SOUTH PORTLAND – Joyce Starr enjoyed hosting gatherings to celebrate life’s variety of events — birthdays, graduations, bridal showers, baby showers — for members of her family.

One of the most memorable was the surprise baby shower that she and her daughter Carole Starr had for her other daughter, Mary Durdag.

“We had so much fun working on the surprise aspect of it,” Carole Starr said. “My sister was shocked. She had no idea.”

And when Mrs. Starr turned 69, her family paid her back with a surprise birthday party during a family vacation in Florida. Her daughters and her husband, Donald Starr, coordinated with the hotel manager to have a private room and dinner, complete with a special birthday cake.

“She kept wondering why Dad and I kept sneaking off,” Carole Starr said, for meetings with the maitre d’ to arrange the event.

“It was a really special night,” she said.

Mrs. Starr died Sunday. She was 70.

Mrs. Starr and her husband, originally from the Rockland-Rockport area, maintained their roots there with a family trip every August. It’s a tradition that has bonded the family, which includes Mary Durdag’s husband, Kerem, and their children, Kemal, 10, Sofia, 7, and Lila, 5.

“That’s a special area to us because Mom and Dad grew up there,” Carole Starr said. “Mom’s family had been in that area since the 1700s.”

She said Monday that the family will continue the tradition this year. “(Mrs. Starr) would want us to do that.”

Mrs. Starr earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and English from Gorham State Teachers College in 1962, and spent many years teaching in Warren and South Portland.

“She used to do baton twirling when she was in high school,” Carole Starr said, and she started teaching a group of young girls how to twirl.

“She realized two things: She liked kids, and she liked teaching (them),” so she decided to pursue that as her career, her daughter said.

Until just a few years ago, Mrs. Starr had never explained why she became a teacher. Carole Starr said she was happy that her mother finally did. Today, she and her sister have their mother’s love of teaching.

Carole Starr works with people who have brain injuries, and Mary Durdag coaches swimmers.

Mrs. Starr tried to impart her eye for garden design when Carole Starr started a garden. Donald Starr said his wife had an eye for which plants looked right next to each other and how to lay out flower gardens.

“Every year, she’d say, ‘This is it,’” vowing not to expand the gardens any more, he said, but every year, she would.

They spent full days at greenhouses, picking out plants, said her daughter, who contends that her parents have the best garden in town.

“We’ve had people stop and ask for tours,” Donald Starr said.

Whenever her grandchildren visited, Mrs. Starr enjoyed their company greatly. The sunroom that she and her husband added to their home was turned into a playroom for when the grandchildren visited.

But it wasn’t the toys that Kemal, Sofia and Lila looked forward to most. It was the desserts.

“They’d all say, ‘Nannie, do you have something special for us?’” Carole Starr said. “And she always did.”


Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: [email protected]