Velma Newsome, who for years worked quietly behind the scenes at Florida Strawberry Festival, died Monday following a long illness. She was 68.
Newsome died at home surrounded by the family she cherished. She was a strong Christian but suffered in her final days and was ready to go, said her husband, Joe.
"We are all at peace because we know she's in a better place," said Newsome, a former Strawberry Festival president and Hillsborough County School Board member for 24 years.
While Joe had a high profile around town, his wife of 49 years was content to work quietly behind the scenes. She loved the festival and held such volunteer roles as chaperoning the strawberry festival queen. She also worked backstage making sure country music stars who performed at the festival felt welcome, he said.
Joe Newsome, the festival's longtime entertainment chairman, said it was his wife who convinced him to sign a deal for an appearance by Garth Brooks, who at the time was just launching his career.
Today, everyone at the festival is mourning her loss, said General Manager Paul Davis.
"Not only will she be missed by her festival family, she will be missed by the entire community. She was a very special lady," Davis said.
Joe Newsome said his wife hadn't been active for five to 10 years, as she suffered from problems such as lung ailments. He described her as the family matriarch who most missed not being able to attend events with her grandchildren as her illness progressed.
"She wanted nothing more than to be a good mother, good grandmother and a good wife," he said.
She loved playing music and for years was the pianist at Bethany Baptist Church, a role she gave up in later years when she joined Plant City's First Baptist Church.
Funeral services will be 7 p.m. Thursday at First Baptist, 503 N. Palmer St. Her family will receive friends at the church starting at 5 p.m.
Besides her husband, she was survived by children Dee Parker and her husband Kenneth, Katie Varnum and her husband Scott, and Dr. Dennis Newsome and his wife Melissa; sisters Marvella Harrell, Dell Ritter and Joann Woods; and eight grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Steppin' Stone Farm, 8421 Pritcher Road, Lithia, FL 33547; or LifePath Hospice, 12973 Telecom Parkway, Suite 100, Temple Terrace, FL 33637.