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    Only memories remain

    There is no evidence of foul play in the death of Janet Gifford-Meyers.

    [Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
    Steve Meyers is overwhelmed after answering questions at a news conference on the porch of his house in Safety Harbor. His baby daughter sleeps in his arms.

    By MONIQUE FIELDS and TAMARA LUSH

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 19, 2001


    A day after authorities found the body of Janet Gifford-Meyers in a Pasco County park, her memory permeated every corner of her Safety Harbor home.

    She had chosen the dark wood furniture, hung the decorative tropical fish in the kitchen and selected the royal blue cabinet fixtures.

    "I can see myself in time coming to value all these memories," her husband, Steve Meyers, said Wednesday. "Right now, they're painful."

    An autopsy Wednesday did not immediately identify the cause of her death, but foul play is not suspected, Pasco sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said.

    photo
    [Special to the Times]
    Janet Gifford-Meyers, holding newborn Rebekah, suffered from postpartum depression.
    There was no evidence of trauma to her body, he said. Gifford-Meyers was being treated for severe postpartum depression before she disappeared Friday, but Doll declined to say whether authorities suspect suicide.

    Medical examiners are testing Gifford-Meyers' blood to determine whether she ingested any lethal substances. Results of those tests, which aren't expected for several weeks, likely will determine the cause of death, Doll said.

    Meyers, an oceanographic research specialist at the University of South Florida, wouldn't speculate about what happened. But he said his wife died a lonely death.

    "Even if it was suicide, it wasn't the real Janet," he said. "It was the disease."

    The 41-year-old woman gave birth to her second child, a baby girl named Rebekah, on March 26 but withdrew from her shortly after delivery, Meyers said. She admitted herself into Mease Countryside Hospital for treatment of depression and appeared better when she emerged four days later, he said.

    "She made good improvement in the hospital, to my untrained eye," he said. "I wish that the hospital had erred on the side of caution and kept her maybe another day, maybe another week."

    But Friday night, hours after Gifford-Meyers missed an appointment for therapy at Morton Plant Mease Health Care in Clearwater, authorities found her Nissan Pathfinder at J.B. Starkey Wilderness Park.

    On Tuesday evening, Pasco authorities identified a body found in the wilderness park as Gifford-Meyers.

    Medical examiners couldn't pinpoint the exact time or cause of death because the body had been exposed to the elements for about four days, officials said. Gifford-Meyers died sometime Friday night or early Saturday morning, authorities believe.

    Meyers said he will remember his wife, who was on leave from her job as a senior manager for the Pinellas County Economic Development Department, as a woman who was always outgoing, friendly, dynamic.

    Myrtle Smith-Carroll, a former Democratic state and national committeewoman, said Gifford had been active in Democratic circles for years, working on women's causes and presidential elections.

    "She was dynamite," said Smith-Carroll of St. Petersburg. "She grabbed onto something with her teeth and she didn't let go."

    Smith-Carroll said she knew that Gifford had been depressed off and on over the years, leaving home six years ago during a bout with depression. "She was such a dynamic woman that when she went into a depression, it was very evident," Smith-Carroll said.

    At Gifford-Meyers' home Wednesday, the mirrors were covered with white sheets, pictures of her removed from view. Meyers, who is Jewish, said the death of a family member is a time for introspection. As he talked somberly, his son, Robby, 2, sipped juice and watched a Teletubbies video.

    Meyers said he wanted to recapture the five hours that lapsed between his wife's missed therapy appointment and the hour the hospital notified him she hadn't arrived.

    "Maybe, and it's speculation, if we had those five hours, we could have found her in time and stopped her," he said.

    Meyers said one day he will have to answer his children's questions about their mother's death. He intends to write the events of the past few months in a notebook. When they are old enough, he will let them read the words he has written.

    "I have two very good reasons to continue and stay determined and strong," he said. "I will do everything I can to properly care for my children, provide for their future."

    - Times staff writer Alicia Caldwell contributed to this report.

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