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Debra Sue Starr

Debra Sue Starr, 63, died from colon cancer at her Palmetto, FL home on May 8, 2023.

She is survived by her husband, Hans; her sons, Jake, Brenden and Zach; their partners, Krista, Claire and Caro; her granddaughter, Abigail; her stepchildren, Annelise and Lex; her step-grandchildren, Autumn and Scarlet; and her siblings, Judith and Richard.

Debra was born on May 22, 1959, in Chelsea, MA, the middle child of a military family. She attended Virginia Tech and graduated with a business degree in 1981, marrying shortly afterward. Her then-husband s job took them all over the country and she had three sons in three different states. Through these years, she focused on raising her boys and volunteering at their schools. When Debra moved to Florida in 2003, she would find the two cornerstones of her life: animal rescue and Hans van der Kolk, her partner of 16 years and eventual husband. Debra and Hans met in 2006 and quickly realized they were a perfect match, both zigging when others zagged. They traveled the world together and designed their dream house on the Manatee River. Debra and Hans married on January 19, 2023, in an intimate ceremony surrounded by their closest friends at the Palmetto Riverside Bed and Breakfast.

Debra gave generously of her time to volunteer with Manatee County Animal Welfare and fostered countless cats and dogs. She tirelessly advocated spay and neuter policies and Manatee County s No Kill policy. For her tireless support of animal welfare, Debra received the Manatee County Animal Welfare 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award. After being diagnosed with colon cancer, Debra focused on living in the present and celebrating what life still had to offer. She welcomed her first grandchild, Abigail into the world and found great delight in her over the next year. Debra remained the rock for her children and their partners, kept up her rescue work, and made time for family and friends.

Debra loved to write and began a journal about her experience living with cancer. She shared her work with the people at the cancer center where she was being treated and they were so impressed that they asked her to put it online so other patients could access it. Thus ""Dying with Debra (hopefully a long-running series)"" was born, a title reflecting the Starr family's dark sense of humor (https://dyingwithdebra.com/). One of the quotes she shared is a good description of her achievement: ""One day, you will tell your story of how you ve overcome what you re going through now and it will become part of someone else s survival guide."" Debra s blog certainly has.

Before passing, her entire family gathered around her; everyone reviewed pictures and shared memories, laughed and cried. Debra died five days later.

A Celebration of Life will be held later this summer. Brown & Sons Funeral Homes & Crematory 43rd Street Chapel is in charge of the arrangements.

Condolences may be made to www.brownandsonsfuneral.com.