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Ybor champion has his day

It's hard to imagine him at a loss for words.

Most of the lifelong friends and admirers, passing through the Pacheco Gallery on Thursday night, would say the artist has lived a life of fame. Now he lives to tell about it through pictures and words. And Mayor Pam Iorio is asking everyone to listen by declaring today Tampa's first Ferdie Pacheco Day.

"It's about time I guess somebody recognized what I've been doing here," the 67-year-old artist told about 30 people packed into his Ybor City gallery.

Dressed in a black turtle neck and two-piece black suit, a strong contrast to the colorful images hanging on the gallery walls, Ferdie Pacheco thanked his supporters and shared his flamboyant stories with anyone who stood still long enough.

Pacheco grew up in Ybor City. He sold 3-cent stamps as a child and worked at the Columbia Restaurant. Known as "the fight doctor," he served as a physician for 11 world champion boxers, including Muhammad Ali. He's a published author with a range of topics from boxing to family recipes, and he's won two Emmys as a sports commentator.

Having a day named after him "has been his dream," said Luisita Pacheco, the artist's wife of 33 years, "He's the son of Ybor City."

"I think he will be remembered really as one of the last of the Renaissance men, and I don't use that word lightly," said Gary Mormino, a University of South Florida professor and author of The Immigrant World of Ybor City. "He's had success in TV, print and canvas. We won't see the likes of him again."

Frank Accurso, 78, of Tampa, grew up with Pacheco and remembers the nights they gathered at local night clubs and Pacheco would sketch his picture.

"I wish now I'd held on to them," Accurso said.

Two years ago, Pacheco had a stroke. His wife insists that since then, Pacheco dreams a different story, complete with beginning, middle and end, every night.

"He reads four books a week, and I believe a man who uses his brain so much has to have powerful brain waves," she said.

Each morning while eating breakfast at their Miami home, Luisita Pacheco said, she sits and waits to hear what stories her husband has dreamed up next. He writes them down and some get published in La Gaceta, a trilingual newspaper headquartered in Ybor City.

Pacheco has done 175 paintings and written three books since the stroke, his wife said. He's created about 300 paintings and written nearly half a dozen books about Ybor City in his career, she said.

Despite all his accolades, Pacheco said the best compliment he ever received came from a man in New York City. The man said Pacheco wrote about Ybor City with the same passion and zest that Mark Twain wrote about the South.

"I just want to be considered as leaving a real history of Ybor City," he said.

Pacheco will present Iorio with one of his paintings during a luncheon at noon today at the University Club. The painting, done in bright colors and cartoon-like characters, depicts a man reading the newspaper to a group of female cigar factory workers in Ybor City. The reader, or "lector," kept the workers informed and entertained during the workday by reading aloud to them from newspapers, books, poetry, and political tracts.

Iorio is expected to read a proclamation during the lunch, officially naming the day after Pacheco.