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Teacher and Girl Scout leader Lori Crotts remained upbeat to the end

ST. PETERSBURG — In some ways, the e-mail Lori Crotts sent to some 200 friends read like any other holiday update.

A son's soccer team had just won a district soccer championship. Another son had finished half the Appalachian Trail before returning to college.

A daughter had just won the Girl Scouts' highest honor.

The e-mail included photos of a woman who appeared healthy and wholesome at Christmas parties.

"It was truly the happiest Christmas I have ever had," Mrs. Crotts wrote.

She also knew that it was likely to be her last.

Mrs. Crotts, a former teacher who managed family, friends and occasional strays with the elan of Mary Poppins and the will of Gen. George S. Patton, died Thursday, of colon cancer. She was 53.

Over the previous months, Mrs. Crotts had fastidiously checked item after item off a "dream board" she had created, a 6-foot-by 10-foot cork board lining an entrance hall in her Snell Isle home.

"Lori lived large," said Betsy Pearson, 52, the co-leader, with Mrs. Crotts, of Girl Scout Troop 565. "She lived more in her almost 54 years than most people do in their lifetimes."

Lori Lee Seitz was born in Racine, Wis., in 1959, the daughter of an American Motors factory worker and a cashier. As as young woman she graduated from the University of Wisconsin, bicycled across half the country and hiked the Continental Divide.

In the mid-1980s she drove to Florida and met law student Troy Crotts in a Sarasota bar. "She says, 'Hey, you know what? I might be moving down here, so let me get your name and number,'" said Crotts, 51.

They married and moved to St. Petersburg in 1986. She taught second- and third-graders at what was then Childs Park Fundamental school, work that won her recognition as a top 10 outstanding Pinellas educator in 1990.

Even away from the classroom, Mrs. Crotts was never really off duty. She stopped for all strays, moving them from the streets to her kitchen until she could find the owner.

Mrs. Crotts stepped aside from teaching to raise her three children. She later earned a master's degree from the University of South Florida. Caring for her mother until her death at 61 from pancreatic cancer proved a turning point.

"When her mom died, Lori said, 'I'm not going to wait for anything to happen in my life. If I want to do something, I'm going to plan it and I'm going to do it,'" her husband recalled.

Around the same time, she started a book club whose members took trips to visit the places they had read about.

She threw driveway parties under strings of owl lights, and surprised her Girl Scouts with dance music during a hiking trip.

"We took flashlights and made these strobe effects," said Pearson. "These girls are dancing to music in the middle of the woods and we were strobing with flashlights."

A health and fitness devotee, Mrs. Crotts ran in the Rock 'n' Roll St. Pete Half Marathon last February, a 13-mile haul, but did not feel well in following weeks.

A scan at a hospital in March revealed numerous tumors.

"And our world came crashing down," Troy Crotts said.

Over the next several months, Mrs. Crotts — her body weakening in the throes of chemotherapy — did not stop living.

She attended a hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque, N.M.; hiked outside Telluride, Colo.; and saw Jon Bon Jovi — who, through a mutual acquaintance, posed for a photo holding a sign wishing her speedy recovery.

Mrs. Crotts submitted to clinical trials in Houston. The drugs worked for a while. Then they didn't.

She worked out at the Vinoy gym. She downgraded reluctantly from the treadmilll to the stationary bike, then from the bike to free weights.

She watched each of her children complete milestones on their own part of the family dream board.

At a Girl Scouts ceremony at her home in late January, she pinned a gold starburst on the khaki vest of her daughter, Susannah, then 15. The subject of Susannah's Gold Award thesis: "Stop Crying, Start Running, Cure Cancer."

Mrs. Crotts died Thursday at home, her husband's hand in hers.

Her last missive to friends, the Jan. 13 e-mail about her children and the Christmas parties, ended with an affirmation.

"I don't know what is going to happen in the next few days," Mrs. Crotts wrote. "But know that I love each and every one of you very much!"

Andrew Meacham can be reached at or (727) 892-2248.