ST. PETERSBURG — As a wife and mother, Alvena Pryor embodied the traits of her generation.
She viewed the needs of her husband, well known physician Howard "Bud" Pryor, as synonymous with her own.
She dedicated herself to substitute teaching and civic organizations, including one she started for children with Down syndrome.
She played tennis at the country club, was active in a medical auxiliary, and served as PTA president for her children's elementary, middle and high schools.
Mrs. Pryor also carried a steely mettle into situations she cared about most, defying family and friends if need be.
No one told her what to do, her cheerful demeanor notwithstanding.
Mrs. Pryor died at a rehabilitation center Monday after a long illness. She was 84.
She came of age in a St. Petersburg now seen in coffee-table books and vintage postcards. She was waiting in line at Webb's City when Bud Pryor, whom she had dated a year earlier, approached and asked her out again. He proposed a few weeks later in his car. They had parked at Lake Maggiore, scanning the water for pinpricks of reddish light at the surface, the eyeshine of gators.
As they settled into married life, her husband realized he didn't enjoy his job as a lineman for Florida Power.
"(Mrs. Pryor) said, 'What do you want to do?' " her daughter Juliana Menke, 52, said. "'He said, 'I want to be a doctor.' She said, 'Let's do it.' "
She found teaching jobs in Alachua County while he studied medicine at the University of Florida. The couple moved to Tampa, then St. Petersburg, and started a family.
As a teacher and parent, Mrs. Pryor took the contentious teachers' strike of 1968 personally.
"My mom actually agreed with some of the issues the teachers had," said Menke. "She just didn't think striking was the way to handle it." Thus Mrs. Pryor became one of the fill-in teachers hired by the school district. The move damaged some friendships, but not permanently, her daughter said. "She didn't want to stay in a fight with anyone. She believed in standing up, but wanted to take on the issue and not the person."
The strike was not her first battle over principle.
Alvena Birchard was born in 1929 in Toledo, Ohio, the daughter of Polish and Italian immigrants. The family moved to St. Petersburg before her senior year of high school.
She attended Florida State University on a scholarship, in defiance of her Sicilian father's wishes. "He believed she should get married and have children and none of this foolishness," her daughter said. "She balked at that."
She returned home with a master's degree in early childhood education. In the 1960s, Mrs. Pryor became concerned about the education afforded to children with Down syndrome.
In 1964 she founded the Peter Pan Auxiliary, a group created to support the Peter Pan School for Retarded Children, and served as its first president.
In the early 1970s, Mrs. Pryor and her family moved into a brand-new home on Pinellas Point Drive with waterfront views and furniture reflecting her favorite shades of blue.
Howard Pryor, a popular family practitioner, died at age 51 in 1980 of a heart attack.
Mrs. Pryor moved to Tierra Verde, continued to teach and stayed active. About a decade ago she met Lucian Ierna, a musician. "Lucian became Alvena's 'significant other,' and the unexpected delight of her later years," her daughter said. Ierna died in 2009, a few months after Mrs. Pryor was hospitalized with kidney stones. Though the illness caused doctors to amputate both legs and she developed Alzheimer's disease, Mrs. Pryor remained chipper. "Even though she went through adversities, you would never know anything was wrong with Alvena," said Shirley Insoft, 71, a longtime friend. "It was always going to be a better tomorrow."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.