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Rachel Lisi, artistic daughter of Straz Center president, dies at 39.

TAMPA — When it's your time... you will leave your light... and fly.

Rachel Lisi wrote those words on her Facebook page in July.

Her time came four months later when she died suddenly in her home on Nov. 10.

She was two days shy of her 40th birthday.

Ms. Lisi had a health scare in recent weeks when doctors discovered a tumor, but a biopsy revealed the tumor to be benign.

Last week, however, Ms. Lisi didn't show up for her job at the David A. Straz Center for the Performing Arts.

After work, her mother, Straz Center president Judy Lisi, went to Rachel's apartment and found her only daughter lying in her bed. An autopsy showed that she had suffered a pulmonary embolism. It was unclear whether the embolism was related to the tumor.

Ms. Lisi was a published poet, an amateur photographer and a graduate student. She had worked for the past several years as a supervisor in the Straz Center box office. Before that, she managed a Sarasota bookstore and worked at the Florida Craftsmen Gallery in St. Petersburg.

"She liked to have jobs that she wouldn't have to bring home with her, because she had so many other passions," her mother said.

Ms. Lisi was born in Connecticut. At the time, her mother was a teacher and her father, Ernest Lisi, was a businessman.

"We were a crazy, happy family, always singing and dancing together," her mother said. "We had so much joy and love."

During her college years, Ms. Lisi's parents moved to Tampa. She soon transferred to the University of Tampa to be near her parents and stayed in the Tampa Bay area.

She loved virtually all forms of visual and performing arts. She was an avid blogger and loved Facebook and other social media. Underlying almost all of her passions was a longing to have people connect with each other, whether through the arts or the Internet or conversation.

"Larger than life, with a heart larger than anyone, and ultimately larger than her body could even contain," said her friend Wendy Leigh, the Straz Center's vice president for education. "Her heart, I think, had even more important work to do beyond what could happen here. Her light was so bright. She could find the light in any situation."

Ms. Lisi called her website The name came from a yoga term for dormant personal energy, combined with the name of one of the brightest stars in the sky. On the site, she shared her photography and her poems, many of which had been published in poetry journals and European magazines.

"The possibility of communicating with not only ourselves and other humans, but all things otherworldly, has always interested me," she wrote in the introductory page of the site. "I have always believed in the beauty of human connection."

In recent weeks, she had talked to Leigh and other friends about attending Tampa Unity Church. Just a few days before her death, she had told Leigh she was excited about making her first visit on Nov. 14.

As it turned out, some 400 people ranging from Mayor Pam Iorio to Ms. Lisi's bohemian artist friends gathered at Tampa Unity Church that day for her funeral.

"She said she wanted to attend and she did," Leigh said. "She wanted to be part of a spiritual community, and she created one that she couldn't have created any other way."

A memorial fund has been established to help people with limited incomes get tickets to events at the Straz Center. Donations can be made to the Rachel Lisi Subsidy Fund, Straz Center Development Department, P.O. Box 51, Tampa, FL. 33601-0518.

Marty Clear can be reach at

Rachel Lisi, artistic daughter of Straz Center president, dies at 39. 11/18/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 18, 2010 3:30am]
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© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


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