Ye Mystic Krewe, organizer of the annual Gasparilla Piratefest parade, is largely considered a group of south Tampa's elite. So it came as a surprise to learn the captain (in effect, the chief executive officer) is Fred Dobbins, a Riverview resident who grew up in Bartow before graduating from Brandon High.
An executive vice president with SunTrust, Dobbins is accustomed to 50- and 60-hour work weeks, but he doesn't mind another 10 or 12 hours of work to help the Krewe.
Over lunch at La Septima, we talked about the krewe's image, the burgeoning children's parade and "organizing chaos."
Pull up a chair and join us.
ERNEST: So you don't have to live in south Tampa to be in Ye Mystic Krewe?
FRED: No, not at all. As a matter of fact, the captain two captains ago, Gene Fogarty, lived in Land O' Lakes.
Did you and your wife, Leslie, once live in south Tampa?
I lived in south Tampa when I started my banking career, and then when Leslie and I were married we lived right on the edge of Hyde Park, and then from there we moved to Davis Islands and lived there for five years before we moved out to Riverview.
Your wife grew up in south Tampa, right?
Actually, her folks lived in south Tampa when she was born, but they moved to Riverview when she was 8 or 9 and she grew up in Riverview.
So it was not a big decision for you to leave south Tampa?
With me being originally from Bartow, a small community, and then Brandon, which was really a small community in the '60s, we both had small community roots and wanted to try that out again to see if we would like it for our children. We loved it and stayed.
What do you like about Riverview?
We really love where we are. We're in sort of a woodsy environment. It feels like you're in the country but you're only 12 miles from downtown. There are times when I can make it to downtown Tampa faster than people in some parts of south Tampa can make it to downtown.
What led you to join Ye Mystic Krewe oh so many years ago?
The simple answer is my wife.
Your wife was a queen, right?
While I was actually on active duty, she was the queen of Gasparilla. She kind of introduced me to Gasparilla at an event before I left for active duty. When I came back, her father was willing to sponsor me in spite of the fact we became engaged.
How did you guys meet?
She went to Brandon High School also. She was a year behind me, transferred there in her senior year and we didn't meet until I was a freshman in college and she was a senior in high school. One of my best friends from high school had a date with her. We double-dated. I couldn't take my eyes off the rearview mirror. He noticed that, we talked and he said, Why don't you call her up and ask her out? I did.
What motivates you to be in Ye Mystic Krewe? You could just spend 10 hours a week drinking beer with friends.
Three things. First, I was involved in the Krewe because of my family. That's something that motivates and it connects with the second thing, which is friends. The third thing that motivates me is I like to see things work right, work well. In the late '80s, because banking had moved to Saturday banking hours, (and) the parade had moved from Mondays to Saturdays, I wasn't even going to the parade. I was out visiting our branches and taking care of business. I had reached a point where I had done it, at that point, for more than 15 years and I felt like I had done all I could do.
So how did you get back into it?
I got a call from a friend in '93 saying, We need you to work on the parade committee. They were trying to build the parade up to be something more than it had been in the past. I actually turned the friend down over the telephone. I said I don't have time to be philanthropic. I went home that night feeling a little guilty and looked at my wife and daughters and thought Why am I in this thing to begin with? He's right, it would be good if we could help prepare the parade. So I called him up the next day and said I'd be happy to do whatever.
What does the parade committee do?
The parade committee basically meets ... about a month before the parade happens, and then shows up on Saturday morning, early, before anybody else, and is down on the parade route doing what I call organizing chaos.
When you stand there on the sidelines, everything looks pretty organized because it's coming straight down Bayshore at you, but to line all that up and get all those units in their right position, it's a tricky job.
Tell me about the children's parade.
Are you familiar with the way the children's parade used to be before two years ago? It was usually on a Sunday, the day after the invasion day. You can imagine everybody is tired and worn out. The crowds have gone home, nobody's showing up. It was on Franklin Street and it was only like a five-block parade. You would maybe have 100 dads and children who would show up and if there were 1,000 spectators I would be surprised. Steve Swindal (who was the captain) realized if the parade was moved to the Bayshore and was a child-focused parade, it would be our opportunity to sponsor something that was alcohol-free; a community, family celebration. The first year, without any advertising, 75,000 people showed up. We knew we were on to something. Last year, it was roughly 125,000 spectators.
Some people see the Krewe as an elitist organization. What is the image of Krewe and what do you want it to be?
What I believe it is is volunteerism. Nobody gets paid except our executive officer. Volunteerism and service is what we would like it to be.
A postscript from Ernest
Dobbins, 55, said this year's parade begins with an air show at 2 p.m. that will conclude at 4:30 p.m. with a MacDill Air Force Base flyover and paratroopers delivering flags to Steve Swindal, the Krewe king, and Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, grand marshal of the parade. The parade ends at sundown with a $100,000 fireworks show. Dobbins hopes the children's parade can connect to the invasion and create a weeklong festival.