Mario de Chabert was quite a man. An extraordinary person with an extraordinary character.
There is so much that can be said about Mario. But in one simple sentence: He embodied the soul of St. Croix first and the whole of the U.S. Virgin Islands second.
Known by close friends and associates by many loving nicknames — Uncle Mario, El Jefé, Big Buana, Capitán– Mario was Mr. Cool at all times, no matter the heat.
Personally, I'll never forget the day I met Mario. It was about the second day on my new job as publicist at the then Commerce Department.
WAPA was at its worst on St. Thomas and was in the middle of a major power outage. Power rotations were commonplace. To avoid a catastrophe, the power plant required a part that had to be ordered, which would take some time to ship. The part, however, was available on St. Croix.
The call went out for help to express courier this cumbersome machinery to St. Thomas from St. Croix.
To the rescue! Within hours, a high-performance speedboat came racing into Charlotte Amalie harbor. Lo and behold, like a knight in shining armor was this distinguished-looking man, Mario de Chabert, at the helm, and, of course, the precious cargo which would bring the lights back to St. Thomas!
That's Mario. A rare, true essence of the Virgin Islands. He knew no boundaries in friendship, politics and business. Rare because, although tall in stature, he was able to relate with great sensitivity and touch to everyone from all walks of life — from the most influential international statesmen to the impoverished, disadvantaged souls. He championed the causes of all Virgin Islanders, particularly Crucians, whom he so dearly loved.
A dreamer. A doer. He spearheaded the development of the hallmark Sunny Isle Shopping Center. With the help of his closest friends, he brought us the St. Croix Jazz Festival against all odds.
Speaking of odds, he quietly drove the locomotive to the establishment of casino gambling on St. Croix. And, I'm sure, yet to come from his inspiration is his dream of the Queen Anne Hotel Casino and Entertainment Center.
One of the jobs I always treasured was the one I had as associate producer of the St. Croix Jazz Festival, working alongside some of St. Croix's finest, including, but of course, Big Buana. (Thank you, Mario.)
The undying will, the quiet fire, yet the peaceful spirit of Mario continue to live in those of us he touched. The U.S. Virgin Islands.
Play de music, El Jefé!
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