Tuesday, June 4, 2024
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In Memorium: James “JC” Cacabelos

By M+E Staff

Late July, the hospitality industry lost one of its shining stars. While on vacation, Jim Cacabelos passed away unexpectedly. His family, friends and colleagues have been reeling from the news, and we at Northwest Meetings + Events extend our condolences and share in their loss.

Lisa Lee, account director with Seattle magazine, and event producer Audrey Fan asked JC’s friends to send us their memories and tributes. We share them here. If you have a memory you would like to share, please do so in the comments:

JC and I worked together at Seattle-King County Convention and Visitors Bureau (now Visit Seattle), and I will always remember how welcoming he was when I first started, introducing me to his colleagues in the industry. Jim knew so many people and everyone gravitated to his positive energy. Jim invited my family to his home in Kent, and we golfed several times together, including CVB and industry outings. People often say that you can really get to know a person’s true character on the golf course, and that was the case with JC. He was so full of love and joy. Jim was passionate about his Huskies and got me to join the UW Multicultural Alumni Partnership Board with him. Jim would always light up when asked about his family as most of our conversations were about our kids. I will miss his distinctive laugh and miss seeing him at Industry events. ~ Lisa Lee


JC is the embodiment of hospitality. His genuine smile, positive light, zest for life and love of humanity will always be remembered and sorely missed. Every Apple Cup Game, I will think of him and his (mine as well) beloved UW Huskies; every hotel piano I pass, I will think fondly of our time at a conference late night “sing-along” with JC playing songs for all to sing; every organ I see, I will check out if the organist can reach the pedal; every Washington State CMP I meet, I will ask if they were in JC’s study group; every meeting I attend, I will think of JC’s two rules; I’ll always remember the joy he brings to his family, friends and colleagues with just his smile. ~ Audrey R. Fan


What I share about Jim are the experiences and feelings expressed repeatedly these last few days from so many of his friends, comrades, coworkers and peers in this industry. Many of them were far more eloquent than I. My favorite is from Kae Block who said, “I always left with a sense of looking forward to the next time we would be sitting together.”

My own personal memory of working with Jim is from the early days of the development and construction of the convention center when he worked at the Seattle-King County Convention & Visitors Bureau. He was one of small, tight group made up of different temperaments, talents and convictions who created something great together and thrived on the associated challenges and successes. Jim made working through those challenges less stressful, and celebrating the successes more enjoyable. His loss is heartbreaking. ~ Michael McQuade


His endless enthusiasm, his laugh, and smile will stay with us in this city forever. ~ Tom Norwalk, president and CEO, Visit Seattle


Jim was a beacon of hospitality to everyone he engaged with in the industry. I will miss his energetic and charismatic personality at our events, as he made everyone feel welcomed. You never had a bad day when you were in Jim’s presence. He had the ability to inspire others to achieve their personal and professional goals, regardless of the obstacles they might be facing. He was always eager to help out in industry association events, as well as help mold our future planners. His genuine passion for people and hospitality will be greatly missed as he has been instrumental in developing the Seattle tourism culture for so many years. ~ Heather Halsey Sr. Program Manager, Sparta Matters, Oracle


I believe I saw an article recently that called Jim “Mr. CMP” and that was so true. Jim loved to help people expand their knowledge about the hospitality industry. He thrived on leading the Certified Meeting Professionals (CMP) study group. Jim and I alternated leading the sessions for I think 17 years. Jim celebrated each time our “students” passed the exam. After I retired in 2013, Jim continued the sessions with a couple new leaders. Over the years, Jim and I gave presentations at conferences about the benefits of the CMP certification, and as an attendee you understood how Jim could be such a great sales person. His enthusiasm was contagious! I was always happy to see Jim. I knew I would get a big grin and a hug. There is a hole in our hospitality community with the loss of Jim. ~ Marlys Kemmish


Jim and I became friends shortly after I joined the Washington State Chapter of MPI in 1990. We roomed together a number of times at MPI conferences. Jim was unfailingly positive. His ready smile and infectious humor boosted everyone who knew him. Jim was an ardent supporter of our MPI Chapter, of the CMP program and the meetings industry in general. It is hard for me to put into words how saddened I am to hear of Jim’s passing—way too young and so unexpected! He will be missed greatly. ~ Corbin Ball


I met Jim “JC” “Jaycee” Cacabelos Sept. 2, 1986, my first day at the Seattle CVB. He was a bright light and made me and others smile, although none of us could match his smile. We used to laugh about so many things while also getting a lot done workwise. He was young and eager to learn, and his genuine affection for people and desire to help them added to his selling skills. He understood the importance of establishing relationships with clients and colleagues. Jim’s generosity and enthusiasm for the industry meant serving tirelessly for MPI, SGMP and other organizations. Once you met JC you could never forget him and you hoped to see him again soon.

I loved the Husky shrine in his office that seemed to grow year after year with charming memorabilia. Each year a group of us would celebrate St .Patrick’s Day down at Kell’s in Pike Place Market, and he became Shamus O’Cacabelos. I really liked his hair, especially just after having it cut, standing straight upward (a hip guy ahead of his time!)

Nothing meant more to JC than his family and I loved hearing about Bev, Courtney, Kevin and Caroline. Of course he had plenty of pictures to share and stories to tell. He was a first-class husband, father and friend.

