ST. PETERSBURG — Every November until a few years ago, a tiny woman wearing a print lavender dress, white gloves, pearls and a broad-brimmed lavender hat paraded around Vinoy Park in a golf cart, waving to bystanders like a real queen.
Florence Douglas was playing the role of the Queen Mother as part of the British Club's contribution to an annual gathering of the St. Petersburg International Folk Fair Society. She pulled it off well, even as she neared 100 years old. British ex-pats welcomed her visits most Saturday nights at the Horse & Jockey British Pub, where she sipped tea and dined on sausage rolls and shepherd's pie. They called her the Queen Mum.
Well into her late nineties, her neighbors saw the woman who stood "4-foot-10 and a haaaahhff" peering over the steering wheel of a 1985 Nissan she drove to the grocery store.
But Mrs. Douglas had survived a century on grit and resourcefulness, not queenly comforts. She had lived through two world wars. She had delivered one child in a freezing outpost with no running water, and another in an air raid shelter.
Then Mrs. Douglas left the country she loved.
Florence Mary Summers was born in Stockton-on-Tees, in northeastern England, in 1910. She began work as a teen at a hotel in the Lake District, washing caterpillars off lettuce.
In 1938 she married Ted Douglas, a lumber man she had met at a dance. After World War II, with job prospects bleak, her husband decided they could do better in the United States.
They arrived by freighter on March 9, 1950 — a date the family has marked with an annual celebration ever since — and settled in Bloomfield, N.J. With her husband able to find only menial jobs, Mrs. Douglas worked full-time as a seamstress.
Financial problems nipped at the family. Her husband lost thousands of dollars to an unscrupulous business partner but believed declaring bankruptcy was dishonorable. They spent years paying off the debt.
They moved to California, then Oregon. She ran an alterations business out of her home.
They moved to St. Petersburg in 1990. Her husband died four years later.
At age 99, Mrs. Douglas celebrated Christmas by sending out exactly 99 cards to friends and family. More friends gathered at the Horse & Jockey Feb. 25, 2010, for her 100th birthday celebration. As always, she wore her pearl earrings.
Health problems forced her to move to an assisted living facility a little over a year ago. Mrs. Douglas died Tuesday. She was 101.
"She always acted like royalty throughout her life," her daughter said. "She had people adoring her, just like the queen and the queen mum. That's how everybody will remember her."