CLEARWATER — Photos of Helen Anderson reveal a tall, glamorous woman with high cheekbones and a wholesome smile.
Here she is in the 1940s, leaning on a balcony railing above San Francisco. Here is a much older woman in a bathing suit, about to board a boat on turquoise water. And here is Mrs. Anderson from her days as a nurse, a Vogue model in an Army uniform. The image is so perfect, it looks like an advertisement.
"She had a lot of Katharine Hepburn in her. She had a little bit of that Northern attitude and independence," said Ingrid Anderson, Mrs. Anderson's daughter.
Her Spencer Tracy was a career Army officer who was as different from her as fried chicken livers are from goose liver pate.
Mrs. Anderson, who found purpose and adventure many times throughout her life, died Saturday at Madonna Ptak Morton Plant Rehabilitation Center. She was 88.
"Mom was a dresser," said daughter Ingrid, 55. "She wouldn't buy a car because men could buy cars and give her rides, and she could take taxis. She was young and thin and gorgeous. She would spend her money on clothes."
The upstate New York native graduated from high school at 15 (teachers had her skip two grades because of her smarts) and headed to nursing school.
Fast-forward to Fort Campbell, Ky., where she met William Anderson, an officer from south Georgia who liked her Yankee attitude.
Parted after three months, the pair sent smoldering love letters and finally married in 1949.
She studied recipes from Bon Appetit Magazine; he liked his food fried. She believed he should do the dishes half of the time; he wasn't so sure but gave in.
"I think Dad was smart enough to know she was smarter than him," her daughter said.
She vaporized challenges: returning to nursing after a long layoff; learning to swim in her 40s and snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef; riding on the back of her daughter's motorcycle in a biker rally.
Mrs. Anderson worked at Tampa General Hospital in the 1960s, after her husband retired as a lieutenant colonel. The family moved to Clearwater in 1969; she switched to Morton Plant Hospital, then the blood bank.
She hated soap operas but sometimes read romance novels. She could be blunt with family but treated telephone solicitors "like they were a guest in her home," her daughter said.
After her stroke, the Andersons moved to Sun City Center. She found herself fitter than most of the other residents in assisted living. They moved back to their house. Her husband bought her a new 2006 Buick. She said she would be driving it soon, but never got around to it.
"She was coordinated but couldn't remember where to go or how to turn the car on," her daughter said.
By then, everywhere Mrs. Anderson had ever wanted to go, she had already gone.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]