Jim served the hospitality industry proudly. No one can replace him, and I join the many people who will miss him and are happy that he crossed paths with them in life. ~ Janet Hunter


I hired Jim in 1984 at the Seattle King County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Our office was being renovated with plastic sheets hanging down each doorframe serving as “doors.” Someone had drawn a “doorknob” in black on the sheet. Jim reached forward “opening” the door and stepped through with his winning smile. ‘Hi I am Jim Cacabelos, just graduated from the U of W with a degree in Zoology and I can type 125 words a minute without an error. I would like to work here in sales…oh, and I can play the piano, etc, etc.,’ filling in details without stopping. I hired him! Then I hired Jim again, years later, at Tillicum Village. His integrity, ready wit, funny stories, engaging interest in those around him formed lasting relationships. His sense of responsibility to his family and his friends was complete. He tirelessly invested his time for MPI and other organizations in the hospitality industry. His genius was in creating positive interactions with his clients.

He savored his happy marriage to Beverly and celebrated the birth of their children with boundless enthusiasm. Courtney, Kevin and Caroline were the light of his life. He was such a proud husband and father. I will miss Jim, my trusted friend with his bright smile. ~ Roberta Greer


His easy going, playful, engaging friendly manner always is present to a newbie. Now mind you, JC has a bit of a prankster side too! Always looking to stir up harmless fun that brings laughter to all around him.

I will never forget the first time I met JC at SGMP Oklahoma conference. I was a newbie, a bit shy, not knowing anyone, and representing the City of Oakland wearing a Golden State Warriors team player Hardoway jersey at the trade show. JC immediately came up to me and challenged me to a game of basketball one on one; the prize was the jersey! We set up a Nerf basketball hoop in the Oakland trade show booth and went for it! Of course I lost. He was kind enough to let me wear the jersey until the end of the trade show—LOL!

At a Seattle conference, JC received his nickname KAKABACCA, which translates one that laughs often and with joy! He is an accomplished jazz and classical pianist. One evening several friends stumbled across a piano in a banquet room. JC’s eyes gleamed. The next thing I knew we were improvising a lounge act featuring Audrey Fan, then at East King County CVB (now Visit Bellevue Washington), with JC accompanying her singing jazz and show tunes. It’s a night that is forever etched fondly in my memories.

This began a 15-year industry friendship that turned into a personal one. I was honored to meet his wife and kids. He is a good father and loving husband who believes in God and treating others with respect, and a helping hand is present in all that he does.

I will miss him. I cannot believe he has left us. He is an inspiration to me on how to live life! With a smile and a laugh and God in your heart. ~ Sharon Meagher


He was just pure joy. He made the team feel at home, it’s not just an industry trait, it’s a universal quality. ~ Jane Demar


And finally, below is a tribute his son Kevin wrote and sent to us to share:

Known both as a “connector” and a “ray of sunshine” in the Seattle-area tourism industry, James “Jim” Cacabelos, died on July 25 while vacationing in Honolulu, Hawaii, due to a massive brain aneurysm and subsequent cardiac failure. He was 58 years old.

Known by present and past colleagues as “JC,” he began his career as a convention sales manager at the Seattle-King County Convention and Visitors Bureau (SKCCVB) — now Visit Seattle — from 1984 to 1998. After his time at SKCCVB, he held positions at the East King County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Visit Spokane, Tillicum Village, Edgewater Hotel and several other sales roles at Seattle-area hotels. Most recently, he served as regional sales manager for Pineapple Hospitality Company.

A member of Meeting Professionals International since 1988, my dad served as a board member for the Washington State Chapter (MPIWSC) from 1999-2000 and 2006-2007. His most notable contribution to the organization was cofounding of the Certified Meeting Professionals (CMP) certification study group. He taught classes to regional meeting planners and suppliers on a volunteer basis to earn a CMP certification. His lessons were known to be both humorous and engaging.

In 1997, my dad received The Sam Gilmer Supplier of the Year Award from the Society of Government Meeting Professionals (SGMP). Selected by former recipients of the award, this is among one of the highest national distinctions offered by SGMP. MPIWSC also honored him in 2004 as Supplier of the Year.

Along with his contributions to MPI, at his various professional stops, he took it upon himself to mentor dozens of young professionals who were entering the tourism and hospitality industry.

As a lifelong Seattle resident, his colleagues, friends and family were well aware of his ardent fandom for the University of Washington (UW) Huskies football team. An ‘84 graduate of UW and a season-ticket holder since 1976, he was a UW Tyee Club member and decorated his offices with UW memorabilia, facilitated office bets and was the first to begin the annual trash talk between UW and Washington State University (WSU) fans leading into Apple Cup Weekend. In an ironic twist, my sister Courtney (his first daughter) graduated from WSU in 2009.

My dad brought joy and happiness to those in the regional tourism industry and his local community, and he remained devoted to my mom, Beverly, through 33 years of marriage. The couple met in Seattle while he attended UW, and my mom attended Seattle University. Outside of his professional life, his Catholic faith played a central role in his life. The couple raised their three children in a Catholic household with the family attending mass every Sunday and all three of us attending local Catholic grade schools and high schools. His musical talents extended beyond his late-night togethers in the hospitality industry as he served St. Anthony parish in Renton as a choir pianist for more than 15 years.

“Experience life,” my dad once wrote to me in a letter. “Go forward and do not be afraid, because you know God is behind you always.”