Hundreds attend memorial as former Manatee County School Board member Mary Cantrell’s life celebrated. | From the Bradenton Herald

MANATEE — Manatee County educators gathered Saturday to say goodbye to one of their own.

An estimated 200 loved ones and friends gathered in her namesake Cantrell Hall at Manatee Technical College for a celebration of life to honor Mary Cantrell. The Manatee County School Board member, former MTC director and longtime educator died July 12 at age 71 from complications due to bone marrow cancer.

Some of those closest to Cantrell shared memories of the woman they called mother, friend or colleague.

“Many of you know mom as a leader and a mentor, but I knew her as a force,” said daughter, Ashley Tharp.

To know what made her mother a force, it is important to know the challenges she endured, Tharp said.

Cantrell was born in Texas the youngest of four children. Her father had already previously been diagnosed with stage IV cancer.

“When you are born in those circumstances, you know you have a purpose, and for mom that purpose was great,” Tharp said.

By age 5, Cantrell had been left at an orphanage. She said she tried to be the perfect daughter for years in hopes her mother would come for her some day or it would attract prospective parents. Her high school graduation finally gave Cantrell liberation, Tharp said.

The proud daughter went on to say her mother’s life changed when she met her father and they soon married. Her mother had yet to find her own purpose though.

That soon changed. Cantrell’s time at MTC was gold, she said.

“Everybody who worked for her knew: There is no try, there is only do, do what Mary Cantrell says,” Tharp said.

Linda VanOosting, who volunteered alongside Cantrell in the Girl Scouts, thanked her family for sharing “Ms. Mary” with the Girl Scouts.

“We were blessed because of your generosity,” VanOosting said.

VanOosting said Cantrell embodied Girl Scout values with her caring, courageous, strong, responsible and respectful nature.

“She made this world a better place and she was a sister to every Girl Scout. … And what a sister Mary was,” VanOosting said.

Former Osceola County assistant superintendent Roger Dearing shared a lighter moment.

“I chuckled when I saw the program, and it said former boss, because Mary didn’t have any bosses,” Dearing said evoking laughter.

Dearing spoke of Cantrell’s competitive nature, how she loved family and was always trying to bring people together.

“She touched lives,” Dearing said. “She made me a better administrator and I know she made her children better adults.”

Cantrell’s family video montage of her life brought tears, smiles and laughter to those in attendance. Before concluding the celebration, Cantrell’s immediate family embraced on stage.

Her husband, Louis, recalled making a date with Cantrell.

“We were in two different cars, so we’re going someplace and she’s ahead of me and I was just trying to keep up with her, and it’s been that way for 45 years,” he said.

Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

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