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