ST. PETERSBURG — Something about her so impressed Gerald Black that when he was finally introduced to Ruby Lawson at the downtown pier, he jumped into the water and swam away.
Eventually, Black resurfaced, overcame his shyness and asked her out on a date. Chaperones accompanied them on every outing; the only exception was a morning or afternoon trolley ride. After two years of courting in the 1920s, she became his wife.
They were a team ever since. They won dance and costume competitions, fished, camped, and even built a house together. She mixed the cement and he poured it.
"They were sweethearts from the get-go to the end until they passed away," said their daughter, Shirley Cole, 77, of St. Petersburg.
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After they married, the couple had to juggle two full-time jobs and two daughters. He worked six days a week at a furniture store. She took a job at St. Petersburg City Hall after she graduated from finishing school and held some other odd jobs.
She was industrious and practical. At City Hall, she suggested they number the streets, not name them. She had just said, "Why don't you keep it simple?" Cole said.
After 18 1/2 years at City Hall, she tried to retire. But at a time when few women worked, some people at Florida Power knew her reputation and coaxed her into joining them. She stayed with the company for 26 years.
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Mrs. Black liked to nip things in the bud. If something hurt, she immediately went to the doctor. Her sense of urgency kept her relatively healthy for 102 years. Up until her death, she exercised often and didn't need a walker around the house.
"I feel 28, not 98," she told a grandchild once.
Even when she was uncomfortable or unhappy, it was hard to tell. Mrs. Black believed that when people ask how you're doing, they don't really want to know.
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Born in 1905, Mrs. Black lived on a Georgia farm before moving to St. Petersburg in 1910. She and her husband loved the outdoors. Mrs. Black once said, "I could fish all day and dance all night." In 1972, they retired to their lakefront home in Inverness.
They never stopped fishing and camping together. After his death in 1989, Mrs. Black continued driving to campsites until she was 92.
"She used to say, 'I don't want to die yet. I don't want to miss anything. I've been alive since the radio was invented, the TV, a man walked on the moon,' " said her daughter, Barbara McMahan, 80, of Alexandria, Va.
Mrs. Black died June 5. She was 102.