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Memorial heaps praise for a hero

Amid tears of happiness and of sorrow, friends and family of Sherry Brannon praise her as a hero and a loving, caring person.

By LEANORA MINAI

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 15, 2001


Janie Block and Jim Simmons were just cardiac patients a few years ago when Sherry Brannon touched their lives.

She monitored them on the treadmill and helped them fall in love.

So on Wednesday, when a bench and a cardiac rehabilitation department at St. Anthony's Hospital were dedicated in Mrs. Brannon's memory, the lovebirds were among the throngs of people who showed up.

"Sherry got us together," the 82-year-old Mrs. Block announced proudly Wednesday, which, coincidentally, was Valentine's Day. "We've been going together ever since."

Then her thoughts turned to the tragic events of Sept. 16, 1999.

"It's just unbelievable anyone could do anything like that," she said.

Mrs. Brannon, 35, and her two daughters, Shelby, 7, and Cassidy, 4, were stabbed to death in their Bradenton house.

Her estranged husband, Albert "Dewey" Brannon, who was unable to attend Wednesday's dedication, found them. When no one answered the front door, he kicked it open.

Shelby was dead upstairs. Clinging to life, Cassidy was lying next to her mother's body in the foyer. She held up four fingers when paramedics asked her age but died in a medical helicopter en route to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

The accused killer is 46-year-old Larry Parks, a Myakka City landscaper who dug the family's pond. He is charged with three counts of first-degree murder and is awaiting trial in the Manatee County Jail. He will first stand trial on a separate sexual battery charge that put detectives on his trail for the Brannon killings.

On Wednesday, sun drenched the lawn and birds chirped outside St. Anthony's Hospital, where Mrs. Brannon worked for more than 12 years. Her friends did not mince their words.

"They can't burn that dirtbag too fast," Arnie Dickson, 76, said of the accused killer.

Dickson was her patient. She checked his pulse and cholesterol. "We wouldn't miss any memorial for Sherry," he said.

It was hard for many of the more than 100 people who gathered at Wednesday's ceremony to talk about Mrs. Brannon without choking up. Mildred Quintin, a 78-year-old hospital volunteer, sat under an oak tree before the memorial began. She put her hand on her chest and closed her eyes.

"I fill up every time I think about her," she said, starting to cry. Mrs. Quintin took a deep breath. "She had a very sparkling personality."

A rose granite bench, inscribed with hearts and the names of Mrs. Brannon and her daughters, served as the backdrop for the people who spoke outside the east entrance of the hospital. The bench will remain.

As two women sang and strummed a mandolin and guitar, Mrs. Brannon's twin sister, Mary-Ann Ruth Nevitt, and two hospital co-workers, Debra Feher and Barbara Emmert, each placed a rose on the stone bench.

A framed poster, part of an old advertising campaign for national nurses week, stood nearby. It read: "Who Says There Aren't Any Heros In the White Collar World?" The woman in the picture is Mrs. Brannon.

Her parents, Robert and Darlene Meyer, held hands and wiped tears. They walked together to the lectern. Her father said it is impossible, in only a few minutes, to say how proud he is of his daughter and how much he misses her.

Punctuated by sobs, he read a poem.

"When death comes, it doesn't ask your age," Meyer said. His daughter and granddaughters are "angels among us. They are heroes with wings," he said, crying.

Meyer thanked the guests, and they moved inside to the cardiac rehabilitation unit where his daughter worked her magic, healing hearts and spirits.

That is where Mrs. Brannon introduced two of her patients, Mrs. Block and Simmons, 72, to each other. The couple, whose spouses died before they met, stood inside the rehab room and recalled how she encouraged their romance.

Mrs. Brannon convinced Simmons to ask her out. Their first date was dinner at Backfin Blue Cafe in Gulfport. Next came Carrabba's, then the Colonnade in Tampa. Before they knew it, they were going on cruises.

Just before the murders, they invited Mrs. Brannon to dinner. But they never got to go.

"It all ended," Mrs. Block said. "They were all such sweet girls."

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