Teacher, horse-lover and fixer of all things broken, Bonnie Lynn "Otter" Blossom left this life on Saturday, May 18, the same way she lived it -- on her own terms. She was five days past her 54th birthday.
In classic Bonnie fashion, she fulfilled her final wish. She died after a bout with pneumonia – keeping her promise to make certain that her battle with metastatic breast cancer did not cause her passing.
Bonnie leaves behind her chosen family who love her beyond words and will now have to look to the sky at night and see her in the stars.
Our comfort is that she has joined her beloved Beth, her grandfather -- who taught her everything she knew about fixing anything -- and her Punky girl, who along with the many other friends she lost in this life both human and furry, were there to welcome her to the other side.
She is survived by her younger sister Betsy, with whom she had a special bond, and her cousin Angela and Uncle Skip, who supported and encouraged her in this life. In addition, she is survived by her family of the heart: Heather, her caring friend and an emergency room nurse at Citrus Memorial who helped her with the heavy burden of health care decisions during her long and final battles; Heather’s sons, Logan and Mike, whom Bonnie loved as if they were her own; Sylvie and Guy, who made certain she always had a home as she struggled with her sickness; Peggy and the team at Main Street Eatery in Brooksville, who were backbone of "Team Bonnie" and who wore their "Team Bonnie" T-shirts on Monday to honor her memory; Zahria and her sister, whose accomplishments Bonnie bragged about to anyone who would listen; her high school friends, including Rayanne and Lisa, who have supported her from afar; And her oldest friend Marisa, who bonded with Bonnie years ago over their shared love of poetry, beaches and Florida and is only writing this obituary because Bonnie isn’t around to do it herself.
In addition to that long, incomplete list of loved ones, Bonnie is also survived by her furry children: Mija, her American Bulldog, who was often seen riding shotgun in her Jeep; and Edna, Zorro and Ginger, who kept her home filled with kitty wrestling and late night cuddles. (They will all go to loving homes.)
Bonnie was born with an innate connection to anything with fur or hooves, particularly if it had had a tough time at some point in its life and needed a little extra attention to trust and open its heart again. No matter where she lived, her home was always filled with furry friends like Mija, who was adopted as puppy after a roadside stop in which Bonnie discovered Mija’s owners planned to use her for illegal dog fighting. Bonnie gave them all the cash in her wallet and left with her new dog.
Bonnie had an affinity for children and young people, especially those who might not have fit in with the rest of the crowd. She had a way of making anyone who felt a little different feel right at home with her. She reminded them that being unique and being true to that uniqueness was something to be celebrated in a world where it’s always easier to follow the pack.
Bonnie was a bit of a rebel. Okay. Skip “the bit” part. She set the stage for that choice early in life. Once in high school, she walked into an English class late and accidentally slammed the door. When the teacher told her to go out and return when she could shut the door quietly, Bonnie left the room and didn’t come back that day. This was classic Bonnie. After spending her early years trying to fit into society’s boundaries, she made a conscious decision to eschew the conventional and live her life on her own terms. She had no patience for anything less.
Bonnie’s own circuitous life path made her share her authentic self and her truth with anyone who needed to hear it, even if they didn’t ask for it. After graduating in 1983 from John I. Leonard High in Lake Worth, Fla., Bonnie briefly attended Bible college, but struggled to fit in because of her personal identity. She eventually left, taking various jobs until she realized she wanted to be a teacher. She returned to school, graduating from Hillsborough Community College with an associate’s degree in 1995 and a bachelor’s degree in 1997 from the University of South Florida. In 2008, she received her master’s degree in American Literature after finishing her thesis, which was based on one of her favorite childhood books: “The Rhetoric of Protest: “Black Beauty” and the Slave Narratives.”
She was an instructor at Hillsborough Community College, Pasco-Hernando Community College and the University of South Florida. Bonnie was always reading something and surrounded herself with books that made her think and grow. On a bookshelf at home, she framed a quote from Erasmus: “When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.” It was in her teaching role that Bonnie found a way to share her love for reading and writing and learning. In an evaluation from 2009, one of her students wrote: “Ms. B is a hard but honest teacher. I cannot explain how much I love her class. She has made school fun again. I wish I could have her teach me every subject until I graduated. I think Ms. B sets a high standard for teachers, and I think a lot of teachers could learn her useful ways to make their classes more enjoyable.”
Another wrote, “Ms. B expects students to take the class and her instruction seriously, but she leaves room for a relaxed learning experience and promotes open sharing of ideas and class discussions related to the topics. She doesn’t make students feel like they are merely being lectured, but rather they are included in a larger conversation.”
