TAMPA — Betty Farrior moved through an energetic life like a force of nature, changing — and usually improving — whatever she touched. She was a past president of several organizations, including the Chiselers Inc., a group of women who work to restore the University of Tampa's H.B. Plant Hall.
She fished like a pro, beat her friends at golf, grew orchids and served as an elder at Hyde Park Presbyterian Church. She was also a public health nurse and mother of four.
Mrs. Farrior died March 24 after she collapsed at a Chiselers meeting. She was 82.
"This is a woman who downplayed her contributions to the Chiselers and to the broader community," said Donna Popovich, human resources executive director at the University of Tampa and the school's liaison with the Chiselers.
In public, Mrs. Farrior cut an elegant figure. "She was always well dressed — not flashy, not showy," said Hatty Lenfesty, a friend of more than 50 years.
She was just as happy in old clothes, strolling the beach or gathering U-pick strawberries for her famous preserves.
"Country people can do things," said Lenfesty, 82. "They can preserve and they can cook. She was very resourceful."
Mrs. Farrior grew up in Steer Creek, W.Va. — "West-By God!-Virginia," she liked to say — where she enjoyed the 4-H club and its summer camp. Both her parents were educators.
At Duke University's nursing school, she went out with a medical student named Richard, then in his last year. Both were straightforward, independent types who got their points across without being abrasive.
"There was an instant attraction," said Dr. Richard Farrior. "I don't know how I missed her for three years."
They married in 1950. The couple lived in Iowa, Germany and Detroit, while Dr. Farrior completed his obligations to the Army and training as a plastic surgeon.
The Farriors moved to Tampa in 1956. She worked for Hillsborough County's public health department for 16 years, becoming a charge nurse in the maternity and child care clinics.
Over the years, she served as president of the Salvation Army women's auxiliary, the Hillsborough County Medical Association auxiliary, the women of the church at Hyde Park and the women's golf association at Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club. She was also involved with Planned Parenthood.
"I think she was more about the work than the accolades," said Popovich. "She comes from a well-known family, an affluent and influential family. You would never know that."
She relaxed by collecting shells on the unspoiled beaches of Boca Grande, where the extended family has vacationed for decades. The best shells she collected lie in a glass case in her South Tampa home. Always dangerous with a rod and reel, she once caught a 155-pound tarpon.
In 1998, Mrs. Farrior was elected president of the Chiselers, a group named by its founders 50 years ago as they scraped paint and mortar off original tile in Plant Hall. Its original incarnation as the Tampa Bay Hotel, with those distinctive Moorish-Turkish spires, opened in 1891 and is a registered national landmark. The group has raised nearly $4 million over the years for ongoing restoration, mostly through an annual Chiselers market that has been called "the best tag sale in the universe." As part of her duties that year, she served on UT's board of trustees.
When the Chiselers met March 24 in the former hotel's Grand Salon, Mrs. Farrior was there. President Betty Reineman had just called for a vote to elect officers for the coming year when Mrs. Farrior collapsed. She was pronounced dead at Tampa General Hospital.
Her husband of 60 years remembers she looked especially pretty over breakfast that morning. "It's a fairly dramatic and happy way to go," said Dr. Farrior, 85. "If it had to have happened, it's very much the way she would have wanted."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.