A few minutes before sunrise, on Thursday, January 5, 2012, Frances Doris Purcell Heath passed away. She had lived a long life, having been born August 19, 1917, in Ellisville, Mississippi, the sixth of the seven children given to the Reverend James Slicer Purcell and Leslie May Harper Purcell.
Following Rev. Purcell through his ministerial posts, the family moved to Florida when Doris was ten, taking up residence in Plant City, Tampa, Sarasota and finally Dade City. Doris graduated Pasco County High School, and in 1939, she earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Florida Southern College, where she was a member of Delta Zeta sorority.
After graduation, she took her first teaching post at Lakeland Senior High School. With the onset of the Second World War she moved to Tallahassee where she served in the State Department of Education as an assistant consultant in narcotics and health education. In a few years, she resumed teaching at schools in Fernandina Beach and Seville. During the war she kept a correspondence with Foster E. Heath, a young man, originally from Fort Meade, whom she had met in the late thirties, and who now served in the US Army Air Corps in England. In July 1946, just over a year after the war ended, Doris and Foster married at College Heights Methodist Church. They settled in St. Petersburg and then moved a year later to Lakeland, where Doris served as an assistant librarian at Florida Southern College. In the late 1950s, Doris and Foster had two children, Caroline Reece and Foster Eugene, Jr.
In 1959, Doris and Foster opened the Heath Funeral Chapel. Her work, guidance, and encouragement proved pivotal: The family business was, indeed, a family endeavor. Doris returned to the classroom in 1965, teaching English and serving as part-time librarian at Cleveland Court Elementary. She subsequently assumed full responsibility as librarian and later media specialist at Cleveland Court, never missing a day of work until her retirement in 1985.
For over sixty-two years, Doris was an active and committed member of College Heights United Methodist Church. She served as Sunday school teacher, head of the children’s division, and church librarian for many years. She participated regularly in the Women’s Society of Christian Service (WSCS).
Doris dedicated her life to her family and to education. She had a knack for recalling salient lines from works of literature, and she urged her students to read good books. Always conscientious in her library book selections and in her classroom presentations, she would extend particular encouragement to those students whose home life may have been less than favorable. Doris will be remembered as a loving and caring wife, mother, and grandmother. She was a woman of a strong but quiet faith that manifest itself in deed, as well as word. Over the last two decades, although she struggled with dementia, her goodness was never extinguished. Almost to the end she could express recognition of her loved ones. And it was not so long ago that her voice could be heard singing to the sounds of her favorite hymns that she once played on the piano.
Doris outlived all of her brothers and sisters: Wilbur Hallam Purcell, May Maxine Purcell Bennett, James Slicer Purcell, Jr., Miriam Olivia Purcell Anderson, Ralph Elliott Purcell, and Leslie Harper Purcell. She is survived by her loving and devoted husband, Foster Heath, with whom she shared sixty-five years of marriage, and by her children, Caroline Heath Schichtel (Bill) of Lakeland, Florida, and F. Eugene Heath (Reva Wolf) of New Paltz, New York, along with four grandchildren, Matthew, Katherine, Leslie, and Olivia Schichtel, and many nieces, nephews, and great nieces and nephews.
The family wishes to express their gratitude to the women who, in these last years, were not only wonderful caregivers but Doris’s special friends: Ida Armogum, Rita Butler, Kathy Dees, Gloria Etienne, Virginia Frame, Rosa Morgan, and Dena White. In addition, the family wishes to thank Good Shepherd Hospice, in particular, the Lavender, Rose, and Daisy teams.
Friends and family may call at the Tribute Center, Heath Funeral Chapel, Sunday, January 8, from 3:00 to 5:00 P.M. A funeral service will be held at College Heights United Methodist Church on Monday, January 9, 11:00 A.M., followed by a committal service at Oak Hill Burial Park.
Memorial gifts may be made to the Leslie Harper Purcell Scholarship Fund at Florida Southern College (111 Lake Hollingsworth Dr., Lakeland, 33801) or to VISTE of Lakeland (1232 E. Magnolia, Lakeland, 33801) or to Good Shepherd Hospice (105 Arneson Avenue, Auburndale, Fl 33823).