TAMPA — Ollie S.H. Hunter was one of those leaders who stepped into the role easily, as if reasoning someone had to lead and it probably should be her.
She shared her skills as a musician with students at Monroe Middle School and the members of St. James House of Prayer Episcopal Church, where she served as musical director for 29 years.
She was a past president of the Tampa chapters of Delta Sigma Theta and the Links, both organizations led by black women.
In a squeaky voice that belied her strong personality, Mrs. Hunter preached "giving 110 percent," and often accepted nothing less.
Mrs. Hunter, a 28-year teacher and administrator in Hillsborough County schools and a mainstay at her church, died Oct. 19, of cancer. She was 71.
"Some of us have a reputation for saying what's on our minds," said state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, who held daily telephone conference calls between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. with Mrs. Hunter and the late Altamese Hamilton, another close friend. "That's what Ollie and I had in common."
Her funeral service Monday filled St. James to capacity, with music and Scripture all selected by Mrs. Hunter in recent weeks. Choir member Clarence Lee called her "talented and fussy."
"If you had it in you and she knew it, she was going to get it out of you — and woe be unto you if you didn't deliver, because she would call you out," said Lee.
The Rev. Ernestein Flemister, the parish priest, recounted Mrs. Hunter's glissandos on the piano, dragging her thumbnail across the keys like Jerry Lee Lewis; her love of catfish and spicy wings; and her struggle with breast cancer.
Ollie Savonia Hamilton was born in Tampa, the youngest of nine children in a musical family. Her sister, Vissadean, taught her how to play the piano. After graduating from Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University), she taught music at George Washington and Madison middle schools before settling in at Monroe Middle School. She served as dean for six years, then as assistant principal for an additional 17 years, retiring in 2003.
She began directing music at the House of Prayer in 1981, the same year her husband of 20 years, the Rev. C.S. Hunter, died. She stayed at the helm as the church merged in 1996 with St. James Episcopal Church.
She once stopped a men-only number in mid performance during a concert with a firm, "We've got to do it better." (The men started the song over from the top, and nailed it.)
Choir member Maisie Reddy sang My Tribute at the service, trying not to feel the pressure. Said Reddy, "I knew she was up there listening, saying, 'Now, wait a minute …' "
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]