May 24, 2014

Sisters Cynthia and Lisa Hibbits die within hours of one another at separate hospitals

Sisters Cynthia Hibbits and Lisa Hibbits were always close. Both were born in Hollywood, grew up in Hallandale Beach and worked close to home.

Sisters Cynthia Hibbits and Lisa Hibbits were always close. Both were born in Hollywood, grew up in Hallandale Beach and worked close to home.

Cynthia spent 20 years with the Hallandale Chamber of Commerce, where she rose to executive director. Lisa worked in photo processing in Hollywood for Qualex, once a nationwide leader in photo-finishing in the early 1990s until digital photography upended the industry.

Both sisters died within 5 1/2 hours of one another at two different hospitals. The cause: breast cancer, though Lisa’s heart ailment hastened her death.

Cynthia, 54, died at 7 p.m. Tuesday in a hospital in Sebastian, where she had moved with partner, Anthony Girardi.

Lisa, 59, died at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday at Hollywood Memorial West.

Neither sister knew of the other’s impending death.

“They were very close, there was a strong psychic bond,” said surviving brother Kenneth Hibbits. “We’re amazed they both died so close together. It’s almost paranormal but also kind of beautiful.”

Lisa and Cynthia were born to Harold, a builder, and his wife, Betty Sue. “There were four sisters in the family and they were the closest of the four,” Hibbits said. “We spent our summers on Sanibel Island or in Eastern Kentucky while growing up and they were always together on the beach or walking through the mountains behind my grandmother’s house. They sort of bonded early on as friends and were inseparable.”

And “they both went through their illnesses together and supported each other.”

The sisters were in ICU as their health declined. Cynthia battled breast cancer for eight years; Lisa for 15.

“It’s a tragic and beautiful story. Neither one knew the other was coming to get her,” said Girardi who met Cynthia in fourth grade at Hallandale Elementary. “We were all close in the same neighborhood,” he said. The relationship grew when the two began dating in 1986. They were a couple for 28 years.

“She was a giving person and it didn’t matter who needed help, she would help them,” Girardi said. “Kenneth was with me, and at the time of her passing he said, ‘Go to Lisa.’ And we got a phone call from Lisa’s husband that Lisa needed to go on life support and not two hours after that she passed.”

During her decades with the Hallandale Chamber, Cynthia was quick to recognize the city’s changing demographics as it grew younger and more diverse in the 1990s. In the ’60s and ’70s, Hallandale Beach attracted retirees from Northern climes.

“She was a real advocate for businesses,” said former Chamber President Susan Mandel. “She was all about having businesses succeed and not sitting back. If she saw something that needed doing or taken care of, she was right there to do it.”

Mandel cited Hibbits’ role in persuading Hallandale commissioners to loosen the city’s sign ordinance regulations to allow for more signage and for the temporary use of flashing lights to herald the opening of new businesses. “She was instrumental in having that be updated.”

When Hallandale Beach sought a marketing firm to promote the city as two major residential projects loomed on South Ocean Drive, Hibbits urged elected officials to pay attention to the shift in demographics.

“It's drastically changed. It's a critical turning point for the city. I think a marketing plan is certainly needed as a component to maximize economic development and redevelopment in the city,” Hibbits said in a 2003 article in the Miami Herald.

In addition to her brother and partner, Cynthia is survived by her sister Paula. Lisa is also survived by her husband Joseph Simmons. A joint service in Hollywood is in the planning stages.

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