ST. PETE BEACH — For many sun-drenched years, Helen Mayer and her husband ran a beach hotel. They fished for tarpon in the gulf. They would go out and find a band playing music they could dance to, like on the night they met.
The Mayers struggled in the 1960s when the real estate market foundered. But Mrs. Mayer, a former legal secretary who always kept the books, made sure her children never learned how thin the family finances really were.
The former business owner worked as an administrative assistant, then retired to her crossword puzzles and suffering through losses with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She controlled her checkbook long after family members offered to help, and responded to unwelcome suggestions — like giving up her car or moving to assisted living — with a chilly, "Oh?"
Mrs. Mayer, a woman with an independent spirit, died Dec. 29. She was 88.
" 'Oh?' means she's not accepting what you're saying," said son Douglas Mayer. "Almost like, 'How can you even say that to me?' "
She grew up in Manhattan and the Bronx, the daughter of two Irish immigrants. At 21 while ballroom dancing, she met Grover Cleveland Mayer, a gregarious man named for a U.S. president someone in his family allegedly knew.
They married in 1942. She worked as a legal secretary while he served as an Army officer. A chance to buy a hotel lured the couple to St. Pete Beach in 1952. The beachside, three-story Gulf Palm Hotel echoed the grandeur of the 1920s when it was built, including a dinner served nightly.
"I think in the beginning they missed New York City," said Douglas Mayer, 61. "But then they got into the Florida lifestyle and thoroughly enjoyed it."
They sold the hotel in the late 1960s. Mrs. Mayer worked several jobs; her husband sold real estate.
A former Catholic who left the church, Mrs. Mayer "had faith and belief, but not in an organized church," her son said.
She believed in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, though watching them play sometimes made her swear. To give her something special on her 80th birthday, Douglas hit up a friend up for a favor.
The friend's daughter worked for the Bucs. She got a birthday card for Mrs. Mayer to Tony Dungy, who wrote "some happy things."
Mrs. Mayer was ecstatic, her son said, pulling the card out of her purse to show anyone she met for the next six months.
Mrs. Mayer left her home in Vina Del Mar three years ago for a villa at Westminster Suncoast.
"She would correct you if you called it a duplex," her son said. She leaves behind a husband of 67 years, and a grateful family.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.