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Yacht and sailboat builder Ted Irwin dies from cancer

Ted Irwin, 74, died last week in Arkansas, four years after learning that he had cancer.
Ted Irwin, 74, died last week in Arkansas, four years after learning that he had cancer.
Published Feb. 10, 2015

The well-known owner of a former St. Petersburg yacht and sailboat building business died last week in Little Rock, Ark., where he was receiving cancer treatments.

Ted Irwin, 74, the face of Irwin Yachts, had been battling multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood cells, since his diagnosis four years ago.

"He just decided to attack it with a vengeance, like he does everything else," said his eldest daughter, Michelle Payne, 48.‎

Irwin grew up building boats in Pinellas County and made millions through his enterprise, which at its peak was known as one of the largest independent yacht builders in the United States.

The business opened in 1965, the same year Irwin married Payne's mother. The couple had two children, whom they raised on the water.

Within a year of the opening, the business moved to a larger space in St. Petersburg and quickly grew to more than 300 employees. But by the 1980s, around the time of her parents' divorce, Irwin Yachts began to crumble, Payne said. In early 1990, the business built its last boat.

"It was a passion and love of my father's, and he didn't do it to make money," Payne said.

Even after Irwin Yachts folded, Payne said her father continued to build boats. Recently, he enjoyed watched his 12-year-old grandson sail for the junior team at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, where he began sailing himself.

Irwin is survived by his first wife, Jean DeRosay Irwin, and their two children. He has two grandchildren. In the late 1980s, Irwin married Karen Pilcher. The couple had two children. The marriage ended in divorce but drew news media attention when the settlement dragged on for more than five years, an ugly and expensive court battle that was one of the longest in the area's history.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been organized, but the family plans to have a celebration of life service in the coming weeks.


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