ST. PETERSBURG — The night before her open-heart surgery last week, Colleen Smith called a friend with an urgent request.
She wanted her hair colored.
Alysia Wenckoski said Ms. Smith wanted her hair turned hot tamale red, "so I can look hot for the doctors." Wenckoski did the job at Bayfront Medical Center.
About 40 friends, many of them artists, gathered Tuesday at Demens Landing to remember Ms. Smith, who promoted their work as if she had a personal stake in the outcome.
They stood in a circle, singing spirituals and telling stories.
Ms. Smith emerged poorly from the surgery, and died Saturday. She was 56.
Ms. Smith came to St. Petersburg from Michigan as a toddler. She had asthma, and often read books while other children played.
"She always read. She was in the middle of five books at a time," said her sister, Alison Christy. The sisters also followed the rock group the Monkees, since its inception in 1966.
Ms. Smith attended public schools and graduated from the University of South Florida. From 1980 to 2004, she worked as a library assistant for the St. Petersburg Library, mostly at the Mirror Lake branch.
She spread herself thin in artistic endeavors: directing Kidz Show on public access television; singing in the Tampa Bay Opera chorus; and as a stage manager for the Country Dinner Playhouse and for Sterling Powell's Peep Show, a 1996 dance and comedy event.
For the past six years she worked odd jobs and served as managing editor of CitiLife St. Petersburg Magazine, a creation of close friend Sterling Powell.
Ms. Smith was also co-authoring a book about the history of art in St. Petersburg. Since March she had started working for the Royal Theater Boys and Girls Club Arts Academy, directing children in plays and helping them put out a newspaper.
She bought the art she could afford and talked up the rest. "Since she didn't have a lot of money to purchase things, she wanted to support creativity by letting people know about each other," said JoEllen Schilke, owner of the Globe Coffeehouse. "She wrote for people's newsletters. She connected people."
At Demens Landing, Powell read condolences from Mayor Rick Baker and Ms. Smith's favorite Monkee, Peter Tork, who called Ms. Smith "a journalist and fan of mine with whom I had some most interesting conversations."
"Even just here on Facebook, we are lesser for not having her lively intelligence among us," Tork wrote.
Under the last of the day's heat, the group walked to the water's edge and released brightly colored balloons. The balloons drifted toward the Pier, and disappeared.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or email@example.com.