As a success, he remembered those who struggled

By NICOLE HUTCHESON, Times Staff Writer
Published November 17, 2007

TAMPA - Harold Gibson might have been the president of the university club, dining at the fine restaurant while holding court with his influential colleagues, but it was the bus boys, waiters and cooks to whom he paid special attention.

Gibson knew what it was like to struggle.

"He wasn't ashamed of it at all," said Harold's wife, Mary Jean Gibson, 66. "He would be the first to tell you that he came from very humble beginnings."

The son of a watermelon farmer, Gibson grew up in the North Florida town of Weirsdale.

His mother died when he was 5, forcing him to grow up fast to help his father care for his two younger sisters, 2 and 3 at the time. As a young boy, Gibson learned to change diapers, make bottles and cook.

"He did not have a childhood," his wife said.

But the hard upbringing didn't squelch his dreams. After graduation, he enlisted in the military and served in World War II. Afterward, he attended the University of Florida on the GI Bill and earned an accounting degree. In 1952, he moved to Tampa and joined Rex Meighen Co. as a certified public accountant where he ultimately became a senior partner.

Being an out-of-town transplant to Tampa wasn't easy in those days. But Gibson managed to form bonds and was elected as a courtier in the Gasparilla Parade and was later to the Merrymakers Club, an exclusive invitation-only organization.

His friends called him "Gibby" and "Hoot Gibson."

He was charismatic, good looking and single. In 1963, the Spinsters Club voted him Bachelor of the Year.

But that title changed in 1971 when he met 30-year-old Mary Jean Gibson through a mutual friend.

The first thing Mary Jean noticed was his smile.

After a three-week courtship, Harold asked her to marry him.

Her reply: "What took you so long?"

The couple went on to have two daughters, Marlet and April.

Gibson never slowed in his civic duties, helping found the Tampa Museum of Art is just one item on a long list.

Yet when his family called, he was there. Even during tax season, an accountant's busiest time.

"Every year on my birthday, April 6, no matter what, he would make it there," said April Gibson, 35.

The first stroke came in 2002. He worked for two years after that, but after a series of more strokes, Gibson decided to retire.

But he wasn't alone. Friends who remembered his kindnesses called often. Like the woman who thanked him for keeping her marriage together. Or the man who credited him with his financial rebound.

Gibson died in his sleep at home on Nov. 11. He was 81.

Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at nhutcheson@sptimes.com or 727 893-8828.