BRANDON — The Blonde Bombshell walked through the crowd in a white cape at the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory, a female assistant in tow holding the leashes of the Bombshell's two Pekingese dogs.
The crowd booed. Wrestling fans didn't like a diva in the 1950s any more than they do now.
For Lorraine Brandon Fitzpatrick, the gig was just one more new experience and one more paycheck, one more unusual activity checked off. She lived by three principles: ingenuity, independence and family loyalty.
Her inventive spirit showed itself in the jobs she chose — at different times a taxi driver, a brassiere model, an over-the-road trucker and a bar owner. Along the way, she picked up a pilot's license and flew planes.
Throughout, Mrs. Fitzpatrick set the table for breakfast and dinner every day and expected her large family to be there.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick, a direct descendant of Brandon pioneer John Brandon, died April 21 of cancer. She was 86. A full house Tuesday at Serenity Meadows Memorial Park remembered her diverse life, from the number of professional licenses she held to the musical instruments she played without training.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick was very proud of her family's connection to Brandon, starting in 1857 when John Brandon, his wife and six sons arrived in what is now Tampa. He bought property and named his land Brandon.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick vowed never to allow her family's independent spirit to become watered down.
"Everything she did was big and bold — nothing shy," said Laura Beck, her granddaughter.
The "bombshell" role fit her perfectly, Beck said. "Anybody who had ever met her knew exactly who you were talking about."
She was the consummate do-it-yourselfer in every part of life, including music. According to her family, Mrs. Fitzpatrick played several instruments — guitar, banjo, harmonica, organ and accordion, for starters — even though she could not read music and never had a lesson.
Whenever possible, Mrs. Fitzpatrick tried to get her family involved in her businesses, starting with Jackson Henry Fitzpatrick, her fourth husband and the love of her life. The pair ran a grocery store and a gas station, then a string of bars. The husband-wife team worked like a charm for 42 years.
"She was very high maintenance and high class," Beck said. "Her earrings had to match her shoes, which had to match her purse or she wouldn't leave the house.
"He was a Tennessee bumpkin with a straw hat and an unlit cigar in his mouth. He did whatever she told him to."
Mrs. Fitzpatrick ran a series of bars, all of which began with the word "Lorraine's" in capital letters. There was Lorraine's Red Barn in Tarpon Springs, Lorraine's Trailer's Inn in Tampa and Lorraine's Cozy Corner on U.S. 301; then Lorraine's Crossroads Bar in Tampa and Lorraine's Place in Brandon, her family said.
The proprietor's role required fluid conversational skills.
"She talked to everybody like she had known you forever," Beck said.
It also meant getting tough with customers when they got out of line. She didn't have any trouble with that, either.
"I witnessed her temper once or twice, that was enough," Beck said.
She warned her children that they had better treat others fairly.
"She'd always say, 'It'll come back to get you. What goes around, comes around,'" recalled daughter Betty Jo Ballard.
A pinnacle period came in the mid 1990s when she founded Lorraine's Neon Moon, a country and western bar on U.S. 301 S in Riverview. She lined the walls with mirrors, brought in live music and offered line dancing lessons.
A hip replacement by then prevented her from taking the lessons herself. She sold the business after her husband's death in 2001.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick had suffered tragedies before, including stillborn twins and a 12-year-old son, Marvin, who died in a traffic accident.
But losing Jackson Fitzpatrick extended to her business life, which for most of her life had been connected to her family. She sold the business that year.
That family surrounded her April 21, when she died at home two weeks after being diagnosed with late-stage stomach cancer.
"She made sure she took advantage of everything she could in life," Beck said. "She left no stone unturned, no life untouched.
The Brandon extended family is determined to remain close. "A lot of families drift" when a matriarch on the scale of Mrs. Fitzpatrick dies, said Ballard.
"We won't," she added. "We'll be fine."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.