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Education, arts booster Marty Hirons dies

Marty Hirons created a spectacular garden in North Carolina.

Marty Hirons created a spectacular garden in North Carolina.

GOLFVIEW — In Tampa, people thought of Marty Hirons as a woman of energy and determination who had a knack for identifying community problems and finding solutions.

Mrs. Hirons, who passed away Aug. 28 at age 64 after a long illness, had a passion for education and the arts, and she worked hard to bolster both in her city. She founded the Florida Center for Contemporary Arts, which gave visual artists in Tampa one of their first opportunities to showcase their work, and co-founded SERVe, or School Enrichment Resource Volunteers, which provided expert speakers to local schools.

In Cashiers, N.C., where she spent about half her time in recent years, Mrs. Hirons was known as an artist, and her medium was plants and flowers. She created a spectacular garden, called the Horse Barn Garden, at the summer home she and her husband built there.

"She had charts and diagrams of where everything would go," said her husband, Fred Hirons III. "She would start all her plants from seeds here in Tampa, and then we'd take them up to North Carolina in a trailer. And I'm not talking about a few plants. I'm talking hundreds and hundreds of them."

Mrs. Hirons received one of the greatest honors of her life just this summer, when Southern Living magazine featured the Horse Barn Garden in the June issue.

She had a beautiful garden at her Tampa home, too. Her husband recalled a friend who noted that Mrs. Hirons could work in her garden all day and be covered with dirt, then go inside and emerge half an hour later looking elegant and pristine.

Mrs. Hirons was born and raised in South Tampa. When she was in her early teens, she moved to Atlanta. She was a student at Auburn University several years later when she attended a party at Georgia Tech. There, she met Fred Hirons, a South Tampa boy she had been vaguely acquainted with in her childhood.

"I didn't really know her in Tampa at all," Hirons said. "I had just seen her around."

They started dating and married a few years later. They moved first to Texas, where he finished his military duty, and then to Philadelphia, where he went to graduate school.

"She taught first grade in a blue-collar neighborhood of Philadelphia," her husband said. "One thing I remember is she taught those kids to sing Dixie."

They came back to Tampa for good in the late 1960s. After their two children were born, Mrs. Hirons went back to school and earned a degree in fine arts from the University of South Florida.

"She got to know all the artists at USF," Fred Hirons said. "They had great art, but they didn't have anywhere to show it." That led Mrs. Hirons to form the Florida Center for Contemporary Arts, which had a gallery in Hyde Park.

"Marty came up with the idea for this place and then spearheaded the development of it," her husband said. "And then her job was to get the money to keep it afloat."

She loved collecting antiques and decorating her family's home, next to the golf course in Palma Ceia.

Other than her home and her family, her passion was that garden in the Carolina mountains. She had been ill in recent years with pulmonary problems, and this year her health was so bad she almost didn't head north.

"I managed to get her up there about a month ago, so she got to see it one last time," her husband said. "That's something I'm really grateful for."

Besides her husband, Mrs. Hirons is survived by her son, Parker, her daughter, Hallett Parisi, two grandchildren and a sister.

Education, arts booster Marty Hirons dies 09/04/08 [Last modified: Saturday, September 6, 2008 4:11pm]
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