Hite makes an encore for Egmont
By Mitch Traphagen
APOLLO BEACH - For television news viewers across the Bay area it was like old times last week. Former WFLA Newschannel 8 anchor Bob Hite made an appearance on air, behind the desk, during the 5:30 p.m. newscast on Thursday. Hite was in the area from his home in Colorado to host the Tampa premiere of The Lightkeepers, a movie starring Richard Dreyfuss. The event was a benefit for the SS American Victory museum ship and for the restoration of Egmont Key.
In 2001, shortly after beginning my job at the Observer News, I thought it would be interesting to write a feature on Hite. He was not just one of the most well-known people in the Tampa Bay area but also, as a resident of Apollo Beach, he was a South Hillsborough neighbor.
Sitting down with Hite and his wife Bonnie for the first time was like meeting old friends. They welcomed me into their home and set the stage for some great conversation. Unfortunately, there was a production problem with the 2001 story - no one saw the ending. But if it bothered Hite that only part of his story was told, he never mentioned it.
Over the years my wife and I continued to run into him. In 2002, when a young man committed suicide by flying a small plane into a downtown building, Hite made arrangements for me to shoot photographs from a deck of the WFLA building just across the river from the skyscraper. Some time later while I was producing a video, I called him for help with some equipment I needed at the last minute.
“Just c’mon over,” he said with his trademark booming voice. I arrived at his house to find him rummaging around in piles of equipment looking for the piece I needed. He found it and also discovered it had a wiring problem. He pulled out a soldering iron and a few minutes later, I was on my way - and was able to complete my project.
Throughout the years, I could always count on seeing him at fundraisers and benefits. His wife Bonnie was one of the founders of CARE, the Critter Adoption and Rescue Effort shelter in Ruskin.
His commitment to the community continued last week with his appearance for the premiere of The Lightkeepers. The event was held at Channelside Cinema and also featured Judith James, one of the film’s executive producers. It was for a cause near and dear to Hite’s heart.
“The first sight I had on Tampa Bay as I was sailing up [to work at WFLA] was the lighthouse on Egmont Key,” he said. “I thought it was so beautiful. Today, Egmont is literally half the size or smaller than it was in 1977 when I first sailed in. Not only is it a beautiful island and landfall but it has history. That history, the fortifications, is falling into the sea. The island will disappear unless the erosion process is stopped. That process has been expedited by using a sandbar [offshore near Egmont] to replenish beaches and waterfront homes. As a result, we are allowing Egmont Key to disappear.”
That was no exaggeration — Hite literally sailed in to work.