Delia Jane English died on Thursday March 5th, 2015, at the too young age of 61. She bravely battled pancreatic cancer for seventeen months.
She was, and will always be, my mom, my biggest supporter, a kindred spirit, and a model of how to live. I originally wrote these words as part of her public obituary, which appeared Sunday, March 8th in the Tampa Bay Times and Tampa Tribune. For my own use, here and for my readers, I have added detail and elaborated on key points of her existence.
Jane, as she went by most of her life, was born into the Thomason family of Lake Placid, Florida, which ultimately grew to include seven siblings. Her oldest brother, Dick, died in an industrial accident when she was still an adolescent. She is survived by her five remaining siblings, from oldest to youngest: Shirley Boyd of Lake Placid, Mary Sapp of Orlando, John Thomason of Lake Placid, Bob Thomason of Crescent Beach, and Tim Thomason of Dade City.
Jane’s mother Helen, a hotel manager, died young too, also at the age of 60 and also from pancreatic cancer. Her father Hansel, a postal worker, lived on, dying in 1998.
Growing up in a small town, with an expansive mind, Jane befriended the most intellectualÂ and cultured of her classmates, many of whom she maintained friendships with well past school. One of those friends was Patrick, member of the wildly liberal, activist Hamilton family. They were originally from the Northeast, with a summer home in the St. Augustine area. Jane accompanied the Hamilton family on many a summer vacation to Crescent Beach, a community that she came to frequent with her own family later in life.
Other important friends throughout Jane’s life, from the beginning in “LP”: Barbara Stites, Marlene Johnson, Pat Robichaux.
After graduatingÂ high school, Jane moved to West Palm Beach, where she worked in a law office on Worth Avenue. In a time before personal computer use, she had a swift set of typewriter hands and attention to detail that served her throughout her career.
During her mother’s illness, she spent time back in Lake Placid, working at Archbold’s biological research station, before ultimately moving to Tampa and enrolling at the University of South Florida at 24.
She paid for her first car, and her degree, wholly on her savings, and by working part-time during school. It was around this time that she made her first intercontinental friendship, with Madeleine Pearson, a British woman of Greek ancestry, who would ultimately go on to a career in London high-end catering. Madeleine married Stuart, a solicitor, and they became Jane’s entree to Europe, which resulted in many vacations spent in the United Kingdom, France, Italy, etc.
At age 28, with a degree in Art History, Jane sought work at the region’s art institutions. First, in Lakeland, at the Polk State Museum, and then in Sarasota, at the Ringling Museum of Art. Shortly thereafter,Â she met Michael, a Sarasota native living in Tampa, who was working as an urban planner.
In 1985, after a brief period of dating, Jane and Michael wed in Lake Placid. Two years later, her first and only child, a son (me!), was born: Alexander Thomason English. Over the 28 years the mother and son shared, until her death, the two were often compared as being mirror images of each other in looks, attitudes, and mannerisms.
Jane, Michael, Alex, and stepson Christopher from Michael’s first marriageÂ livedÂ a pleasant and fulfilling life in urban Tampa. First, in historic Hyde Park, for nearly twenty years on South Fremont Avenue, and then to Ybor City in 2007, where Jane exhaled her last breath on Earth.
In 1992, when Alex was five and headed to Kindergarten, Jane began the evening and weekend classes necessary to obtain a Master’s Degree, this time in Library Science, which she used to enter civil service.
During her tenure at the Hillsborough County Library System, she handled special collections likeÂ the historic Burgert Brothers’ photography of Tampa, conducted genealogy research, managed a branch library in Port Tampa (including oversight of the move to a restored bank building where the branch stands today), and ultimately, used her digital and design skills to work in public relations and marketingÂ for the Library System. In fact, Jane designed the library card that is still used today.
In 2005, following a landmark decision by the County Commission in Hillsborough County to ban all promotion of LGBT / Gay Pride Month activities in county buildings, Jane resigned from the library system on moral grounds. She went on to contract for her former colleagues, but focused on growing her freelance business in graphic design over the next tenÂ years. By 2013, her gross billing equaled well over six figures.
Throughout Jane’s life, though it is a clichÃ©, she was best described as selfless. She put others ahead of herself, doting and worrying over children, her friends, and her family. Her eagle-eye for danger made her keenly aware of how delicate humanÂ existence is. She had a sense of risk and survival that far surpassed that of the common person.
As a mother, she was encouraging and proud to her core, though never at the expense of appropriate parenting. She was balanced, egalitarian, and quietly logical. She did not yell.
As a wife, she was ebullient and sublime (my dad’s words). Her talents never ceased to amaze everyone around her, from cooking meals nearly seven nights a week, to interior design, to scouring the internet for plane tickets and executing all manner of home improvement. She was a master of many skills; we wondered if she was obsessed with rearranging the furniture and repainting walls, which she did on an unconventionally regular basis.
As a professional, Jane had a tireless work ethic. Deadlines were never missed, clients always satisfied. She found pleasure in fresh design, and struggled against an environment of stodgy, outdated thinking her entire career. She was, however, unwilling to bend her principles, and therefore was best suited for entrepreneurship, which allowed the flexibility to say no.
As a friend, Jane provided therapeutic listening and constructive advice. She has been credited with saving and creating more than a few marriages, and nudging her closest friends toward lives and decisions they have never regretted.
Marriages initiated by Jane and Michael: Ron and Marilyn Sheck, Cassandra and Tim Borchers, Dee Seymour and Thom McLaughlin, Suzy and Will Horn.
As her son, observing her life from thirty years her junior, I was always amazed by her disinterest in burning bridges. When I sought validation in my unhappiness with others, she encouraged me to empathize with their situation; “put yourself in their shoes.” She chose conflict resolution and discussion over confrontation and melodrama.
However, never one to be trampled, she quickly and incisively removed toxicity from her life, in the form of ex-lovers, ex-bosses, or ex-friends.
I think many people who knew her will agree that in nearly every relationship, she treated others as equals, and gave them every benefit of the doubt. She balanced humility with intelligence, and learned to disarm those around her with her warmth and genuine care.
Maybe that is why, as an adult, she and I grew even closer. We began to share elements of ourselves we had never before, and my appreciation for her as a mother only grew with time.
To say it plainly, she had very few undesirable traits. Her vices were negligibleâ€”a People magazine for trash gossip, a dose of chocolate every night.
She set an incredibly high bar of graceÂ and sophistication you can’t learn in a finishing school, or be force fed by the country club. I have struggled to match her approachable nature, her eye for design, or standard of neatness. But, it was imprinted on me from my start, and that is the greatest contribution she could have made to me.
That, and being a consistent, supportive, and positive force, which was mostly felt, not heard.
Delia Jane English will be missed and remembered by many. Her life was unnaturally short, but as we discussed late in her illness, she had no regrets. Such an arc, no matter how brief, is a success if you left those around you better than you found them, and found personal fulfillment in the process.
A memorial celebration of her life will be held on Sunday, March 29th at 4pm, inside the Friday Morning Musicale, at 801 West Horatio Street in Hyde Park.Â Please join us!