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Obituary

She loved her family, politics and the Lord

A fifth-generation Tampan, Sara Jackson Tarr, who died at 88, helped organize two Tampa churches.

By JAY CRIDLIN
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 27, 2002


SARA JACKSON TARR
1914-2002

* * *

DAVIS ISLANDS -- For years, Sara Jackson Tarr would set up folding chairs in her living room, preparing for the hour each week when her home became a church.

Pastors and missionaries made regular stops at the Tarr household on Davis Islands, preaching the gospel to dozens of "parishioners" with no suitable sanctuary to call their own.

Over the years, that changed -- a church building took shape -- and Mrs. Tarr was there to see it happen.

Mrs. Tarr, a founder of both Davis Islands Community Church and Christ Community Church, died Dec. 14 at age 88.

She was proud to be a fifth-generation Tampa resident, despite having been born in Georgia. Her great-great-great-grandparents, Levi and Nancy Collar, were among Tampa's first settlers, and a great-great-grandfather was one of the first doctors at Fort Brooke.

She was set to be born in Tampa, but her mother suddenly went into labor and gave birth while visiting relatives in Bainbridge, Ga.

The young Sara grew up in Hyde Park and was educated at Gorrie Elementary, Wilson Junior High and in 1932, Plant High.

At a dance one night in high school, she met Russell Tarr, the man she would eventually marry.

"He always told me, the minute he saw her, the minute he laid eyes on her . . ." said her daughter, Sara Wilson, voice trailing off.

For decades, Russell Tarr owned and operated Tarr's Interiors, a furniture store on Henderson Boulevard that eventually expanded to several locations.

Russell and Sara played tennis for years -- Russell was a fixture at the Davis Islands tennis courts and a former city champion.

In fact, it was tennis that inadvertently led the couple to their second calling, the ministry. Russell was playing tennis one day when he suffered a life-endangering stroke. He was only 38.

The event shook the couple's outlook on life. Russell, raised Methodist, and Sara, raised Presbyterian, became devout readers of the Bible.

"She found God," Wilson said. "I'll never forget her telling me the grass was greener, the sky was bluer. It just changed their lives."

Sara and Russell began inviting ministers and missionaries to their home, where each week 60 or more friends and neighbors would come to study and listen to sermons.

In the early 1960s, the Tarrs, along with Russell's sister Jane Tarr Smith, watched as a sanctuary was built on Biscayne Avenue on Davis Islands, and the church's membership grew into the hundreds. (Davis Island Baptist Church now stands at that location.)

The Tarrs got so much out of helping found a church that a few years later, they did it again. Sara and Russell were charter members of Christ Community Church on North Himes Avenue, aiding wherever they could with developing the congregation.

"She certainly had a love for the Lord," the Rev. Richard A. Williams, pastor emeritus at Christ Community Church, said of Mrs. Tarr.

The church wasn't Mrs. Tarr's only affinity. She was an active volunteer on several political campaigns in the city, often working for Mayor Sandy Freedman, a fellow Davis Islands resident and tennis aficionado.

But Mrs. Tarr's true passion was family. Asked if her mother had any hobbies, Wilson said, "Her hobby was me."

Shortly after her mother died, Wilson found herself in the back yard, thinking about her parents.

"I know that when my mother entered the gates, my dad was there," she said.

"It was the most glorious sunset I've ever seen in my entire life. The sky turned turquoise, which was my dad and mother's favorite color."

Mrs. Tarr was preceded in death by her husband of 65 years, Russell, in 1996. Her survivors include her daughter, Sara-Jane Wilson and husband Kirby; two grandsons, Kyle and Phillip Wilson; and brother-in-law Stockton Smith, all of Tampa.

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