PLANT CITY — First, Steve Chambers said, his mother taught her family how to live. Then she showed them how to die.
Betty Chambers was 86 years old but still attended exercise classes nearly every day. She found herself short of breath after one class a few months ago. The doctor told her it was terminal lung cancer.
She had never smoked and felt cheated that she was going to die of lung cancer anyway. But rather than dwell on her predicament, she went home and immediately started planning her own funeral.
"She started that same day," her son said. "She sat down with my sister and started talking about what songs she wanted. She was brave. She handled it with such dignity."
Mrs. Chambers was at home on July 9 with her daughter Pec McGinnes. They had company for dinner that night, and Mrs. Chambers joined them at the table. After everyone had left, Mrs. Chambers told her daughter to call her other children.
"I think I'm dying," Mrs. Chambers said.
She died the next morning.
She had spent virtually her entire adult life in Plant City and devoted much of her time to community causes. She organized committees and headed fundraising drives to build Plant City's YMCA. Before the YMCA had a pool, she held swimming classes at her home.
"If there was something that needed to get done," her daughter Sherrie Mueller said, "she'd find a way to do it."
She received two Distinguished Leadership Awards for the Southern United States YMCAs. In 1993, she was selected the grand marshal of the Christmas parade for her work with area kids. She served as Plant City's first director of recreation and headed PTAs at her children's schools. In 2001, she was named Plant City's Citizen of the Year.
Mrs. Chambers, a native of Byron, Ga., was a University of Georgia student when a newspaper ad caught her eye. Plant City High School needed a PE teacher.
"She had never heard of Plant City, Florida, but she applied and she got the job," Mueller said.
One of the first people she met in Plant City in 1942 was Frank Chambers, a college student who was working at the drugstore soda fountain and preparing to join the military. They married a few years later, and he became a well-known doctor in Plant City.
She was passionate about athletics and physical fitness and excelled in sports.
She lettered in basketball all four years of high school and bowled, swam and golfed right up until the end of her life. Usually, when she competed, she won. She took exercise classes every day, sometime twice a day.
"Even at 86, she was kicking everybody's butt," her son said. "She set the bar and she set it high."
Besides her son and her daughters, Mrs. Chambers is survived by a brother, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Marty Clear can be reached at email@example.com.