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Roberta "Bunny" Landis | 1945-2011

Bunny Landis, a woman of 'happiness, beauty and style,' dies of cancer at 66

BAYSHORE BEAUTIFUL — Bunny Landis met her future husband after someone spit on him.

It was 1989. Tampa attorney Jim Landis was sitting at the bar at Bella's watching a baseball game when another lawyer, apparently inebriated, confronted and befouled him. Landis ignored the man, who then slinked away.

Bunny Landis, who at that time was named Bunny Casper and was recently divorced from Joe Casper, whose company owns many McDonald's restaurants around Tampa, was seated nearby. She saw what happened and rushed over to check on Landis.

Landis watched the end of his baseball game — in which Nolan Ryan struck out his 5,000th batter — and then walked out. Bunny Casper was there saying goodbye to friends.

"A year and a half later we were married," Jim Landis said. "She was a beautiful woman who got more beautiful as she got older."

In their 20 years of marriage, Mrs. Landis would almost never introduce her husband as merely Jim. "This is Jim, the best husband in the world," she'd say.

She passed away Aug. 11 from pancreatic cancer. She was 66.

She was born in New Haven, Conn., but came to Tampa with her family when she was 3 or 4 years old. Her name was really Roberta, but from the time she was a baby everyone called her Bunny.

"Her mother gave her that name," Jim Landis said. "She said she was as soft as a bunny."

Her young years weren't easy. Her father died when she was 9, and her mother raised her family mostly on Social Security.

She never had a career, but always had an active life. She raised two children from her first marriage, then devoted herself to charity work and civic organizations.

She led an active social life, and started every morning for years at Ashley Espresso, where she and other regulars would discuss anything from art and politics to reality television.

"Bunny brought happiness, beauty and style to those morning gatherings," said Donna Bevis, the owner of Ashley Espresso who was also a longtime friend.

Mrs. Landis was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, after the disease had spread throughout her liver. She started chemotherapy to prolong her life.

One of the first things she did after learning of the cancer, her husband said, was comb through her jewelry box. She pulled out maybe 25 of her favorite pieces.

When she broke the news of the cancer to her friends, she'd hand each of them a piece of jewelry and say, "When I beat this you can return it."

Many of those friends wore the jewelry to her funeral.

Mrs. Landis was never reticent about talking about her cancer, and in fact became something of a cancer activist after her diagnosis. She gathered a group of friends called Bunny's Carats, who raised more than $50,000 for the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in the two Miles for Moffitt fundraisers between her diagnosis and her death.

In July, through her work with Stand Up for Cancer, she was invited to take part in some of the events surrounding the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. She and her husband traveled to Arizona, and the day after the game, as part of fantasy camp, she got to hit a baseball in the same stadium, standing in the same batter's box where some of the game's greats had stood the previous evening.

The next day she suffered a stroke. Doctors said there was nothing more they could do.

Marty Clear writes life stories about Tampa residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at mclear@tampabay.rr.com.

Bunny Landis, a woman of 'happiness, beauty and style,' dies of cancer at 66 08/18/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 18, 2011 4:31am]
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