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Mary  Elizabeth (Beth) Harlan
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Obituary for Mary Elizabeth (Beth) Harlan

Mary Elizabeth Harlan, known to friends and family as “Beth”, passed away on April 22, 2017. She was 58 years old.
Beth was born on June 1, 1958 in Winter Haven, Florida to Carla and William H. Harlan III. She was the oldest of three, sister to Ann Foster (husband: John Foster) and William A. Harlan (wife: Barbra Harlan). Beth graduated from Winter Haven High School in 1976. In 1979, she graduated with honors from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Science in Economics. In 1981, she earned her Juris Doctor from the University of Florida’s Law School, once again graduating with honors. Beth was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1982.
Beth began her legal career as a research assistant to the Honorable Stephen Grimes of Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals. In 1983, she became an Assistant Attorney General for the State in the RICO division, and in 1985, she became an Assistant County Attorney for Polk County. From 1998 to 2006, Beth ran her own private practice where she specialized in family law and dependency. She was well known for the care and service she gave to her clients. She worked tirelessly on behalf of women, children, and families to ensure their safety and representation under the law. Her work earned her a Pro Bono Award from the Tenth Judicial Circuit in 2004.
In June 2006, Beth achieved her life time goal by being appointed to the Polk County Court bench. While on the bench she advocated for the Behavioral Health Court, a diversion program to help those with mental illness and drug addiction obtain treatment as an alternative to incarceration. In 2010, she was appointed to the Circuit Court bench, where she faithfully served until 2014. Following her retirement from the bench, she joined the law firm of Brush and Coyle, P.A. She was a firm believer in the judicial system serving the community by providing justice, treatment, and rehabilitation.
Beth met her future husband David J. Houston while they were both attending the University of Florida. Beth quickly became attached to David’s closest friends and they likewise became close to her. Because Beth was the only girl in the group, her constant efforts to keep them in some type of reasonable behavior earned her the nickname “Mama”. It stuck with her for life. She became “Mama”, “Mom”, or “Aunt Beth” not just her friends but also her children, their friends, and countless others. Beth and David were married on August 8, 1981. They had two son’s together, David H. Houston (wife: Heather Houston) in 1987 and A. Clay Houston in 1990. They moved to Lakeland, where they raised their family in a warm and loving home. Beth was consistently active in the community and her in children’s lives. She never shied away from helping those in need.
Beth was a sister of Chi Omega at University of Florida, and remained active within the organization throughout her life. She was a sister of Chapter U, P.E.O. where she served on the social committee. She was a passionate Gators fan, attending the Florida-Georgia game nearly every year. Beth enjoyed reading fiction and could make her way through a novel in little more than one sitting. Beth’s home was open to those of all walks of life. She truly loved a house full people and was a fantastic cook, party planner, and host. Beth avidly planned family trips around the world. She had an adventurer’s spirit that lead her throughout America, Europe, and beyond. She lived to the fullest and made those who knew her aspire to do the same.
Beth is survived by her husband, two sons, parents, and siblings. She is also survived by extended family Joan Brown and Shawn Banerjee, nephews and nieces: Kristen Harlan; William H. Harlan IV and wife Amy; Jennifer Hernandez (née Foster) with husband Victor and son Max; Ashley Foster; Jay Foster and wife Caroline (née Marcum).
Beth will always be remembered for her loving heart and indelible spirit. She never cared where you were from or where you were going as long as you were happy, healthy, and hungry when you came over.
Services in honor of Beth will be held on Saturday April 29th, 2017 in the Sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church, 175 Lake Hollingsworth Dr., Lakeland FL, 33801. Service will begin at 2pm with reception to follow.
In lieu of flowers, Beth’s family has requested that donations be made to
Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma Organization International
P.O. Box 665
Hartsville, SC 29551
Polk County Guardian Ad Litem
Make checks payable to “Speak up for Children”
205 E Main St.
Bartow, FL 338830

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2:00 PM
First Presbyterian Church

175 Lake Hollingsworth Drive
Lakeland, FL 33801


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