TAMPA — The man who took the helm of the fabled Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla and guided it into this century died Thursday.
James "Jim" Tarbet was 61. He was admitted to Tampa General Hospital on Nov. 23 and died after going into cardiac arrest Thursday, said Jeff Thaxter, Mr. Tarbet's closest friend.
"It all happened rather quickly," Thaxter said Thursday night. "He was my best friend in the world with a big personality. A friend to everyone."
The krewe, which is responsible for the annual Gasparilla invasion, parade and other festivities, hired Mr. Tarbet as executive director in 1999.
The dedicated organizer was born in Salisbury, Rhodesia — now Harare, Zimbabwe — where his father led exotic safaris.
He grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland, traveled the world, "but fell in love with the States," he told the St. Petersburg Times in 2009.
Mr. Tarbet had a 25-year career in the British Royal Navy and Prince Charles was a classmate at the naval academy. He went on to serve as the prince's aide-de-camp from 1970 to 1972, and they still corresponded.
While stationed in Washington, D.C., he arranged several British navy warship visits to Tampa and Queen Elizabeth's arrival on the HMS Britannia in 1991.
Mr. Tarbet got to know Harbour Island developers who offered him a job at Beneficial Finance. He returned to London for a final tour of duty before becoming the company's vice president of operations in 1992.
He co-directed Gasparilla in 2000, then he took the reins alone for the Super Bowl parade in 2001.
Mr. Tarbet became a U.S. citizen in 2003.
"He brought the kind of planning expertise you would have to have to bring Queen Elizabeth to Tampa," said Fred Dobbins, 2005's Gasparilla king.
Dobbins described Mr. Tarbet as calm and innovative and credited him with helping to revamp the Gasparilla children's parade.
The krewe took over the children's parade in 2002 and attendance jumped to near six figures.
Dr. William Branch was Gasparilla's king in 1999 when Mr. Tarbet was hired.
"He took the krewe to another level with his organizational skills and ability to interact with the community," Branch said. "He brought us into the 21st century. He was a facilitator and a real gentleman."
He is survived by a daughter, Katheryn, and a brother, Ian Tarbet, Thaxter said.
No memorial plans have been finalized. Blount & Curry Funeral Home's MacDill Chapel will host the proceedings.