By Pete Johnson
Special to Weekly
Wejebe was also respected for his generosity, donating hundreds of hours to causes not only involving conservation but especially those for children such as Make-A-Wish, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and the Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series raising funds for cystic fibrosis research.
“It’s where he was first noticed and got his start in television nearly two decades ago,” said Redbone founder Capt. Gary Ellis, “when outdoor program producer Jerry McKinnis was filming a show at the Redbone’s Mariner Outboards SLAM tournament in Key West in 1993.
“Jose was a popular young Keys guide who volunteered his efforts to fish the Redbone events. He was selected as one of the guides for NFL stars Gary Dunn and Kim Bokamper. McKinnis was instantly impressed with Jose who also appeared on Flip Pallot’s shows.”
The affable Cuban-born guide, whose family fled Fidel Castro’s Cuba when Jose was a youngster, was presented an opportunity by McKinnis to host his own TV show and began filming in 1994 for the 1995 initial season of Spanish Fly.
“And as his TV fishing show took off and he gained fame,” said Ellis, “he never forgot us by staying involved as a guide and by donating such unique items in our live auctions as complete three-day packages to fish as a guest on an episode of Spanish Fly. It not only raised thousands of dollars but also awareness towards the research efforts to catch a cure for CF”.
In 2000, he became close to Christian Goodpaster a young CF patient from N.C., who was waiting for a double lung transplant and who had been granted a Make-A-Wish trip to fish in the Redbone tournament partnered with his TV idol Wejebe.
“They became instant buddies,” said Ellis “With Capt. Dale Perez as their guide, Jose stood side-by-side giving Christian a great day of fishing, coaching him in the catch-and-release of both a redfish and bonefish in the competition. When Christian came off the boat each of those two days he was wearing a huge smile and saying how Jose was ‘just a regular guy,’ and ‘so fun to fish with.’ We had Christian and Jose on stage at the awards ceremony and you couldn’t wipe the smiles off their faces, nor the tears among the audience members of admiration for them.
“Several years later, Jose invited Christian to do a TV show and the young man now a college student eloquently chronicled the on-the-water Keys experience. Unfortunately Christian died not long after, when the lung transplants didn’t take and from the increasing difficulties of CF. Jose was shaken by his young friend’s death,” said Ellis. “Jose quietly did several of these types of benefits for charities.
“It’s a great loss,” said a saddened Ellis. “Jose gave our industry a very positive image showing fishing at its best, with his charitable involvements and the conservation efforts of catch-and-release in the Florida Keys.”