Paula Porcher Criser, 83, passed away peacefully on Nov. 12, 2019 at her home in Gainesville, Fla., surrounded by the love of her life, her husband of 62 years, Marshall McAllister Criser Jr.; and her two daughters. She was predeceased by her parents, Harry T. and Grace C. Porcher; and her second son, Edward H. Criser.
She is survived by her husband, Marshall, and five of their six children (and spouses), Marshall M. Criser III (Kimberly), Mary C. Loveland, Glenn L. Criser (Michele), Mark J. Criser (Heather), and Kimberly P. Criser. She is also survived by her 14 grandchildren, Christina Criser Jackson, Sarah Criser Elwell, Callie Criser Hugo, Megan Criser, Grace Loveland, Ashley Criser, Mark Loveland, Lauren Criser Noel, Matthew Criser, Anne Marshall Criser, Caroline Criser, Jake Criser, Dean Criser and Hyatt Criser; her five great-grandchildren, Colbie Rose Steward, Hayden Steward, Roman Steward, Maggie Grace Elwell and Marshall Beau Hugo; as well as her brother, Harry T. Porcher (Barbara); and sister, Grace Eloise Porcher Davis.
Paula Porcher Criser was born in West Palm Beach, Fla. on June 13, 1936. She was the youngest of three siblings.
She graduated from Palm Beach High School in 1954, where she was involved in the Spanish and Drama clubs, was in a high school sorority, and played bass trombone in the school band. Starting at age 8, she also learned to play the piano, a talent and passion that she maintained throughout her life. After high school, she attended the University of Florida for two years and worked as a fashion model in Palm Beach County.
As a model, her ads appeared in Life, Saturday Evening Post, T.V. Guide and Gentlemen’s Quarterly magazines. She turned down a chance to go to New York City to do more modeling because she never considered it as a career. Her career dream was to be a loving wife and mother, and eventually grandmother and great-grandmother, which is exactly what she would go on to do.
In 1957, Paula and Marshall Criser were married in Palm Beach County, where they resided for many years and raised their six children. In addition to being a devoted wife and mother, Paula Criser also volunteered her time in the community through her membership in the Junior League of the Palm Beaches Inc. from 1960 to 1984, where she served as president from 1976 to 1977. She also dedicated time to several directorships in the Palm Beaches, including the Y.W.C.A., the Science Museum and Planetarium, and the North Palm Beach Chapter of American Field Services, where she also served as president in 1981.
In 1984, Marshall Criser became the eighth president of the University of Florida, and Paula and Marshall moved to Gainesville with their two youngest children, who were in high school at the time. While in Gainesville, Paula Criser fulfilled her many commitments as the First Lady of the University of Florida and continued her active involvement in the community. She was a director of the Florida National Bank, Gainesville (1986-1989); the Florida Arts Celebration (1984-1989), president (1988-1989); and the American Cancer Society (1988-1989). She was also a member of Leadership Gainesville XII (1984-1985); the Gainesville Police Department Advisory Commission (1985-1989), chairman (1986-1989); the United Way (1985-1987); Junior League of Gainesville (1984-1989); Gainesville Women’s Network (1986-1989); and the Saint Francis House Inc. Council of Trustees (1988-1989).
During her time as First Lady, Paula Criser was also actively involved in a number of university-related boards and committees, such as the University Gallery Guild, Friends of Music, University Women’s Club, and the Harn Museum Capital Campaign Committee. Other than her roles as wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, there are few things she cherished more than her role as First Lady of the University of Florida. When Marshall and Paula Criser retired from the University of Florida in 1989, Paula was quoted as saying: “The one thing I will really miss is being so involved in and responsible for hospitality here at the University of Florida.” Whether it was hosting small family gatherings and holidays or hundreds of university guests at the president’s home, Paula Criser loved being a gracious and welcoming host.
After retiring from the University of Florida, Paula and Marshall Criser moved to Jacksonville, Fla., where Marshall returned to the practice of law, and Paula continued her commitment to community service. Paula Criser served on the Jacksonville Symphony Board of Directors (1992-1999); the Baptist Medical Center Foundation for Healthcare Inc. Board of Trustees (1990-1993); and the New Children’s Hospital Steering Committee (1989-1991). She was also the director of the Baptist Medical Center in Jacksonville from 1994 to 2000.
In 2004, Marshall Criser retired from the practice of law and Marshall and Paula returned to the city that always held a special place in their hearts -- Gainesville, Fla. In Gainesville, Paula served on the board of directors of Oak Hammock as a founding member. Paula and Marshall have also been residents of Oak Hammock since 2004.
In the many homes that Paula and Marshall created together, the sound of her music was frequently heard. Whether listening to her CDs, playing her piano, humming a melody, or whistling a tune, Paula Criser loved being around and creating music. Of her many musical talents, she was an amazing whistler, and had the ability to precisely mimic songbirds that would visit the numerous bird feeders that always adorned her gardens. A lover of nature, she was also a skilled gardener and photographer. In addition to photographing nature subjects, she spent countless hours chronicling her life with Marshall, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Her numerous family albums brought Paula great joy and culminated in her presentation of personalized family photo albums to each of her children as Christmas presents in 2004. These albums tell the life story of each child, and are cherished reminders of the life, family and home that Paula and Marshall built together.
Paula Criser was also an avid reader and movie buff. It did not matter if it was an old classic or new edition; she loved being whisked away by these stories, tales and adventures.
She was also a marvelous cook and took great pride in preparing full course meals for her family and friends.
Of her many loves, one of the greatest was her beloved dog Lola. Affectionately referred to as the “Seventh Criser Child,” Lola brought many happy moments to Paula and Marshall during their time at Oak Hammock and their summer home in Cashiers.
Of all the great examples that Paula Criser set for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the greatest may be her love of God and enduring faith. She was always actively involved in the churches she belonged to (North Palm Beach Presbyterian, Trinity United Methodist Church of Gainesville, and since 2004, the First Presbyterian Church of Gainesville) and cherished the time she spent attending services and participating in the choir or music ensembles. As a devoted Christian, her dedication to God was always evident in her words and actions. She always knew that God had a plan for her, and firmly believed that God would provide the strength and comfort she needed to survive all of life’s challenges.
This belief was put to the test from time to time during her long and wonderful life, and she never once wavered in her faith and the existence of God’s strength and love in her life was always evident. Her family will forever miss her love, her strength, and the sounds of her song and laughter, but they are comforted in knowing that she is at peace in Heaven watching over the loving family that she devoted her life to and so deeply adored.
The family will honor Paula Criser’s life at a service at First Presbyterian Church of Gainesville, 106 Southwest 3rd St., Gainesville, FL 32601, on Sunday, Nov. 24 at 2 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Paula Criser’s memory to the UF Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases, P.O. 100243, Gainesville, FL 32610 or online at https://fixel.ufhealth.org/. Please visit her memorial page at www.williamsthomasfuneralhome.com.
For further information, call Williams-Thomas Downtown at 352-376-7556.