ST. PETERSBURG — Her children remember the lean times. They remember eating the same dinners several nights in a row, with their mother's gentle reminders to leave enough on the table for everyone else.
With eight children to feed on a $180-a-month welfare check, Annie Hicks was staring down a future of more of the same. There was no man in the house. Prospects of gainful work seemed remote.
Despair might seem an understandable, perhaps even reasonable reaction.
But that was not how Annie Hicks operated.
One step at a time, she pulled herself up, and out. She applied for a county program. She learned to change bedpans, then dressings. She moved her family from Robles Park Village, a public housing project, to suburban west Tampa.
The thing is, throughout all that, Mrs. Hicks was just getting started.
Mrs. Hicks, who pulled herself out of poverty and bettered her own training and education several times, died at home Wednesday of brain cancer. She was 67.
She shaped her children with the chisel of tough standards, starting with school.
"She was absolutely strict," said Charlotte Bruce, her daughter. "A C was an F."
When they got to be teenagers and acted like teenagers act, "she would always let you know the consequences," said Bruce, 40. "We would just have to face the consequences, whether it be her punishment or the jailhouse."
It's a toss-up which was worse.
"When we would get in trouble, she would give us these long, long lectures about why we need to be responsible," Bruce said. "As she was finishing up she would always say, 'I am teaching you so you can have a better life than I did.' "
Annie Jane Harris was born in rural Cuthbert, Ga., in 1944, the second of 11 children. She attended grade school in Shellman, Ga., and later in Havana, Fla.
She was married at 14, had her first child at 15.
Her marriage to Willie Wright ended in divorce. Mrs. Hicks moved to Tampa in the mid 1960s, believing she would have a better chance to learn a skill in a city. In the early 1970s, she was accepted into a county program at Brewster Adult Technical School, where she completed training as a licensed practical nurse.
She found herself in the mainstream of her chosen nursing profession, and more than doubled her welfare check from day one. Mrs. Hicks still stretched money and food, taking in neighborhood children to live when their own homes were too chaotic.
She earned an associate's degree in 1977, graduating to registered nurse. That success brought challenges of its own.
"There were very few black RNs back then," her daughter said. "She said there were some LPNs who were Caucasian and didn't want to follow her orders. Or there were times when they would try to give her orders."
Mrs. Hicks spent most of her career at St. Joseph's Hospital, working in several areas. She married George Hicks in 1986. They took a cruise together and liked it. Mrs. Hicks enjoyed dressing up.
"She could be very chic and sophisticated," said Angela Bolds, 45, another daughter. "She had expensive taste in clothes. She was not really showy. She loved to be beautiful but not to the point of being ostentatious."
Mrs. Hicks took more cruises — and courses. She graduated in 1992 from the University of Tampa, with a bachelor's in nursing.
In 2005, Mrs. Hicks earned a master's degree from the University of South Florida, in education. She wanted to go on to a doctorate, her children said.
She suffered health problems on a cruise to Spain last fall. Doctors diagnosed a brain tumor.
At her service Wednesday, the congregation will sing Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah. The pastor will invite anyone who is unsaved to come up and find Christ.
"Those were the two things she wanted," Bruce said. "Nothing long and drawn out."
Anything more, Mrs. Hicks had said, would waste time.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.