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SHE NURTURED FLORA, FAUNA, FAMILY RELICS

As someone who insisted on care and craftsmanship, Jackie Gaither assumed the role of caretaker for family relics.

These included a silverware set nearly 200 years old; the desk her grandfather, Robert Bettis, used to map out his surveys of Hillsborough County and plot its first brick streets; and a portrait of a relative said to have fought in the Revolutionary War.

She spent a lifetime in Tampa growing flowers, making hats and rugs, and teaching Girl Scouts to protect wildlife as she did in her own home, where a blue jay she had rescued flew at will.

A generation of students would know her husband, 33-year Hillsborough High School principal Vivian Gaither, for whom Gaither High School was named. She cut out hundreds of newspaper articles mentioning the man she simply called "Gaither" and others called "Prof."

Her own accomplishments, though quieter, also reached countless lives. Mrs. Gaither, a member of one of Hillsborough's oldest families, died June 18. She was 98.

"She was kind of like an earth woman," said niece Jean Swafford. "She had hippie values before hippie was hip."

For example, Swafford said, Mrs. Gaither pioneered newspaper recycling efforts in Tampa in the early 1950s.

She was born Jacqueline Bettis in Tampa in 1913. Students in her Class of 1931 voted Mrs. Gaither their most attractive peer.

She earned a teaching degree from the University of Tampa, then taught at Seminole Elementary School. She married educator Vivian Gaither in 1937.

"She was supportive of each and every one of his endeavors," said the Rev. Duncan Gray, a former associate minister of Seminole Heights United Methodist Church, Mrs. Gaither's church since its founding in the 1920s. "He absolutely adored her, and when it came to entertaining she was always at his side to provide the most elegant time for everybody."

Mrs. Gaither later earned a degree in library science and taught a few more years. The couple moved from Tampa to Lutz. Vivian Gaither died in 1991, at 91.

Over the decades, Mrs. Gaither enjoyed her high school reunions, judging gardening contests and cutting designs into paper lamp shades. Technology frustrated her; she never adapted to computers or even a television remote.

Nor did she appreciate the flimsiness of modern toys, cabinets and appliances, a world of compressed sawdust and expensive warranties.

"She never thought anything should break, ever," said Swafford, 62. "If you make it, it should last forever."

Mrs. Gaither came closer than many to doing just that. She lived by herself on a dozen acres until a few months ago, and was still driving until a year ago.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248.

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BIOGRAPHY

Jacqueline "Jackie" Gaither

Born: July 19, 1913

Died: June 18, 2012

Survivors: Several extended family members.

Service: 2:30 p.m. July 15; Seminole Heights United Methodist Church; 6111 N Central Ave., Tampa.

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