Aside from her love for teaching, Bonnie had a penchant for wide open spaces and long stretches of highway that allowed her to ride with the sun on her back and the wind in her hair. As a teen, she was often seen riding her horse, Pepper, along the dusty dirt roads near her South Florida home. Later in life she moved onto motorcycles, which she often rode to work and back, rain be damned. All of this led to her love for bandanas, which she collected in every color and style.
Bonnie had several nicknames. Those who knew her as a child called her “Flower,” a reference to her last name, though she loved digging around in the dirt and turning her backyards into places of respite. Before email and social media, when people wrote letters, Bonnie often signed her letters with a drawing of a flower. Later in life she took on the moniker “Otter,” because the spirit of the animal represented her inner child. She believed in following her heart and celebrating simple pleasures. Friends would buy her all things otter, contributing to a large collection of otter paraphernalia that she toted with her from home to home along with her collection of horse figurines.
Bonnie loved bonfires with friends, weekends at the beach, visiting her second home on Buckroe in Virginia, an occasional pipe or cigar and making people laugh. She sometimes forced you to go outside and look at the stars to remind you of what was important in life. If she were a character in a children’s book, she would have been Peter Pan. “Even though you want to, just try to never grow up,” he said.
She kept that philosophy even when she experienced great sadness in her life, as when she lost her beloved Beth. She found great hope and joy as a volunteer at Beauty’s Haven Equine Rescue, a non-profit dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating abused or neglected horses. The rescue, located near Ocala, was home to one of Bonnie’s living spirit animal, Magic, an abused horse that most volunteers weren’t allowed to handle. Bonnie was an exception. From the moment they met, the horse allowed Bonnie to care for her in a way that others couldn’t. Bonnie considered it a privilege and an honor. During her illness, she tried to visit the rescue as often as she could to see her Magic. She said the rescue made her feel at peace.
Bonnie loved to eat. She could always be counted on for an evening of sushi, egg-drop soup, Peggy’s flan or anything Marisa’s mom cooked. As a child, she was often invited to the Porto home for dinner because despite the fact that she was small and skinny, "That girl can eat!" Mrs. Porto would say. Bonnie also could hold more than her share of grappa for someone who had to buy her shoes in the children’s section.
Bonnie was a lover of words and books and sentences strung together to tell stories that made you think about what you believed in. And she would have hated that that last sentence ended in a preposition and this one began with an and and that none of them have commas because it's a run-on sentence and it's poor grammar after all. (Feel free to honor her memory by looking up punctuation rules so you could red line that sentence for her.) For a time, she worked at the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla., as a night copy editor, cleaning up the grammar and spelling errors for the community’s journalists. One of her favorite t-shirts read: “Let’s eat grandma. Let’s eat, grandma. Punctuation saves lives.”
Everyone who knew Bonnie knew she loved music, almost as much as she loved life. While she hated singing it, she had been called on several times to sing the "Ave Maria" at a wedding or two and, while she didn’t think so, the rest of the guests thought she was amazing. She was the music minister at Suncoast Cathedral, MCC in Venice, Fl., for a time. She couldn't get through a day without listening to her favorite artist, Amy Grant, who she was able to see in concert and meet in person several years ago when her friend Tommy arranged it. Her other obsessions were Bette Midler and Julie Andrews. If the Sound of Music was on TV, all bets were off for the night until it was over. She was looking forward to joining her friends Melinda and Yolanda, who bought her tickets to see Julie Andrews later this year.
Though we wish she had stayed with us longer, we are grateful for Bonnie’s presence in our world.Arrangements were made through McGan Cremation of Inverness.
Please join us Thursday, May 23, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Main Street Eatery in Brooksville, Fl., 101 N. Main St., to celebrate her life. We ask you to channel your inner otter and bring an open heart and happy memories to share.
Speakers begin at 6:30 p.m.
Non-alcoholic refreshments and a bit of food will be served, courtesy of her friends at the restaurant. A memorial and dedication in her honor is being planned for later this summer at Beauty’s Haven. Details will follow on social media in a few weeks. We ask that you consider a Go Fund Me donation at this link https://www.gofundme.com/in-loving-memory-of-bonnie-blossom to help with Bonnie’s arrangements and establish a memorial and donation to the rescue in her name.
If none of those are possible, we ask that you honor her memory with a walk on a beach or a hike in the woods.
While Bonnie was a believer, she had more meaningful talks with God when she wasn’t confined to a building and was, instead, celebrating the beauty of nature. Remember her through the words of a poem she wrote in the ninth grade: “There’s another world where I go when I’m tired…birds sing undisturbed…the breeze blows through the scrub pine…an occasional turtle suns itself on a fallen Cypress…this is how I picture heaven.”
If that doesn’t work for you, then gather with friends who knew her and those who didn’t -- she made new friends easily -- and tell stories about her and raise a glass. Since she’ll be listening from afar, we have one last request: Whatever you do, make certain the stories would make her laugh.