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Top-notch nurse who traveled the world

Barbara Jessop also taught nursing students and helped found the intensive care unit at Tampa General Hospital.

By JAY CRIDLIN
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 18, 2002


BARBARA JESSOP
1933-2002

TAMPA -- Whether you needed a home, an education, a nurse or a mother, Barbara Jessop always volunteered.

During her lifetime, she took in children who needed a grandmother, dogs that needed homes and young nurses who needed a friendly face.

Ms. Jessop, who worked as a nurse in Saudi Arabia and helped found the intensive care unit at Tampa General Hospital, died Oct. 2. She was 69.

"She was a person that really loved life," said her daughter, Susan Bonifield. "She was a very caring person. She liked children and she liked to help people feel better."

Ms. Jessop moved to Tampa from Vermont at the age of 15; her parents owned a restaurant in St. Petersburg. She graduated from Plant High School in 1951 and promptly moved back North to enroll in the Peter Brent Brigham Hospital School of Nursing in Boston.

She soon returned to Tampa, where she worked at Tampa General, Centro Asturiano and Centro Espanol hospitals. She took a leadership role at each, particularly Tampa General, where she taught nursing students and helped create an intensive care unit.

"I've been told by many nurses that she was the smartest nurse that they ever knew," Bonifield said.

Ms. Jessop always welcomed nursing students into her home, especially those with no family nearby. On Thanksgiving and Christmas, she and her daughter would cook for them.

"There would be years that we would have 20 people for Christmas," Bonifield said.

Not that Ms. Jessop had much to give them. She was a single mother, and times were occasionally tough. "It was a time when you'd throw the bills up in the air, and the ones that landed face up, you paid, and the ones that didn't, well, sorry, they got left for next week," Bonifield said.

Ms. Jessop had a love of traveling, and when her daughter grew old enough to move away, she found a way to make ends meet. She took a job as a nurse in Saudi Arabia.

"Over there, the benefits and the pay scale and everything were nothing to sneeze at," Bonifield said. "And for an unmarried lady -- my father had left us when I was quite young -- she had nothing to lose. I was grown. I could take care of myself. And she thought that that was a really good opportunity."

Bonifield spent 12 years at a hospital in Dhahran. She spoke Arabic and cultivated her love of theater by directing plays for a troupe there.

When she returned to the United States in 1990, she worked at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center as an usher so she could watch plays for free. She also returned to Tampa General, where she worked in surgery and pediatrics.

Ms. Jessop loved children so much that she became something of a surrogate mother and grandmother to the families of three -- one in Illinois, one in Washington and one in Saudi Arabia.

Ms. Jessop retired in 1995 to travel with friends and relax with her dogs. A longtime volunteer with the Humane Society, she had two rescued greyhounds.

Ms. Jessop traveled the world during her life, from England to Egypt to Portugal. On the most recent trip, a cruise to France in May, she fell and broke several ribs and dislocated a shoulder.

"One of the gentlemen who did some personal therapy for her said that she would much rather have two weeks of great life than a doldrum," Bonifield said. "That's the way she had to live -- she wanted it all or nothing. And that's the way she was."

Ms. Jessop was preceded in death by her parents, Norman Sr. and Polly Brown, of Tampa; and brother, Ronald Brown, of St. Petersburg. Survivors include her daughter, Susan Bonifield, of Tampa; and a brother, Norman Jr., of Cincinnati, Ohio.

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