ST. PETERSBURG — Even as she inched closer to a century of life, Anna Uldall gave her neighbors easy-to-read signs she was alive and well, as redolent as the cigar smoke that drifted out her window most evenings.
Mrs. Uldall, a widow who had lived in her northeast St. Petersburg condominium since the 1970s, enjoyed a daily martini with that cigar, tokens of an unhurried lifestyle that found time for things that mattered.
Through the 1980s, that meant working at Clementine's, an upscale dress shop on Beach Drive, where she enjoyed a close friendships with co-founders Elizabeth "Cushie" McNeely and her sister, Clementine Sherman.
The sisters sold Clementine's in 1992, but Sherman, a board member of the Fine Arts Museum, got Mrs. Uldall a job admitting patrons.
As her hearing faded she became a volunteer in the gift shop, where she continued to entertain co-workers 70 years her junior with tales from an adventurous life.
Mrs. Uldall, who helped keep the Fine Arts Museum running for 15 years, driving herself there until her 96th birthday, died April 14, at home. She was 98.
She retired with her husband, Niels Uldall, to St. Petersburg from New York City in 1974. Her husband died of a heart attack at John F. Kennedy International Airport three years later. That is when Sherman, a prominent socialite with many civic connections, came to her aid.
Soon, Mrs. Uldall was working at Clementine's, a high-end store built on relationships with customers.
Fay Mackey, a great-niece of Fine Arts Museum founder Margaret Acheson Stuart and a frequent shopper at the former Clementine's, described Mrs. Uldall as a "lovely, calm, gracious presence."
"For me she was sort of an oasis, soft-spoken and slow-spoken," said Mackey, 60.
She was born in Denmark in 1915 as Anna Louise Theil. She emigrated with her family to Goshen, N.Y., in 1927, then lived in Brooklyn.
Given to wanderlust as a young woman, Mrs. Uldall toured the entire lower 48 states — simply flashing a long-expired bus ticket as she boarded a Greyhound for her next destination, her family said.
She told co-workers of working from time to time, including a stint as a nanny in the Seattle area for William H. Gates Sr., watching over a young Bill Gates and at least one of his sisters.
"She was kind of intergenerational," said Fine Arts Museum receptionist Eileen Bartelt, 72. "These young people loved to hear her stories. She had a million of them."
She told them about marrying Uldall, settling in Queens and keeping books for Danish jeweler Georg Jensen, whose brand still thrives. (A favorite customer, Danish pianist and comedian Victor Borge, regularly invited Mrs. Uldall to his birthday parties, she said.)
Mrs. Uldall took those accounting skills to the gift shop of the museum, where she balanced the drawer to the penny.
"Anna was so sharp," said Audrie Ranon, the museum shop's manager. "She could manage by herself and insisted on doing it by herself."
Back home at her Winston Park condominium, neighbors frequently saw her going through her exercises. She participated in afternoon teas and hen parties, and could keep up with the best of them when the jokes turned salty.
"Anna told some jokes that would curl your hair," said neighbor Pat Carpenter, 61.
Her independence faced its stiffest challenge two years ago, when her driver's license was up for renewal. Afraid she would not pass, Mrs. Uldall declined to take the test. For a time, she accepted rides to the museum or took the bus. Neither method really suited her.
Mrs. Uldall continued volunteering until last year, when her health weakened at long last. She visited the museum again in June, as colleagues and friends celebrated her 98th birthday.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.