TAMPA — As the matriarch of the family that ran Whaley's markets for the better part of a century, Margaret Whaley was known as much for her family's business as she was for the compassion and kindness she showed its customers.
When patrons visited the store without enough money, she would say, "Don't worry, you can bring it to me another time," said her daughter-in-law, Jean Whaley. When schoolchildren came in after classes, she would tell them it was okay to take a piece of fruit home.
Some who frequented the market came to know her as "Aunt Margaret," and her husband as "Uncle Roy."
"She was a simple woman," Jean Whaley said. "She didn't aspire to frivolous things."
Margaret Whaley, 90, died early Sunday after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.
Born Margaret Custer on July 11, 1921, in Tampa, Mrs. Whaley married Roy S. Whaley early in life. They met after she began working in the Florida Avenue fruit market owned by Roy's father, Thomas Whaley.
Later, they took over the business, operating a number of stores along Florida Avenue in Seminole Heights.
Mrs. Whaley was known for being the early riser in the family, getting up at 4:30 a.m. to go to the farmer's market. She would return to the store and work until lunchtime, when her husband would take over until the store closed at 9 p.m.
"It was definitely a mom-and-pop operation," said Jean Whaley. "You could go into these stores and find things you couldn't find at other stores."
Tampa residents knew they could get specialty fruits and other items at Whaley's they couldn't get at bigger grocery stores, Jean Whaley said. In the 1970s, Whaley's expanded to include a meat market. Many employees stayed for years, feeling like part of the family.
When Roy S. Whaley died in 1982, Mrs. Whaley's sons, Roy Jr. and Ron, took over the family business. She remained for many years, assisting with the day-to-day operations into her 70s, family members said. Six grandchildren had a hand in the store's 74-year run before it closed in 2008.
After Mrs. Whaley's health began to fail, she moved to Fatima Estate, near her son's home in Lutz.
"She had a full life," Jean Whaley said.
A longtime member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Mrs. Whaley had planned to be laid to rest in a traditional Mormon funeral, her daughter-in-law said. Her relatives had visited Utah to obtain burial garments to be used in the interment ceremony.
A visitation is scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday with a funeral service to follow at 3 p.m. at Blount & Curry Funeral Home, 605 S MacDill Ave.