Cover photo for Richard "Rick" Joe Nafe Jr.'s Obituary
Richard "Rick" Joe Nafe Jr. Profile Photo
1952 Richard "Rick" 2022

Richard "Rick" Joe Nafe Jr.

March 11, 1952 — May 27, 2022

Tampa

 

The Honest, really, really true story of Rick Nafe 

In his four decades of facility management, Rick Nafe hosted two Super Bowls (and  served as a consultant on behalf of the NFL on nine others), the NCAA Men’s Final  Four and the World Series; was the point man on the development of Raymond James  Stadium, Amalie Arena (The Ice Palace) and George M. Steinbrenner Field (Legends  Field), lured the Tampa Bay Bowl to the city, and stampeded cattle through the Vatican. But it was his larger-than-life presence, ability to find the humor in the absurdity of  everyday life and desire to make people laugh that earned him the respect of the  industry. And the list of people who claimed that he was their ‘best’ friend outnumbers  the attendance at any game at Tropicana Field (which he ran for 23 years). His  unforgettable smile, of course, always made it look like he was up to something. Because, well… 

Born in Miami as the sixth, and biggest, of seven dwarfs, he graduated from Southwest  Miami High and briefly attended the University of Miami before transferring to Florida  State University in 1971, with dreams of playing football and someday playing for his  beloved Miami Dolphins. After leading the 1972 Seminoles to a 7-4 record as a first-string holder of the blocking  dummies, he quit to focus on his studies within FSU’s Flying Circus curriculum. Anyone  who ever saw Rick in his size 16 Crocs understood why he remains the only student to  ever be expelled from the school’s clown program because of oversized feet. The reality was, Rick was an early disciple of Don Ungurait, the founding Dean of FSU’s  film school, and believed that if he had not chosen the career path that he did, he would  have been the next Steven Spielberg. Defying all odds, the mass communications and public relations major graduated in  1975. His connection with the university lasted a lifetime, as nearly every intern he hired  over his career was, shockingly, a ‘Nole. “No other candidates were ever qualified,” he  said. And each one of them was required to memorize Godfather I and II. “Godfather III  was like Fredo,” he said. “Dead to me.” 

His first two post-college years were spent as assistant sports director at the CBS  affiliate in Tallahassee, followed by three years as director of community affairs in  Tampa at MacDonald Training Center, one of the country’s first preschools and  vocational training facilities for children and adults with disabilities. Rick went to great  lengths to find jobs for many of the people who were served at the Center. In 1979, armed with his bewitching smile and no relatable work experience whatsoever,  he convinced the Tampa Sports Authority that he was more qualified than the other 248  others who had applied to be director of Tampa Stadium (“I was hired based solely on  my enthusiasm, attitude and a real love of stadia. Although I didn’t know what the word  ‘stadia’ meant.”) After 12 years in the role, he was appointed executive director of the  Authority during a period when the city’s sports construction scene was booming. He attended his first meeting of International Association of Assembly Managers  Stadium Seminar in the early 1980s, and at the 1986 meeting in New Orleans he led the  charge (some would call it a revolt) to break from that group and create what became  the Stadium Managers Association. He played host to every annual SMA seminar since,  tirelessly making sure executives in the industry were educated, engaged and, of 

course, entertained. Some of his most memorable on-stage performances included  appearing as Elvis (“in the later years”), one of opera’s three tenors, a flamingo, the  Great Carnac and Batman. In fact, he shamelessly embraced the saying: “Be yourself.  Unless you can be Batman. Then be Batman.” In 2010, he was honored with the association's Lifetime Achievement Award. 

In October 1996, after 17 years at The Big Sombrero watching the Buccaneers rack up  the worst record in major league sports, he moved across the bay to become vice  president of operations and facilities for the expansion Rays and oversaw a major  renovation of what would become the Trop. His Midas touch continued, as the Rays’  existence began with 10 consecutive losing seasons. Rick’s favorite food was “fun,” and he boasted that he had never left a cannoli. He loved  anything from the Rat Pack and the Beatles, even though ‘Hey Jude’ is longer than a  Yankees-Red Sox game. 

Despite working in an industry that required him to be gone many nights and weekends,  family was the center of his life. First with his three children, Travis, Parker, and Katie,  and then with his wife, Dana and stepdaughter, Lauren. He often said that kids were like  the coolest Christmas presents because he could not wait to get home and play with  them. His newest joy was the addition of his daughter-in-law, Alexis and two beautiful  grandsons, Max and Mason. He and Dana counted the days until fall and FSU football,  where they would tailgate with friends at Doak Campbell Stadium. They enjoyed  traveling, boating and having parties where he always went to great lengths to make  sure everyone had a good time as his quick wit drew newcomers into his circle. After he  retired, he was most happy sitting in an Adirondack chair on a porch overlooking a  Florida beach - either coast - trying to convince anyone who would listen that he once  pulled a golf ball from the blowhole of a dying whale. 

Those who were lucky enough to love and be loved by Rick will forever see his boyish  smile and remember his gentle giant hands always patting someone on the back or  giving a hug. “He is and will forever be the love of my life and I am so grateful for his enormous,  perfect heart and the way he loved me, our family and the entire community,” said  Dana. 

In lieu of flowers, Rick and Dana ask that you spend more time with those you love!

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