MANHATTAN MANOR — As a young woman, Emma Lasseter had dreams about a career in art.
But in her first job interview, a prospective employer talked her out of it. She had ample talent, he told her, but he was afraid she would lose her passion for art if she depended on it for her living.
"The man who was the head of the art department said, 'I'll be happy to hire you. I'll take you on right now,' " said Marilyn Durst, Mrs. Lasseter's daughter. 'But everything you've shown me is creative expression. If you go into commercial art, you'll never be able to express yourself. You'll have to draw what you're told to draw.' "
So Mrs. Lasseter declined the chance to work in the art department of the Coca-Cola Co. She left him one of her drawings, a picture of Santa Claus that he especially admired.
She opted for a life as a homemaker, mother and administrative secretary. She never regretted the decision. In fact, she loved her life.
"She embraced everything she did in her life," said her son, Thornton Lasseter. "She really was a magnificent artist, but she loved her job, too, and she was a fantastic mom."
Mrs. Lasseter, 88, died Feb. 19 after several years of declining health.
Maybe because she turned down that job, she never lost her passion for art. Throughout her life, she created gorgeous pastel and watercolor paintings. She never sold one or hung them on her walls. Her joy was in creating, not in admiring the finished work.
She was born Emma McIntyre and grew up in Atlanta, the youngest of five children. The family tended to be boisterous, and loud arguments weren't uncommon. Young Emma preferred quiet, so her mother made a retreat under the stairs, where the little girl could escape the rowdiness. She'd spend many happy, solitary hours there honing her artistic skills.
"She was a very strong woman," her daughter said. "But she was very non-confrontational."
She studied ballet, and when she was about 17 she volunteered to dance in local USO shows.
About that time she met a man 11 years her senior, Thornton "Tony" Lasseter.
They married in 1942 and started to raise a family in Atlanta. They later divorced and spent two years apart, then remarried.
Partly to get a fresh start on their renewed marriage, the couple and their children moved to Tampa in the early 1950s.
"It was a very small town," their daughter said. "But they loved it. It reminded them of what Atlanta was like in the old days."
The second marriage worked out better. They remained together until Tony Lasseter died in 1988.
"She was a very loving, caring, sheltering, nurturing mom," Durst said. "She could be a tough mom when she had to be. But she much preferred to be a nurturing mom."
She spent 27 years working at the Florida Department of Labor and Employment Security. Years later, Durst briefly worked for that same department and found out her mother was widely admired by her co-workers.
"Everyone said she was the best," Durst said.
She created hundreds of pieces of art over the years, but almost all of them have disappeared.
One work may have been immortalized, though. According to family legend, that Santa Claus drawing that she gave to the head of Coca-Cola's art department became the model for the Santa in Coke's familiar Christmas ads for years to come.
"I don't know if that's true or not," Durst said. "But that's the family lore."
Mrs. Lasseter is survived by two other sons, Gary and Stewart Lasseter; another daughter, Victoria Lasseter; 12 grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren; and a great-great-grandchild.