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Citrus groves' Paul Bearss dies the day after 60th anniversary

He lived 90 years on land his family, which pioneered citrus growing in Hillsborough County, owned since the 1800s.

By STEPHANIE HAYES
Published September 3, 2006


TAMPA - The cousins from Georgia didn't know about sour oranges. Paul Bearss did.

Marilynn Bearss laughed with a cousin while recalling memories of her father, whose favorite gag was to chomp on a sweet orange in front of unsuspecting family while they bit into sour ones that looked the same.

Mr. Bearss (pronounced "Bierce") was a member of the pioneering Hillsborough citrus growing family for whom Bearss Avenue, one of northwest Hillsborough's main east-west roads, is named. He died of congestive heart failure at home Thursday afternoon. He was 90 years old.

His entire life was spent on the Lake Magdalene property that has been in the Bearss family since the 1800s.

Years ago, Mr. Bearss handed down a 45-acre citrus grove to his son Martin Bearss. But until the end, he stayed close to the grove, having family members drive him around so he could check "every leaf on every tree to make sure everything was the way it should be," Marilynn Bearss said.

Mr. Bearss served on the first State of Florida Citrus Budwood Certification Committee. He was a member of the Hillsborough County Planning Commission when plans for Tampa International Airport were approved.

"He welcomed growth and was very generous in his support of any growth," Marilynn Bearss said.

Mr. Bearss was a lifelong member of Lake Magdalene United Methodist Church on Fletcher Avenue. According to Marilynn Bearss, Mr. Bearss' grandfather was the church's first minister.

On Wednesday, Mr. Bearss celebrated 60 years of marriage to his wife, Mary.

Marilynn Bearss recalled their marriage fondly.

"I can remember sitting in church and glancing over at my parents, and they would be holding hands," she said. "I really think he held on at the end so he would be there for their anniversary."

Visitation for Paul Bearss will be at 3 p.m. today at Blount & Curry's Carrollwood chapel, 3207 W Bearss Ave., followed by a 4 p.m. service at the chapel. The family asks that any donations benefit the building fund at Lake Magdalene United Methodist Church, 2902 W Fletcher Ave.

Staff Writer Bill Coats contributed to this report.