CLEARWATER — Surrounded by Florida State fans, Carolyn G. Peake didn't hold back. As her car ambled down Bourbon Street during the 1996 national football championships, she stuck her head out the window and let out a cheer for her home team, "Gooooo Gators!"
It was one of the last times she saw her favorite team play in person. Her neuromuscular condition soon worsened, putting her in a wheelchair and eventually in hospice care.
Relatives told her she should stop all her favorite activities: church, football games, shopping. It wasn't safe, they said.
She refused. When the nurses weren't looking, she would slide her feet over and push her body into her wheelchair.
She motored down the street to attend her grandchildren's football games and visit the aquarium. She organized weekly Bible studies at her assisted living center. She threw toga parties for her neighbors.
"She never let it stop her from doing anything," said daughter Lori Pardue, 41, of Clearwater.
Ms. Peake died in her sleep at her assistant living center Sunday (Dec. 27, 2009). She was 66.
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Ms. Peake was born in Bronson, about 30 miles outside of Gainesville. Gator Country.
She married and became a stay-at-home mother. Her husband took the family to live in England. Abroad, she desperately fiddled with the radio, searching for American football games.
Her daughters were teenagers when her marriage ended. She took a job in medical billing, slowly rebuilding her finances.
Any leftover cash went toward her beloved Gators. She bought season tickets, blue and orange jewelry, shirts, pajamas, banners, posters and pens. She plastered her bathroom with images of Tim Tebow. In another room, she built a shrine to Steve Spurner, who led the team to six southeastern conference championships and the 1996 national championship in New Orleans.
She and her friends would tailgate with baked casseroles. "What do you think you're doing?" she hollered out to players and coaches alike.
"To say she was a Gator fan, would be an extreme understatement," said Pardue. "Heaven just got a new angel that has orange and blue wings."
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Her father died of Lou Gehrig's disease when she was 3. Her mother warned her something similar could happen to her.
As she entered her 50s, she'd just suddenly lose balance.
The doctors thought she had Lou Gehrig's disease. Then they said it was Parkinson's.
"I don't know if they ever really landed on a name," said Linda Dukes, 72, a longtime friend. "Her brain wouldn't tell her to put her hands up to protect herself. She would fall down like a two-by-four."
It got so she couldn't even ride out to the patio and listen to the wind chimes.
Days before her death, she confided in her daughter: "Lori, it is hard to die. But, I have so much to be thankful for."
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.