¡Un Héroe Mio! A Farewell to a Key West Icon

by Capt. Gene Chrzanowski

¡Un Héroe Mio! A Farewell to a Key West Icon

If you are one of the countless number who have enjoyed fishing charters here in Key West in the past, you may not realize it, but you just lost a great friend, who most likely helped make sure your trips went as smoothly as they did. More personally, if, like me, you are one of the countless operators who have run those trips, you not only lost a great friend, but a true Key West icon and, in my humble opinion, a true “hero” too.

That last term, hero, is one that, I believe, is too often bandied about and misplaced on people who are anything but the most fitting definition of the term. In that regard, there are multiple applications of the term in the dictionary that focus on strength, bravery, physical feats, etc. However, the older I get, the more I realize that there is really only one type of true hero--someone whose total life and personal qualities make him the appropriate subject of admiration. To me, you’re not a “hero” if you throw or score 6 touchdowns on a Sunday afternoon but then go home, act like a prima donna, take drugs, beat up your wife/girlfriend, neglect to pay child support for the countless children you’ve fathered by several women, and/or generally make the world, as a whole, a less worthwhile place to be. I guess I first realized that when it hit me that my dad, now deceased for 25 years, was, and still is, my biggest hero. It doesn’t matter that no one outside of his own circle ever knew what a hero he was; they were all better off because of him. He never made a lot of money and never grabbed a headline. All he did was remain faithfully married to my mom for 47 years; serve his country honorably during WWII; raise two boys in an atmosphere of total love, with an emphasis on making us the best, happiest and most productive human beings we could be; and never unnecessarily, purposely and/or knowingly hurt any human being, particularly our mom (a true heroine for similar reasons.) If that isn’t a hero, then the term has no significance at all!

If I’m correct in that belief, then Humberto Garrido, Sr., the founder and long-time operator of Key West Marine Hardware (KWMH), who died on November 27th, belongs near the top of anyone’s list of local heroes! He wasn’t a “large” man physically, but, in my book, he was truly a “big man.” Born more than 81 years ago in Havana, Cuba, he married his wife, Ofelia, there in 1957, and they remained devoted to each other until each of them passed away this past year--almost 60 years! They moved to the U.S. in 1961, just about a year or two after Fidel Castro came to power there, and settled permanently here in Key West in 1965. During their time here, he established and ran KWMH while raising a large, happy family; all the members of which have been productive and beneficial members of our community--many of them working in the store to give it the true “family” atmosphere that it has always had. There was always just a nice feeling when you dealt with Humberto, that he cared just as much about you as a person, as he did about you as a customer.

From a personal standpoint, I really didn’t know anyone here when I first moved to Key West in 2005 and began running an old (1970), wooden-hulled, custom-built, 47-foot sportfisher--“Fatal Attraction.” I had never owned a boat that size before and never a wooden boat of any kind. Needless to say, in the 5 plus years I operated that boat before getting our current vessel, “High Class Hooker”, there were innumerable times that I would encounter a maintenance or repair issue where all I could say at first blush was, “Huh?” Humberto and his family at KWMH made those days immeasurably easier for me, often just by telling me what something was, what I could use/substitute to repair/replace it, and then often helping me “jerry-build” that something right there in the store. I can’t tell how many times that saved a trip for my customers and me, and I know that they did the same thing, at one time or another, for almost every charter operator in the area. That is what I meant when I said earlier that lots of you have lost a good friend without even knowing it. Many of you would have been sitting at the dock some days, instead of having the fishing day of your life on the water, because Humberto and his crew did something special to get you out there. That may have even involved staying open after hours the day before--sometimes even coming back to reopen the store after closing, or delivering something to a boat, just so you, I, and countless others, could make that long-planned and highly anticipated trip the next day. And, the funny thing is, he NEVER made you feel as if you were imposing!

When someone passes, they are often judged in terms of their “legacy”--what they have left behind for those of us that have survived them. Well, in those terms, Humberto Garrido, Sr., certainly qualifies for that “big man” or “hero” distinction again. From a totally selfish point of view, he left behind a “well-oiled”, thriving business that is critical to my daily charter operations, and he left it in the capable hands of great family who were taught, by his example, the proper way to treat people and conduct a business. From a more generally important point of view, Humberto left behind a family that is contributing to make this island we live on, and the world in general, a better place. I have always told friends who are having kids that raising them is, by far, the most important thing they will ever do. Screw up your kid(s) and not only do you adversely affect him/her for the rest of their life, you also adversely affect every person they ever affect negatively, potentially for the rest of that person’s life. That’s a daunting, but critical, concept to grasp! Conversely, raise them well and everyone who ever has to deal with them will owe you a large debt of gratitude. If you have ever dealt with the family of Humberto Garrido, Sr., you will realize that, judged by that standard, he deserves a posthumous rousing standing ovation from all of us!

In closing, I would just like to again offer Humberto’s family my deepest sympathy. I would also like to personally thank you, Humberto Garrido, Sr., for all the kindnesses you bestowed on my customers and me while you were alive and for the exemplary way that you raised your family and treated your fellow human beings. You made my transition to my great life here in Key West so much easier than it would have been otherwise, and I owe a large part of whatever success I have had here to you and the family that is your true legacy! Vaya con dios, un héroe mio!




Capt. Gene Chrzanowski
Capt. Gene Chrzanowski

Author

The “High Class Hooker” is docked in Key West at the A&B Marina, 700 Front Street. You can find Capt. Gene on the web at keywestclasscharter.com



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