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Queen of charity Celma Mastry dies

Celma Mastry, one of the city's most prominent philanthropists and a noted volunteer for local charities, has died at 76.

Mrs. Mastry, the widow of industrialist D. Eugene "Gene" Mastry, also a benefactor of area charities and causes, died Friday (Jan. 23, 2004) at home. The cause was ovarian cancer.

Named the Queen of Hearts in 1998 to mark her civic activity, she supported a myriad of St. Petersburg organizations.

At the time of her death, she was president of the Queen's Court, a nonprofit organization founded 45 years ago to honor women's volunteerism and support selected charities and civic causes. The St. Petersburg Free Clinic and the Palladium Theater were recent beneficiaries.

A trustee of the Center Against Spouse Abuse (now Community Action Stops Abuse), she also was involved with the American Heart Association, Florida Suncoast Opera Guild, Science Center Guild, Boys and Girls Club, the Museum of Fine Arts, and Pinellas Association for Retarded Children.

She was a past president of the Florida Orchestra Guild, the St. Petersburg branch of All Children's Hospital Guild and Boley Angels, a support guild for Boley Centers, an agency offering treatment and residential facilities for the mentally ill.

Over the years, she led St. Anthony's Hospital Auxiliary, Infinity, Sword of Hope, Al Kareem Club and the St. Petersburg Museum of History.

Recently, she added another charity: the Celma Mastry Ovarian Cancer Foundation.

The foundation was the beneficiary of the 15th annual Old Salts Ladies Fishing Tournament in June. Another fundraiser, Couture for a Cure, a fashion gala, was held Nov. 7 at the Coliseum.

Mrs. Mastry greeted the crowd at the fashion gala as the show began and stayed the evening.

In April 2001, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It had metastasized to her lungs, doctors said, and was inoperable. They predicted she would live only six months.

Born Celma Nini in Brazil, she moved with her family to Lebanon to be near her father's family. She attended French boarding schools in Lebanon. Already proficient in Arabic, she soon learned French.

In 1940, her father, a dentist, moved the family to Curacao, and she learned Spanish and English.

By the time she was in her teens, she had a serious suitor, D. Eugene Mastry. His father, Constantine, and Celma Nini's father, Adib, were distant relatives. Young Gene lived in St. Petersburg and was in the process of moving to Belize, where his parents had businesses.

He visited her family, then living in Belize, and eventually asked Dr. Nini for permission to marry Celma. He was 24; she was 15.

Her husband moved the family to St. Petersburg in 1961 after selling industries in cigarettes, furniture, jalousie windows, laundry soap, boat building and logging. Locally, he owned Mastry Marine and Industrial Supply Co.

After the death of her husband of 47 years in 1991, she became one of the city's most visible philanthropists as friends and her children encouraged her to increase her charity work.

"I felt that I learned a lot," Mrs. Mastry said. "I learned to speak out a little more. I learned to ask for money."

She is survived by four sons, Constantine Mastry, Pinellas Park, and Richard Mastry, Micheal Mastry, and Adib Mastry, all of St. Petersburg; four daughters, Claudette Carlan, Zolfo Springs, Rosalie Tamney, Orlando, Julie M. Janssen, Treasure Island, and Celma L. Mastry, St. Petersburg; a sister, Nur Bofil; 18 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Visitation is 4-7 p.m. Monday at Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home, Cremation Tribute Center, 7820 38th Ave. N, with a funeral Mass at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at St. Peter's Episcopal Cathedral, 140 Fourth St. N.

The family suggests donations to the Celma Mastry Ovarian Cancer Foundation, P.O. Box 48787, St. Petersburg, FL 33743-8787.

_ Information from Times files was used in this obituary.