Articles

Alumni Spotlight: Pair of Accounting Alumni Honored by Tampa Hispanic Heritage

By Keith Morelli

Canasi and Viamontes

TAMPA (October 11, 2019) -- Two University of South Florida accounting graduates were recognized earlier this month for their dedicated work during their long careers and giving back to the community from which they rose.

Tampa Hispanic Heritage announced recently the selection of Betty Viamontes as the 2019 Hispanic Woman of the Year and Simon Canasi as the 2019 Hispanic Man of the Year. Both are immigrants from Cuba who became business students at USF and excelled during their long and prosperous careers.

Viamontes and Canasi were to be honored for their outstanding contributions to the community at the 32nd Tampa Hispanic Heritage Gala at 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 12, at the Hilton Tampa Downtown, 211 N. Tampa St.

The gala is part of the festivities commemorating Hispanic Heritage Month, bringing together people in the Tampa Bay community to celebrate Hispanic heritage and raise funds toward higher education scholarships for deserving Hispanic students.

“The Hispanic Woman and Man of the Year Award is a lifetime achievement award that honors Hispanics who have contributed significantly to the success of our community,” said a news release announcing the selections. “These Hispanic women and men have excelled in their endeavors to advance, promote, maintain and enhance our Hispanic heritage and who, by their outstanding contributions, have improved the quality of life for Hispanics in the Tampa Bay area.”

Betty Viamontes was born in Havana and came to the United States at the age of fifteen, along with her mother, grandmother and siblings, on a shrimp boat during what became known as the Mariel boatlift.

She married at the age of eighteen and became a mother a year later. She attended college in the evenings while working full time, raising her son and caring for ill parents. She attended Hillsborough Community College and then graduated from the USF in 1995, eventually earning two master’s degrees in accounting and business administration.

Viamontes worked at Tampa General Hospital for more than 22 years, rising through the ranks from manager to director and finally to controller and was part of the turnaround team that transformed TGH from a money-losing organization in the 1990s to a profitable world-class entity in 2018.

She is a CPA, an author, a business-owner, entrepreneur and independent business consultant. She currently serves as the chief financial officer – and first female executive – of the nonprofit Lions Eye Institute, an international organization that assists visually impaired people.

She is also a regular speaker at community events, a passionate champion for education and in 2015 was appointed to the Hillsborough Community College Board of Trustees. In 2019, she became the first female Hispanic chairperson of that board.

Viamontes is the author of the award-winning “Waiting on Zapote Street,” the biographical novel she wrote about her mother. “Waiting on Zapote Street” won the Latino Books into Movies Award last year and is listed on the Latino Author website as one of the Best Ten Books of 2016. It became an Amazon bestseller after being selected by a United Nations women’s book club.

Like Viamontes, Canasi was born in Cuba. He emigrated from Marianao in 1961 along with his parents and older brother, Manuel Jr. The family wound up on 11th Street in Ybor City, right down the street from where then Mayor Nick Nuccio lived. The Canasis had no extended family in Tampa but grew to embrace the community as if it was their extended family.

Canasi attended Hillsborough High School, where he is an enshrined member of the school’s Hall of Fame. He went on to graduate from the USF in 1978 with a degree in accounting and a minor in international studies.

After graduation, he began a career as a wealth management adviser with Merrill Lynch, where he worked for 30 years. The last 10 years of his career were spent as a senior vice president with Morgan Stanley. Over his career, he received numerous distinctions as a member of the Merrill Lynch Circle of Excellence and the Morgan Stanley President’s Club and he received the Merrill Lynch Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. After 40 years in the business, he retired this past February.

Canasi’s community involvement has included charitable organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of Tampa Bay, of which he is an alumnus; the Friends of Tampa Firefighters, where he currently serves as president and donated the initial seed money for the Fallen Firefighter Memorial; and the Sant’ Yago Education Foundation, which he co-founded and is a past president.

He has served on numerous governmental boards including the Hillsborough County Civil Service Board, where he was named chairman, and the Judicial Nominating Committee for the Second District Court of Appeal. He is a member of the Krewe of the Knights of Sant’ Yago where he served as El Rey XX and El Baron XXX.

Canasi and his wife, Dina, who recently retired as adjunct professor at HCC, have sponsored numerous scholarships at HCC, USF, the University of Tampa, and Tampa Catholic High School.

He received the Tampa Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award for Civic Involvement in 2003. As this year’s Tampa Hispanic Heritage Hispanic Man of the Year, he follows in his mother’s footsteps. Bella Canasi, was honored as the Tampa Hispanic Heritage 2008 Hispanic Woman of the Year.