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Firm hand on the helm

Ye Mystic Krewe, organizer of the annual Gasparilla Pirate Fest, is largely thought of as a group of South Tampa's elite. So it came as a surprise to learn the captain, on track to be next year's king, is Fred Dobbins, a 55-year-old Riverview resident who grew up in Bartow and attended Brandon High School.

An executive vice president with SunTrust, Dobbins is accustomed to 50- and 60-hour work weeks, but he doesn't mind piling on another 10 or 12 hours to help the Krewe.

Over lunch at La Septima in Brandon, we talked about Ye Mystic Krewe's image, its relationship with other krewes and how he became a pirate.

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, used to 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. 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 and then Brandon, which was really a small community in the '60s, we both had small community roots. We wanted to try that again to see if we would like for it our children. We loved it and stayed.

What led you to join Ye Mystic Krewe so many years ago?

The simple answer is my wife.

Your wife was a queen, right?

While I was on active military 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.

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 does the invasion parade committee do?

The parade committee basically meets once a year about a month before the parade happens, and then shows up on Saturday morning before anybody else and is down on the parade route doing what I call organizing chaos.

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.

Krewe members volunteered for Salvation Army kettle duty during the holidays, and the Krewe now has an annual golf tournament to raise money for scholarships. It sounds like the Krewe is becoming more service-oriented.

Our organization has actually always been about service, and I think what we've done is looked back at our heritage and what we were about at the beginning. (We) updated that with technology, then refocused on the fact that in our agreement with the city of Tampa it says the purpose is to entertain the citizenry and promote economic development through tourism.

We view ourselves, first and foremost, as a service to the community.

How would you rate the level of difficulty in getting into the Krewe?

I don't know how to answer that question. Membership in the Krewe is largely friends and family, and frankly, one of the things that limits friendship is the capacity of that ship. While not every one of our members make it every year, we have a certain percentage that want to go on the ship and it's at capacity. We can't take any more.

Ye Mystic Krewe is part of the Inter-Krewe

Council. How do you feel about other krewes? Do you welcome them?

Our policy now is to help other krewes any way that we can and our executive officer probably gets a call a week from another krewe asking, "How do you do this? How do you do that?" If you talk to people from other krewes, I'm told the most exciting thing they can offer to their members is to be in the invasion parade. If that is true, then what we offer them every year is our underwriting of the invasion parade. Right now, they don't pay a nickel to us. That's something that's probably going to be under consideration in the future. The other thing that's happened is a recognition on our part and lots of other people that if we feature diversity with all these different groups, it improves what we do and it celebrates our community.

Some people see the Krewe as an elitist organization. What is the image of the Krewe and what do you want it to be?

I believe it is volunteerism, because all of this we do is done voluntarily. Nobody gets paid except our executive officer. Volunteerism and service is what we would like it to be.

_ Ernest Hooper also writes a column for the Tampa & State section of the St. Petersburg Times.

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