Virtually everyone who lives in Key West, or has spent much time visiting, knows that Ernest Hemingway lived here in the 1930s. The Hemingway Days festival celebrates his birthday and the lifestyle he enjoyed during his decade on the island.

Shine's infectious grin and spirit explain where his nickname came from. Here, he spars playfully with a familiar-looking man. (Photo by Tom Netting)

When one thinks of Hemingway’s Key West years, and his associates during those years, it’s hard not to think of Kermit “Shine” Forbes. Shine was a fixture in Key West until his death in 2000 at the age of 84. 

A small man, standing only 5 feet, 6 inches tall, Shine was a stellar example of how to enjoy a full life.

Both in his prime and as a senior, he exhibited a genuine enthusiasm for living and being involved in the Key West community.  

When he met Ernest Hemingway, Shine was a former boxer who trained local amateur fighters like Alfred “Black Pie” Colebrooks. Hemingway refereed some of the neighborhood boxing matches, then held in Bahama Village on the site that is now the Blue Heaven Restaurant.

Ernest set up a boxing ring at his Whitehead Street property where he and Shine sparred. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

The two men’s friendship had a rocky beginning; they disagreed vehemently about a call Ernest made while refereeing a fight that featured one of Shine’s boxers. Tempers got so heated that eventually Shine attempted to punch the “ref.” 

“I didn’t know who he was,” Shine said of the famed writer.

When he found out, he went to Hemingway’s house to apologize, and the two became sparring partners and comfortable friends.

Shine was a regular visitor to the 907 Whitehead St. home owned by Hemingway — today renowned as the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum — where he sparred with the author on the section of the property now occupied by the swimming pool.

Hemingway left Key West in 1939, but Shine remained living in the Bahama Village neighborhood. He served in the Army during World War II and fought in Army boxing tournaments. After the war, he became a cook at the Key West Naval Hospital, where he worked for 32 years. He also mentored neighborhood kids, offering down-to-earth advice in the yard outside his tiny home.

Shine played an important role in the Hemingway Days festivities. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

As he grew older, and the Hemingway legacy became an integral part of Key West’s appeal for visitors, Shine was “discovered” by journalists eager to meet the man who sparred with the legendary author.

He answered their questions and seemed to enjoy their company, but remained pretty much unchanged by the media spotlight.

Even as a senior, Shine didn’t lose his enthusiasm for boxing. One of his friends in later life was best-selling mystery writer Randy Wayne White, and the two sparred four times through the years. The last time was in 1999, when Shine was 83 years old — yes, 83 — and he knocked out the 220-pound, much younger White in the third round!

Invariably cheerful and seemingly ageless, Shine was an important part of the annual Hemingway Days festivities. He became a dear friend of Lorian Hemingway, Ernest’s granddaughter, and the 1999 fight with White was her suggestion to commemorate her grandfather’s 100th birthday.           

Author Lorian Hemingway shared her grandfather's fondness for Shine. (Photo by Michael Whalton)

After Shine’s death, Lorian created the Shine Forbes Award to honor the man who had been a link to her grandfather. His friends from many walks of life helped raise the money for his funeral, and he now has a resting place in the Key West Cemetery.

Shine Forbes never tried to capitalize on his friendship with Hemingway. He remained the unassuming man with integrity that Hemingway had long ago admired. And he will always remain an important part of Hemingway lore in Key West.

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