TREASURE ISLAND — When little Londoner Louisa Hardy was 9, the Germans attacked her city. Her family's home was destroyed in the Blitz.
Her world was much smaller when Richard Wheeler met her. She was serving hot dogs and hamburgers at a concession stand in a small Oklahoma town after her family moved there from England.
"I went up to get a hot dog or something and fell immediately in love," said Wheeler, 80.
She was pretty. She spoke with a Cockney accent. She wiggled a little when she fetched his meal, Wheeler jokes.
Wheeler was a second lieutenant in the Army. They married three months later.
• • •
Wheeler likes to say they were always together except for three wars — World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
When he returned from the second, Mrs. Wheeler had the first of their three sons.
Motherhood became her mission. She could read her boys' faces if something went wrong at school.
She was stern but fun. Her boys always knew her discipline came from love.
"Even when she was reprimanding us, we knew afterwards it was for a reason," said her eldest son, Rich Wheeler, 56, of Gainesville. "We deserved it."
Mrs. Wheeler and her husband traveled the world. With a son working for Pan Am Airlines, they flew standby and packed light.
"It was hard to catch them home," said her brother, Sidney Hardy, 70 of Bethany, Okla.
On their first trip to China, the capital was called Peking. Bicycles cluttered the roadways.
On their second visit a few years ago, cars clogged the streets. Pollution obscured the view from the Great Wall.
On one trip, they met Bob Geldof, a British rock star and activist who founded Live Aid, a concert to benefit Africa. They became close friends.
At a party of Geldof's in England, Mrs. Wheeler met Mick Jagger. Her comment later? "He's not as ugly in person as he is in his picture."
Mrs. Wheeler was never impressed with status or money or rock music. As a hostess at Admiral Farragut Academy, she would make conversation with everyone. And they all loved her.
"It didn't make any difference whether you were a division head or a student or a cafeteria worker or a maintenance man," her husband said.
• • •
A couple of years ago, her memory started to fade. A doctor diagnosed Alzheimer's.
Her husband wouldn't part with her until she could no longer walk.
On Saturday, just after midnight, the nursing home called her husband. It was close.
He sat beside her bed and held her hand. He played English pub music, Mrs. Wheeler's favorite. They were together when she stopped breathing.
Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or firstname.lastname@example.org.