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By BETSY BOLGER-PAULET
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 15, 2001
Suzanne Miller Lavery, who spent 30 years teaching at Dunedin High School, has died at 55.
She retired in 1998, planning to travel with her husband, Charles H. Lavery. But cancer she had battled since early 1996 returned. On Tuesday (March 13, 2001), she died in her Palm Harbor home.
Mrs. Lavery was brave to the end, according to her family and friends.
"I only saw her cry once in the time I've known her," Charles Lavery said. "That was five years ago, exactly one week after we were married. She came home from the doctor and just broke out in tears."
She had been given a diagnosis of breast cancer.
"But they assured her that after a mastectomy, everything would be fine," recalled her husband.
Shortly afterward, Charles Lavery was told he had lung and bladder cancer that "the doctors called 90 percent fatal," he said.
So, together the newlyweds fought their cancers.
Mrs. Lavery underwent the mastectomy, and her husband's cancer went into remission. After her retirement, the couple planned to enjoy the rest of their days traveling.
But doctors soon discovered that her cancer had spread into her blood. Then it moved to her brain.
"Eight months ago, when they confirmed the brain tumor, they gave her two weeks," Lavery said of his wife. "But she continued to fight."
Lucinda Whitehead, a friend and fellow Pinellas County teacher, last saw Mrs. Lavery three weeks ago, when she stopped in for a visit before going to California. Mrs. Whitehead called her "one of the most determined individuals I have ever known. She did everything in her power to fight the odds."
Mrs. Whitehead met Mrs. Lavery in 1968. "She recently graduated from Michigan State University and had come here to be with her parents in Island Estates," she said.
Mrs. Whitehead remembers the young teacher as "charming, delightful, witty, knowledgeable and involved -- she had a thirst for knowledge. She went to England several times on various study programs and believed that travel was one of the most educational things an individual could do."
Mrs. Lavery became a Dunedin High School teacher ata time that local teachers had gone on strike.
"We often teased that she was a 'scab," said her husband.
"She thought she would be here a short period of time." Mrs. Whitehead added. "But she stayed in the same building and almost the same classrooms. For 30 years. Her life was dedicated to education."
During vacation time, Mrs. Lavery would pursue the kind of personal education that comes from travel.
With her first husband, James Miller, who died in June 1994, she took several trips to Europe. She liked to visit the old houses and castles. They had no children.
It was travel that brought the Laverys together. She turned to Lavery, a fellow member of the Clearwater Evening Lions Club, for help with her mobile home.
After the couple were married Dec. 27, 1995, they traveled all over the country.
"We visited 30 states or more. We also went on flying jaunts and lots of tours," he said.
Besides her husband, survivors include three stepsons, Gerald, Inverness, Thomas, Au Gres, Mich., and Dr. Michael T., Troy, Mich.; a stepdaughter, Cathryn Fox, Adrian, Mich.; a brother, Richard A. Emerick, Savage, Minn.; a nephew, Kyle Emerick, Sausalito, Calif.; and six grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 5 to 8 p.m. today at Curlew Hills Funeral Home, 1717 Curlew Road, Palm Harbor, with funeral services at 2 p.m. Friday at the chapel followed by entombment at Curlew Hills Memory Garden.