ST. PETERSBURG — From the start, it wasn't easy.
Betty McKinnon-Singletary grew up in New Orleans. Her mother died when she was 9. There was love in her household, but also fighting, her family said.
There was little opportunity.
She kept her pain inside and dreamed of a job in nursing. She joined the government's Job Corps. There was work in three places, an agent told her: Los Angeles, Chicago and St. Petersburg.
"She had never heard of St. Petersburg," said her son, Sarlie McKinnon III. "She found out it was a beach town, and she said, 'I think I would like that.'"
"She just rose above it," he said. "She was one of those people that you just wondered where she got it from."
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In the middle, it wasn't easy.
She and her husband, Sarlie McKinnon Jr., were pioneer African American entrepreneurs in St. Petersburg. He dug graves for money and started a business, McKinnon Burial Vaults. She stenciled patterns on the vaults.
In 1974, they saw a general store for sale in a mostly white area of St. Petersburg. They bought it and turned the store's old segregated lunch window into a late night service slot to make it something positive.
Just two years after opening the store, her husband died.
Ms. McKinnon-Singletary worked nights as a nurse and managed the store during the day. She raised three children, insisting on high standards.
She went to St. Petersburg College and studied early childhood education. She taught preschool, learned cosmetology and became licensed to do taxes, her family said. She attended charity and social functions by the dozen.
"She was very busy," said her friend, Inez McRae, 59. "Even when she was down and out, she still seemed to have the ability to continue."
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At the end, it wasn't easy.
She was sick with a laundry list: pulmonary and kidney disease, cancer, diabetes. She lost most of her eyesight, and her favorite pastime — reading.
Depression kept her at home.
Her family came to her aid. Her son took her to stores like Neiman Marcus and salons like the Aveda Institute. They traveled to New York, North Carolina, Atlanta. They sold the general store and moved into a condo, her life's dream. Two years ago, her only grandchild, Makensie, was born.
She was renewed.
Ms. McKinnon-Singletary died Tuesday at home. She was 63.
"She was such a young woman," said her son, 36. "But I tell you, I'm finding peace. The last four years, she jammed more into than most people get in a lifetime."
He's preparing her eulogy, and knows what he'll call her: Betty the Unstoppable.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8857.