Industry icon Kaye Pearson passes

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Kaye Pearson, one of the giants of Florida’s marine industry, died March 21 at his home in Fort Lauderdale after a bout with cancer. He was 68 years old.

Pearson entered the boating business in 1971 as a partner in Pearson Potter Yacht Basin on the New River. A member of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, he took over management of the association’s boat show in 1976, when it was a “backyard” business with 20 boats in the water, another 20 on land, and 30 booths on an adjoining street along the New River.

During the next 30 years, his Show Management built the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show into one of the world’s largest, exhibiting more than $2 billion worth of product at six locations. In the late 1980s and ’90s, he and his senior vice president, Andrew Doole, saw the wave of megayacht construction gathering momentum and devoted part of the show to the big yachts. Today, it is one of the premiere megayacht shows, displaying 200-plus vessels on the Intracoastal Waterway. Pearson was a co-founder of the Superyacht Society and helped put Fort Lauderdale on the map as a base for superyacht repair and provisioning.

He also founded a brokerage show, the Yacht and Brokerage Show at Miami Beach, now in its 21st year and which draws 500 used and new yachts; started boat shows in Palm Beach and St. Petersburg; managed the Suncoast show in Sarasota; and through the years managed shows in Texas, New York, San Francisco and the Bahamas.

Pearson sold Show Management to Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III’s Active Interest Media in 2006 — the year after he and his team performed the incredible feat of reassembling the Lauderdale show in 10 days after Hurricane Wilma tore it down — to pursue a longtime dream to build Chub Cay in the Bahamas into a world-class family resort.

“That was kind of a dream of his for as long as I can remember,” said his wife, Cheri. Pearson still was working on realizing that dream when he succumbed to cancer. “I think he thought he was going to slow down [after selling Show Management], but that wasn’t in his nature. He loved to work.”

“Kaye was a unique marine industry visionary,” said Frank Herhold, MIASF executive director. “He helped grow South Florida’s marine industry.”

“He’s an icon,” said Doole, an associate of Pearson’s since 1984. “He’s up there with [Bertram Yachts founder] Dick Bertram and [Broward Marine founder] Frank Denison,” as influential figures in South Florida boating.

An astute businessman and hard-charging entrepreneur, Pearson also was devoted to philanthropy, especially projects for children and animals, including the Boys and Girls Club of Broward County; Florida Ocean Sciences Institute for troubled youth; the Museum of Science; the Fish Florida license plate, which raises money to teach children to fish; the Broward County Library Foundation; the International Game Fish Association; The Literary Feast, which promotes children’s reading; and the Humane Society of Broward County.

“He was a very, very generous man,” said Cheri.

There will be a memorial service to celebrate and honor Pearson’s life at 3 p.m. Saturday, April 4, at Bahia Mar Hotel & Yachting Center in Fort Lauderdale. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Boys & Girls Club of Broward County, the IGFA or the Humane Society of Broward County.

— Jim Flannery
Senior writer


20 comments on “Industry icon Kaye Pearson passes

  1. tom murray

    I am truly saddened to learn of Kaye’s death. He was a singular promoter, both of his community and the marine industry.

  2. Diane Bassett Zable, Pres.Bassett Boat Co.

    Kaye was a wonderful man and will be missed in friendship and in this industry !

  3. Dave Donchecz

    I am shocked to hear of Kaye passing. He was a great
    guy and was a major player in the business. He is the
    only guy that could have pulled off the show after
    Wilma. I first met Kaye in the 80’s when he did the
    show at South Shore Harbor in Texas. My sincere
    condolenses to his family.

  4. Richard (Dick) Graves

    The Southeast Florida gang will all miss you Kaye. As a good friend and former boss at International Marinas and the years we worked together at Bahia Mar it has always been my pleasure being in your company.

    Dick Graves

  5. Steve Gale, MarineMax-Hatteras

    Kaye was the ultimate promoter and entrepeneur. We will miss his leadership, ideas, and the great excitement he created with every event he touched.

  6. Andrew Sturner

    Kaye was a visionary and an inspiration to many of us in the industry. Our condolences to his family.

  7. Phillip Strom

    Kaye Pearson was a great friend and inspiration. I will miss him and pass my condolences to family and friends.

