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Donald Hughes Gilbart | 1927-2011

Teacher Don Gilbart dies; he was devoted to HCC, orchestra

In 1969, when Don Gilbart and his wife, Helen, moved to Tampa, Hillsborough Community College was only a year old, and the Gulf Coast Symphony, which would later become the Florida Orchestra, was only a couple of years older.

From those early days until his death, Mr. Gilbart was involved with both those organizations and helped them grow into cultural institutions.

He spent the bulk of his career teaching sociology and psychology at HCC. After retirement, he served on college committees that determined how grant money was allocated. Not far from his bed, where he died suddenly but very peacefully on March 31, was a stack of proposals he planned to study in the days ahead.

He and his wife had been season ticket holders for the orchestra since its early days and had seen it grow from a promising orchestra in a small Florida town to one of the country's most respected symphonies. In recent years, Mr. Gilbart served on its advisory committee, and his ideas helped the orchestra get though some critical economic times and into its current position of fiscal stability, an orchestra official said.

"I think Don's life was a life of service," his wife said. "He would see things that needed to be done for the community, and he would devote himself to doing what he could to get them done."

Mr. Gilbart was born and raised in St. Petersburg and attended the University of Florida. After college and a couple of stints in the Navy, Mr. Gilbart, who was teaching at Largo Junior High School, met his wife-to-be at a Young Democrats meeting in St. Petersburg. They married in 1960.

The couple moved back to Gainesville, where Helen was an undergraduate and he was a graduate student. He later started his college teaching career at a junior college in Lake City, and his wife commuted to school in Gainesville.

The new Hillsborough Community College offered Mr. Gilbart a teaching position, and the couple moved to Tampa. Mrs. Gilbart, also a teacher, took a job at St. Petersburg College, where she still works.

Even in an era when "women's liberation" seemed to be a radical idea, Mr. Gilbart encouraged his wife to be an individual with her own life and interests.

"Don was a strong person, and he taught me to be strong," Mrs. Gilbart said.

But friends say the Gilbarts were so attuned to each other that their lives were completely intertwined.

"Helen and Don were inseparable," said Michael Pastreich, president and chief executive of the Florida Orchestra. "They shared each other's lives, and they shared each other's passions."

Mr. Gilbart was 83 when he died and had been in good health. Just a few weeks ago, an electrocardiogram had shown that his heart was strong.

But on the afternoon of March 31, he lay down for a nap. The Gilbarts were keeping a cat for a friend, and the cat lay down in the bed with Mr. Gilbart. Minutes later, his wife noticed he wasn't breathing. The cat was still resting on the bed, so apparently Mr. Gilbart hadn't had a seizure or even awakened. The exact cause of his death is unknown.

"He lived his life on his own terms, and that's the way he died," Pastreich said. "He just curled up with his cat and went to sleep."

Marty Clear writes life stories about local residents who have recently died. He can be reached at

Teacher Don Gilbart dies; he was devoted to HCC, orchestra 04/14/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 14, 2011 4:30am]
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