BRANDON — Through the early years of their marriage, Lee Novak and her husband, Harold, lived a peripatetic life, staying in one city for a couple of years and then moving on to the next opportunity.
Apparently it suited her husband just fine, but eventually Mrs. Novak had enough.
"She put her foot down," her son, Dave, said. "She said, 'I'm tired of moving, I'm tired of pulling the kids out of school. The next place we go, we're staying there.' "
Dave Novak isn't sure why his parents picked Brandon as their next stop. But they moved there in 1969 and never left.
Mrs. Novak had never had a career of her own, but she began volunteering at Brandon Regional Hospital. She eventually served four one-year terms as president of the hospital auxiliary, which has about 250 members.
"Lee was amazing," said Patricia Montgomery, the hospital's director of public relations, who is the auxiliary's liaison with the hospital staff. "She had such drive. She was extremely energetic, even when she was ill."
Mrs. Novak died April 24 after a long battle with cancer. She was 83. She worked at the hospital five days a week, without pay, until last fall. Her illness and the reaction to her treatment prevented her from being at the hospital quite as much in the last part of her final term as auxiliary president.
"She'd still work from home," her son said. "She had charts for the volunteers on her refrigerator. She never stopped."
Mrs. Novak grew up in Chicago and married her husband not long after he returned from World War II. He owned an appliance store and she worked alongside him as a secretary and a bookkeeper.
It had always been Harold Novak's dream to own a nightclub, so in the 1960s the family moved to the Pensacola area and bought an existing club.
The club thrived for a few years until civil rights laws changed. African-American customers started coming into the club. Mrs. Novak worked there as a waiter and always welcomed the new customers. That didn't sit well with some of the club's longtime patrons. Business dwindled and the club closed.
Meanwhile, the Novaks had adopted three children. They had lived in at least five cities since they married, but because she had kids, Mrs. Novak was determined to stay put.
She loved her roles as a wife, homemaker and mother. After her husband died and her kids were grown she started looking for something to fill her time. Mrs. Novak couldn't sit still.
She started volunteering at the hospital around 1999, in a humble position in the gift shop. She ended up being one of the most hands-on leaders the auxiliary ever had, creating a detailed organization and hierarchy for every auxiliary function.
In her four terms as president, she was known for her long hours and insistence on adhering to rules and procedures. But she was also known for her smile and her sense of humor
"She wanted to make this auxiliary the best it could possibly be," Montgomery said. "She would be very direct, she would look you in the eye and tell you the way it was going to be. But somehow, when she was done, you'd be smiling."
Besides her son Dave, Mrs. Novak is survived by her daughters Denise Brooks and Sandra Novak, seven grandchildren, a brother and a sister.
Marty Clear writes life stories about area residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.