  8. Mark Ellert

    A reminder to all of us in these tough times – get out there and fish…Tight lines, Kaye!

  9. Mark Ellert

    He’s up in the big marlin tower in the sky…checking on us cockpit crew. Get out there and fish and make him proud!
    Tight Lines, Kaye.

  10. JJ McConnell, Pres. MIASF, Gilman Yachts of Fort Lauderdale

    Although Kaye Pearson passed away last Saturday, his legacy and his role in the South Florida and international marine industry will live on forever. His vision and passion have made him an iconic figure, and his development of the Fort Lauderdale Boat International Show is one shining example of his many achievements. His friendship meant the world to me and he will always be an inspiration!

  11. Frank Herhold

    Kaye Pearson was a unique marine industry visionary who constantly strived to make the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show bigger, better and a global marketplace second to none.
    As Kaye grew the show from a few boats on Fort Lauderdale’s New River to the world’s largest boat show covering almost 3 million square feet of exhibits at six locations, the Marine Industries Association of South Florida likewise gained stature and prominence due to the revenues provided by the show. We are grateful for the relationship and support we have had from Kaye over the years.
    Kaye also brought the megayacht market to our South Florida boating community with the growth of the boat show, and today more than 1,500 megayachts visit the “Yachting Capital of the World” annually, bringing huge economic benefits and global recognition to the area.
    I can tell you from almost 20 years of personal experiences, he was an exciting guy to work with and will be sorely missed by everyone in the marine community.
    Frank HerholdExecutive directorMarine Industries Association of South Florida

  12. Peter A. Brewster

    Kaye’s generousity towards the “Big Top” for the annual Hospice Regatta of South Florida was very much a large part to our success. He will be missed.
    Peter A. Brewster
    South Florida Hospice Regatta

  13. Van Snider

    I was always impressed with Kaye’s entrepreneurial skills and his ability and willingness to take on challenges.  His development of the Fort Lauderdale Int. Boat Show helped not only the South Florida boating industry, but also help provide the recognition that Fort Lauderdale deserved as the Yachting Capital.  He will be greatly missed.

  14. Skipper Mike

    It was an honor to interview Kaye Pearson. His many achievements are unbounded to the boating industry, and as a shining example to the word “American” for his creativity, foresight and perfect planning.  His dedication to the yachting lifestyle in South Florida beaconed world class yacht manufacturers to work together and create the largest boat show in the world.  His inspiration is a guiding light to all.  Condolences to the family.
    Skipper Mike
    Yachting World TV

  15. Bill Housley Englewood, Fl.

    I was so saddened when I heared of the loss of Kaye, I will miss you! He was a good friend and was always the go to guy if you needed help with a great thought with a boat show. Kaye helped me out with the Pittsburgh Boat Show 1979-1983 with phone calls back and forth. I then moved to Florida in 1985 and worked with Kaye doing the Sarasota Suncoast Boat Show for over the next 20+ Years. The marine industry has lost one great man and he will never be forgotten. My prays and thoughts are to his family.  

  16. Steven David

    I had not met Kaye prior to my election to the Port Everglades Commission in 1978.  However, he contacted me shortly after the election and offered any help he could to better the Port. He was giving, kind, and oh so patient in helping me to understand all sides of an argument. When Mike Hurst, Ina Lee, Chuck Emerson and a few others and I sat down at 15th. street fisheries to conceive the initial Boat Parade, Kaye again offered much insight and a genuine desire to better the experience for all concerned.  He truly put an exclamation point on Fort Lauderdale being the Yachting capital of the world. 
    Steven David

  17. Lon Haber

    Kaye was larger than life. I’m grateful to have known him and learned a great deal from the man . He is one of my inspirations.

  18. anonymous

    I am a better person for having known Kaye. I will miss his kind smile, his vibrant soul. Known to all as a Marine Industry icon, I was blessed to see another side. A generous loving man, with amazing stories, who loved to laugh and live his life to the fullest each day. During our last conversation he shared with me that he had a great life. No regrets. He talked of his father often and the love for him was so pure and unconditional. I rejoice in knowing he has reunited with him and our Lord above.  
    From the depths of my heart, I will miss you!!!!!!!

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