VIRGINIA PARK — Esther Krist held a job most of her life, but her own children barely knew it. As far as they could tell, her life was her family.
"She was perfect, the perfect mother," said her daughter Susan Boyle. "She was always with us, always part of everything we did. I was never aware of her working."
Mrs. Krist passed away July 23 of congestive heart failure. She was 88 years old.
She was born Esther Marie Torres, one of 10 children in one of Tampa's oldest and most prominent cigar families.
Her father, Laureano Torres, was the general manager of two cigar factories, one in Ybor City and one in West Tampa.
The owner of the factories was a New Yorker named Mortimer Regensburg. Regensburg offered to set up a trust fund for one of the Torres sons if the son was named after him, so Mrs. Krist had a brother named Mortimer — a very nontraditional name in Spanish families.
The family lived on the edge of Ybor City, along Nebraska Avenue, which at the time was lined with mansions occupied by some of Tampa's most prominent people. Mrs. Krist's father was one of the founders of Centro Asturiano and its affiliated hospital, and for many years his bust was on display at Centro.
She had a passing acquaintance with her future husband, Stephen Krist, when she was a student at the Academy of the Holy Names and he was at Jesuit High School. But they didn't start seeing each other until he went to the University of Tampa and she worked at a downtown paper company.
"They'd get together for a Coke at a corner drugstore when they had a 10-minute break," Boyle said.
In 1950, the young couple built a home in Virginia Park, where they lived the rest of their lives and raised two children.
"She was the matriarch of her family," her daughter said. "Every Christmas, everyone, all her brothers and sisters and their families, would come to her house. For 54 years. And she had the smallest house of anyone in the family."
Mrs. Krist's cooking was one of the main attractions. She was an accomplished creator of Spanish food. Her boliche was featured in local newspaper stories.
Not just family members were treated to Mrs. Krist's cooking. Her children's friends considered Mrs. Krist to be the coolest mom in the neighborhood, and her home became their gathering place. She always had black bean soup or some other Spanish dish ready.
Away from home, she worked as an office manager for two Davis Islands dentists. First she worked for her son-in-law, Dr. Edward VanEepoel. Then her own son, Dr. Stephen J. Krist, took over the practice and she continued to work for him.
After hours, her life was her family, especially her children and grandchildren. She was a fixture at their high school sporting events, where she'd bring coolers full of drinks and food offered to anyone in the crowd.
Her health had faded in recent years, and in 2006 her husband died. They had been married for nearly 60 years.
Heart problems slowed her down, but it was her husband's death that may have led to her own.
"After my father died, she just went downhill fast," her daughter said. "That was it. She never recovered."
Besides her children, Mrs. Krist is survived by five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Marty Clear writes life stories of Tampa residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at email@example.com.