Robert Parente, a beloved bon vivant who played a key role in promoting the Magic City’s film industry, died Wednesday at University of Miami Hospital after a long struggle with heart disease. He was 62.
Something of a Miami Renaissance man, Parente served as the city’s film czar under Mayor Manny Diaz from 2002 until 2010. During that time, the city experienced a boon in film and TV production, including Fox’s “Marley & Me” and the USA Network’s spy series “Burn Notice.”
The latter spent millions locally during its seven-year run, a stint in which there was constant drama over whether the show would leave, and whether the city would tear down the Coconut Grove Convention Center where it was headquartered. “Burn Notice” might not have stayed in Miami were it not for Parente, said Sandy Lighterman, Miami-Dade County Film and Entertainment commissioner.
“His position isn’t an easy one to fill. You have to understand politics and you have to understand your clients’ needs,” she said. “He certainly navigated all that really well and we miss him.”
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Beyond his many ideas and pitches to the industry, Parente also helped forge a unified permitting system called FilMiami and was part of a lobbying effort that led to the creation of a production-incentive program that expired this year. Julian Valdes, founder of Area Six Films, said Parente also encouraged scores of smaller productions.
“Everybody just says “Burn Notice,” but there were countless commercials, and countless photo shoots,” Valdes said. “He was always a champion and he saw each side. He was able to balance the needs of film with the needs of the local community.”
News quickly spread Wednesday of Parente’s death on the Coconut Grove Grapevine blog, and on Facebook, where hundreds shared condolences and memories about his activism on the waterfront, parties, wine, and cooking pasta from scratch.
“He had a passion for people,” said Maria Parente Miranda, his twin sister. “He wanted to savor everything anyone shared with him, whether it was a story or recipe.”
Born in Queens, New York, in 1954, Parente moved to Miami with his family when he was about 5. He graduated from Immaculata-La Salle High School and went to work at the Miami Seaquarium. Friends and family say he trained dolphins, sea lions, and killer whales until he broke his nose during an accident while transporting a dolphin.
After that, he took up a camera and began a marketing career with then-Seaquarium owner Wometco Enterprises, and then for Multivision Productions, where he assisted campaigns for the Beacon Council, the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, and other booster agencies. He was also a staff photographer for Edible South Florida.
“He was timeless,” said Wendy Kallergis, president of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association. “I never imagined he’d be gone.”
Parente is survived by his mother, Dorothy Parente, and his four siblings. A life celebration will be held 4-8 p.m. Monday at the Van Orsdel chapel at 4600 SW Eighth St. Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church, 900 SW 26th Rd.