Julia Greene decided to go to college, eventually earning a master's of public administration, while living as a full-time mom.
And after starting as a bookkeeper at the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, she worked her way up to become the first female executive director of the agency that oversees growth and transportation planning in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Manatee counties .
That type of pioneering and determination defined Greene, said her daughter, Wren Krahl.
"If you had to encapsulate her in one way, she was ahead of her time," said current council executive director Manny Pumariega.
Mrs. Greene died Saturday at Suncoast Hospice House Bayfront after a four-year battle with colon cancer. She was 74.
The day after her 18th birthday, she eloped with her husband after being accepted into a nursing program that her daughter said didn't allow women to be married. Their 57th wedding anniversary would have been June 15, her 75th birthday the day before.
When her two children had reached high school age, Mrs. Greene enrolled in Eckerd College and earned a bachelor's degree. She then pursued a master's degree.
She started working at the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council in the late 1970s as a bookkeeper. Later, she would become director of the Area Agency on Aging before returning to the council as executive director in 1986.
Her daughter said Mrs. Greene was passionate about environmental issues, including rising sea levels, long before the topic consumed daily headlines. She was also an early advocate for building a mass transit rail system of the sort being debated on both sides of Tampa Bay today.
"She was very pro-rail when you used to get run out on a rail if you were pro-rail," Krahl said. "It didn't help she was female."
Mrs. Greene would mentor other women and encourage them to seek out positions that not many women held at the time.
"A lot of her employees … mother would encourage them and even go so far to say in their evaluations that you will go to school, you will get a degree," she said. "And she would do that for them."
But she didn't want to be defined by her gender, said Pumariega, who worked with her for 18 years and also considered her a mentor.
Mrs. Greene left the planning council in 1998 after 22 years, with Pumariega assuming her former role. She took a job as executive director of the San Joaquin Council of Governments in California — a dream job for her because she got to manage transportation for the agency, Krahl said.
When she retired in 2004, she moved back to St. Petersburg and got a house five doors down from her daughter.
Krahl went to her mother's alma mater, Eckerd College, and works at the planning council as director of administration and public information.
"Mother was really the inspiration for me, and I would gather at least a dozen other women," she said.