PALMA CEIA — Word of Marilyn Neyland's sudden fatal heart attack spread like a tsunami. Phone calls, text messages and email emitted shock waves made more stunning by the realization that it wasn't the speed dialer herself relaying the news.
Normally, it would have been Mrs. Neyland communicating the latest events, laced with her frank insights, good humor and maybe a touch of sarcasm.
"Marilyn called it like it was but genuinely cared for people," said Bill Neyland, her husband of 36 years. "She just had a different way of taking on a subject and making it funny."
It fell to him — as introverted as she was outgoing — to announce his wife's passing June 20 at age 64.
"She could walk up to a perfect stranger, and in five minutes the person thought they'd known her forever," said Neyland, surprised yet not by the overflow of friends at the funeral. They were friends made at St. John Greek Orthodox Church, Las Damas de Sant' Yago, the H.B. Plant Museum Society, the Easter Seal Guild and the Child Abuse Council, among numerous other organizations she joined.
"Marilyn didn't have acquaintances. She had friends," said her brother, Stan Kappiris of Hollywood, Fla.
As quick with a quip as a ride to church or a tray of homemade spanakopita, Mrs. Neyland's whip-smart wit usually hit the mark, often as not, aimed at herself.
Not that she lacked tact. After all, she worked reservations and customer service for Delta Air Lines for 15 years. Co-workers at the memorial service told her husband "she kept us positive" when dealing with travelers' woes.
"They said she made work fun when she was there," he said.
Before and after her tenure at Delta, Mrs. Neyland ran the law office of Daniel Hernandez in West Tampa.
"She was seriously linked in," said Father Stavros Akrotirianakis, officiating at St. John Greek Orthodox Church. "And she liked to link everybody else. When a conversation went quiet, it was Marilyn who started a new thread."
Her Facebook page garnered hundreds of messages mourning the loss of her lively voice. "Some from people who never met her but felt her so funny and caring that they feel like they'd lost a friend," Neyland said.
Last week, Mrs. Neyland texted a fellow choir member at 4 a.m. before going upstairs to bed. Minutes later, her heart stopped.
"You always knew where you stood and she always stood by you," said Cindy Xenick, who spoke to her friend nearly every day.
"If we didn't talk, I'd have Marilyn withdrawal," Xenick said. "If a couple of days passed without a call, the phone would ring with, 'Where the hell have you been?' "
Gift-giving came naturally.
"We'd be out shopping and she'd say I have to buy that for so-and-so's living room or bathroom," Neyland said. "When she walked into a house, she checked out everything and filed it away. When she saw something, she'd buy it for them.
"This was constant. Sometimes I didn't even know whose house she was talking about."
As devoted as she was to her friends, family mattered most. Mrs. Neyland is survived by daughter Stephanie Stuhlsatz, 34; son Matthew, 29; and grandchildren Sophia, 3 1/2, and William Stuhlsatz, 1, all of Tampa.
Growing up in the tight-knit Greek community defined and blended Mrs. Neyland's social and spiritual life. She loved the liturgy and rituals, the music and dances. The Neylands worked the annual Greek Festival and sang in the choir every Sunday.
In July, Mrs. Neyland was to be installed as president of the Southeastern Federation of Greek Orthodox Choirs and Musicians at a regional conference in Tampa.
"She wasn't bashful about fundraising," Neyland said. "She'd get in an elevator with someone and ask them, 'Do you own a business?' By the time he reached his floor, he'd bought an ad."
Credit that moxie to her father, who owned a string of nightclubs and restaurants from Maryland to Florida.
"Marilyn had our dad's energy," her brother said.
"She never saw an empty space. She always figured it could be filled with people."
Amy Scherzer can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3332.