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Her legacy is visible from sofas, settees

By Marty Clear Times Correspondent
Published October 19, 2007

PALMA CEIA - Virginia Lister Dittrick grew up with her family's business, a furniture store on the fringes of the Tampa suburbs.

Lister's Furniture stood on Florida Avenue, just south of what is now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Tampa Heights, for almost 60 years.

"It opened around 1923 or 1925, and it was the first suburban furniture store in Tampa," said her son, Jimmy Watson. "Next door there was a place that raised chickens and hatched eggs."

Mrs. Dittrick was well-known in old Tampa as the store's saleswoman and interior decorator. She offered her design expertise to Lister's customers for many years and had a hand in designing countless homes in central and South Tampa.

She died suddenly of a heart attack on Oct. 12. She was 89.

"She was quite a decorator," her son said. "But people didn't pay her to be a decorator. She decorated because they came to Lister's to buy furniture, and she was their saleswoman."

Mrs. Dittrick was a woman of almost boundless energy, even in her later years.

"She didn't believe in sitting," said her daughter, Barbara Walker.

She was also known for speaking her mind on any topic.

Walker recalled accompanying Mrs. Dittrick to a customer's home, where she was to redecorate one room.

"My mother walked in and said, 'Oh, you're right, this room is horrible. It's so tacky,'" Walker remembered.

"This isn't the room I wanted you to redecorate," the crestfallen customer replied.

Mrs. Dittrick moved to Tampa with her family when she was 3. They settled in Seminole Heights and opened Lister's Furniture a couple of years later.

She graduated from Hillsborough High School and went to Florida State College for Women for a short time.

"She didn't like it there because it was all women," her daughter said. "So she went to Auburn."

There, she met her first husband, James Watson. They married, he went off to war and she returned to Tampa, where she began her career as a saleswoman and decorator.

Her father died in 1942, so she and her mother ran the store by themselves for several years.

"There weren't many women running businesses in those days," her daughter said. "They had to deal with a lot of men who weren't very nice to women."

After her first husband returned from the war, the couple settled in South Tampa, where they raised their two children.

"My friends always came to my house because she was the cool mom," Walker said. "In the '50s, she was the only mom who liked Elvis and learned to do the twist."

She and Watson divorced in the 1950s. She remarried a few years later, but that marriage also ended in divorce after about seven years.

Lister's closed in the early 1980s, and Mrs. Dittrick continued to decorate for private clients.

When she wasn't working, she still kept busy. She read several books a week and gardened tirelessly, even in the midsummer heat. Her energy and her independent spirit never abandoned her, even as she approached her 90th birthday. She still lived by herself and maintained an active schedule shortly before her death.

Besides her son and daughter, Mrs. Dittrick is survived by four grandchildren and a brother.

[Last modified October 18, 2007, 06:45:29]

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