SUNSET PARK — Even when he was a teenager, Mark Curry knew what he wanted to do with his life.
While his friends dreamed of becoming athletes or movie stars, Mr. Curry set his mind on a career as a funeral director.
"He always wanted to be a mortician because he wanted to be of service to people," his daughter Barbara Gelsomino said. "He wanted to be able to help people during their most difficult times."
Mr. Curry enjoyed a long career as a funeral director in Tampa. He founded two local funeral homes, and even though he sold his businesses and retired in the 1990s, Blount & Curry Funeral Homes still bear his name. He was so respected in the community that the company that bought the business wanted to emphasize the funeral home's connection to Mr. Curry.
"It takes a special person to do that kind of work, it really does," Gelsomino said. "And he was a special person."
Mr. Curry died May 16 of prostate cancer. He was 84.
He was born in St. Petersburg, but his family moved to Tampa when he was still a baby. He graduated from Hillsborough High School, then served on the USS Baltimore during WWII. After he left the Navy, he attended the Worsham School of Mortuary Science in Chicago.
His first job in the funeral business was in Daytona Beach. One day he was picking up a body from a hospital when he met a young nurse named Bertha. They married not long after and remained together for the next 50 years.
"The joke in our family was that Mom and Dad met in the morgue," their daughter Frances Ryan said.
After they married, they moved back to Tampa, which Mr. Curry always considered his home.
He quickly built a reputation for integrity in the local funeral industry.
"No one ever said a bad word about him," said Lee Anderson, a funeral director at Blount & Curry who started as Mr. Curry's employee and became a business partner. "He was an excellent mentor and an excellent business partner."
Mr. Curry thought the purpose of his work was to help grieving families find the best way to provide dignified funeral services without spending more money than they had to. He never tried to sell them items or services that weren't appropriate. In fact, it wasn't unusual for him to steer families toward less expensive alternatives if he thought their emotions were leading them to spend beyond their means.
Through his decades in the funeral business, he never lost his genuine empathy for the families he served. But when he came home to his own family, he was invariably upbeat, even lighthearted.
"He was the best dad ever," Gelsomino said. "He was just the kind of guy you wanted to please. He wasn't a disciplinarian because he didn't have to be. There was just something about him that made you want to make him happy."
His passions were for his family and his work. He enjoyed golf and spending time with friends, but he didn't care for elaborate hobbies or avocations. His career, his wife, children and grandchildren, along with his beloved Jack Russell terrier Pepper, were all he needed to be happy.
Bertha Curry died in 2003. The next year, Mr. Curry married Marti Dawes Curry, whom he met while staying in the family's summer home in North Carolina. Marti Curry passed away after they had been married 3 1/2 years.
"He had two wonderful wives," Gelsomino said. "My mother was incredible, and Marti was, too. It didn't take us long to start thinking of Marti as our second mom. After my mother died, and then again after Marti died, it was his dog Pepper that pulled him through. She really saved him."
Besides his two daughters, Mr. Curry is survived by his son Mark Curry III, his stepchildren Charles Crispin and Cathy Keller, his sister Frances Vaughn and four grandchildren.
Marty Clear writes life stories about local residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at [email protected]