St. Mary Star of the Sea Convent School. As a young woman, she attended finishing school in the northeast. Her family was one of the most influential, wealthy and powerful families on the island.  Her father, Norberg Thompson, owned the A. Granday Green Turtle cannery.  He founded the Key West Box Company to supply the cigar industry with cigar boxes, as Key West was the forerunner in quality cigars. He helped to revitalize the Key West waterfront which instilled a love of history and preservation in Joan. During the depression, he bought a substantial amount of property throughout the Keys. At one point, the Thompson family owned most of Marathon Key. In 1949, the Thompson Fish company discovered “pink gold,” off the Dry Tortugas; the shrimp industry was born, and it transformed the island.  Joan, a devote Catholic, learned early on from her parents the responsibilities of giving back, a dictum that she carried out throughout her life.  Joan fell in love with a man who was even more driven than her father to make a difference in business and charity. 

Edward B. Knight was born in Jacksonville, FL on January 11, 1917. During WWII, as a Navy Aviator, he was stationed in New York City.  At a USO dance, he became intrigued with the beautiful, soft-spoken Joan. Her genteel manner, cultured voice and impeccable style were things he could never forget. But, she was at the dance with a different man. Soon afterwards, Edward was transferred to the U.S. Naval Air Station in Key West. One of his Navy buddies set up a double-date at the La Concha Hotel; his friend’s date was Joan. Edward and Joan were married less than a year later in 1943. He fondly called her, “My Mrs. Wow.” He also stated on a number of occasions, “Anything good about me is a reflection of my wife.” 

After the war, Edward joined his in-laws in running the shrimp business. On the side he bought old landing crafts; he stripped them and sold off the parts. He then went to Germany and secured a franchise deal with Audi/VW/Porsche. KT Motors (Edward Knight/John Thompson) was the largest dealer in the United States – per capita. Identifying the next biggest opportunity, Edward became interested in Real Estate.  He and Joan became licensed, opening the first office in KT Motors building and later moving to 336 Duval Street.  This became the largest real estate company in the Keys. As a couple they sold homes; she would show the homes and charm the buyers, and he would handle the contracts. Together, they were unstoppable. Edward became known for his acute business acumen and fair dealings.  After a few years, he shifted his focus to commercial real estate ventures, while Joan concentrated on her charitable causes.  

Edward developed the Searstown Shopping Center, and later the Overseas market.  Almost all hotels in the Keys, Edward had sold at least once. He became very politically connected. He was an appointed member of Governor Reubin Askew’s Judicial Nominating Committee, and was appointed as member of the Advisory Committee for Monroe County. He served as County Campaign Manager for two Governors of Florida. He was active behind the scenes for all of the major political activities; municipal, state and Federal. He was President of The Rotary Club of Key West 1964-1965. Edward believed in the Rotary’s 4-Way Test in doing business. 

The Rotary Club’s 4-Way Test
1. Is it the truth?
2. Is it fair to all concerned?
3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Joan knew that progress is inevitable, but not when it came to the destruction of significant historical building in Key West.  This far-sighted woman was one of the founding members of the Old Island Restoration Foundation. She also established the Joan Knight’s Pelican Path project, a walking tour of historical homes and buildings in Old Town. They are both still in existence today. 

Some of the couple’s philanthropy included such causes as: The Mayor’s Challenge Golf Tournament which benefited the Easter Seals Society Early Intervention Program, the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, the Key West Rotary, and Take Stock in Children.  The American Red Cross honored Edward and Joan in 1999 with the Florence Spottswood Humanitarian of the Year award.  They were the yearly sponsor of the Key West Pre-school Co-op Easter Fair, Edward paid for half of the speaker system at the Little League Ballfield, and he donated to the Key West Police Athletic League. When the Key West High School needed band uniforms and basketball uniforms, the Knights paid for them. They were active members of St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church, and gave generously to this historic church. Through friendships made through the Mellon Foundation, Edward donated money to the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Haiti. Edward served on the board of directors for the Boy Scout’s South Florida Council. In 1995, Hurricane Georges hit the Florida Keys devastating the Camp Sawyer Boy Scout camp located on Big Pine Key. Edward gave a million dollars to rebuild it.  

Edward, like his wife, also believed in preserving the history of Key West. At 99-years old, he commissioned a sculpture and donated it to the city to recognize the Black Civil War Soldiers. The bronze statue, titled, “The Forgotten Soldier,” was unveiled on February 16, 2016 at Key West’s Bayview Park. Edward was determined that these soldiers were not forgotten. 

In honor of his contributions to Key West, the historical White Street Pier in Key West was dedicated to Edward B. Knight On June 7, 2016. The ceremony was led by Mayor Craig Cates. 

The Edward B. and Joan T. Knight foundation was created to continue this couple’s legacy to impact lives, improve communities, and inspire others to not only change their lives, but others.