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Famed boatbuilder Ted Irwin loses cancer battle

Ted Irwin of Irwin Yachts died last week in Arkansas four years after learning he had cancer. He was 74.

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

The face of Irwin Yachts, he had been battling multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood cells, since a diagnosis four years ago, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

“He just decided to attack it with a vengeance, like he does everything else,” his eldest daughter, Michelle Payne, 48, told the newspaper.

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 year that 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.