ST. PETERSBURG — The colorfully dressed woman emerged from the Princess Martha leaning on a walker, headed for another meeting of the Al Downing Tampa Bay Jazz Association.
Maggi Bevacqua-Geddes had retired from an international career in public relations to volunteer at the Morning Star School, which serves children with special learning needs, or to put out the jazz association's newsletter for 15 years.
Something many of her neighbors and fellow volunteers did not know: Mrs. Bevacqua-Geddes also had a colorful past, one she did not necessarily display unless asked.
For starters, take that period in her 20s when she worked in Paris at the Third General Assembly of the United Nations. Working for the U.S. delegation, Mrs. Bevacqua-Geddes handled communications for Eleanor Roosevelt, threw back cocktails with photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, and let Indira Gandhi walk Mrs. Bevacqua-Geddes' poodle, who otherwise passed the time snoozing in a file drawer.
Mrs. Bevacqua-Geddes, a feisty woman of the world who brightened the lives of others, died Wednesday. She was 90.
"She was the female Forrest Gump of the southeast Pacific and the postwar occupation," said writer Paula Stahel, who recently finished a biography of Mrs. Bevacqua-Geddes.
Mrs. Bevacqua-Geddes joined the Women's Army Corps in 1944 and worked in Japan and the Philippines. She seemed to break barriers everywhere she went, becoming one of the first cryptographers to work in Manila after the occupation, then the first woman to work on the Pacific Stars and Stripes, a newspaper for American troops.
When a pair of colleagues complained about Army interference in the newspaper and were reassigned, she was one of the remaining staffers who signed a protest letter to Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
In 1948, her tour of duty ended, Stahel said, "The Army came to her and said, 'Do you want to go home? We will send you.' She said, 'No, thank you, I am going to travel the world by myself.' "
Which is exactly what she did. After time in Asia, the Middle East and Europe, she returned to her home state of Wisconsin (she was born Margaret Rose in Madison), earning a master's degree in political science from the University of Wisconsin. She did her thesis on the "red scare."
Mrs. Bevacqua-Geddes was a public relations officer for the Corps of Engineers in New York and Chicago. She was transferred to Worms, Germany, for five years and back to Chicago. She retired in 1981 and moved to St. Petersburg.
But for a brief first marriage in the 1950s which produced a son, she remained single through most of her life. In 2002, at age 81, she married James Geddes. He died in 2009.
"I think of her as sort of the essence of jazz," said Sarah Hogan, a longtime member of the Al Downing society, "which has always been kind of varied and upbeat."
Researchers Natalie Watson and Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.