DADE CITY — Not so long ago, Kathleen Stanfield and her husband rode through downtown on horseback to lead the Christmas parade. Her legs were wrapped around a Western saddle with inlaid silver, won years earlier by her daughter, a champion horseback rider.
The crowd waved back at "Miss Kitty," a fiercely independent woman who credited her Cherokee mother for her own affinity for horses, whom she may have trusted more than people. Dr. Wardell Stanfield, who delivered a chunk of the town's babies, rode beside her.
Mrs. Stanfield had a way of bringing diverse social groups together. She threw Sunday afternoon parties redolent with barbecue and her enviable potato salad. Laborers and lawyers, ranch hands and entrepreneurs all lined up at the same trough.
Miss Kitty entertained them all with stories from a lifetime of adventures, many of them involving horses. Her laugh got others laughing. She poured herself another Crown Royal on the rocks, and held court.
Then her flamboyant lifestyle changed course, beginning with Wardell Stanfield's death in 2000. Mrs. Stanfield began a relationship with a younger married man, who moved into the ranch and came to manage her affairs. Over the last decade, her bond with James Curtis and a country-and-western band led by his son has led to severed relations with her children, who are feuding with Curtis, and phone calls from both sides to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office alleging threats or exploitation of the elderly.
Mrs. Stanfield died Monday at HPH Hospice, 12 days after suffering a stroke, her family said. She was 87.
"She was feisty and independent about wanting things her way," said friend Margie Tingley of Dade City.
Born in Lexington, Ky., Mrs. Stanfield moved to Crystal River in the mid 1940s. A tumultuous first marriage lasted long enough to produce two children, Stephanie and Patrick. She married Wardell Stanfield in the early 1960s, and helped him run the nine-bed osteopathic hospital he founded in Dade City.
Between her interior design business and his role as team doctor for the high school football team, the couple seemed to know everyone in town.
Mrs. Stanfield looked after more then 40 horses on the ranch and rounded up stray cattle astride Big Chub, a show-winning Appaloosa and Mrs. Stanfield's proclaimed soulmate. A competitive rider herself, Mrs. Stanfield became a rodeo mom to her daughter, pulling a horse trailer to events across the country. Stephanie Stanfield would go on to win Miss Rodeo Texas and other titles.
Mrs. Stanfield also enjoyed country music, particularly JT Curtis and the Silver Eagle Band. She first heard the group at the Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club, said James Curtis, who is 64 and the lead singer's father.
Her bond with the band deepened after her husband's death. The band used a room in the house to practice, and parked at least one tour bus outside.
At least a decade ago, the elder Curtis moved in.
Mrs. Stanfield enjoyed the band so much, she traveled out of state to their shows, Curtis said, including to Nashville and several Western states.
"I treated her like a queen, 24/7," he said.
Asked whether the relationship with a woman 23 years his senior was ever romantic, Curtis, 64, replied, "Lord, no."
He is still married to Edwina Curtis, with whom he filed for bankruptcy in 1996 and 2001. Curtis said he and his wife are separated. In August, they got a new mortgage for a house in Wesley Chapel.
The relationship did not sit well with Mrs. Stanfield's children, who contended that their mother was writing checks regularly to Curtis and his son.
The Department of Children and Families got involved in 2004, passing on a report to its abuse registry to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office alleging checks and credit card purchases going from Mrs. Stanfield to Curtis. According to a sheriff's report, a DCF worker showed a deputy copies from Mrs. Stanfield's checkbook and purchase records for two cars totaling more than $30,000 each, with James Curtis listed as the co-owner.
In an investigation, the Sheriff's Office cleared Curtis of crimes against the elderly.
That case file, a deputy later wrote, "indicated there was some obvious evidence of James Curtis exploiting monies from Kathleen, but Kathleen was of sound mind and body. It further states she was a willing participant in the spending of her money."
Temple Drummond, a Tampa lawyer who has represented Mrs. Stanfield in estate planning, said he took a cautious approach. "We always tried to make sure that these were really her wishes, and that she was not being unduly influenced," Drummond said. "I believe that to be the case."
Friends were not convinced. "Our friendship ended when she finally showed me her checkbook," said Tingley, 75.
The Sheriff's Office also fielded a complaint from Mrs. Stanfield and Curtis against Patrick Stanfield, who they said had threatened them and demanded money.
"It's just torn friends apart," said Patrick Stanfield, 58, who denies he threatened anyone.
Curtis for years has also held power-of-attorney responsibilities for her care, both Curtis and Mrs. Stanfield's family said. He still lives on the 91-acre property, and denied her family's claims that he ever cut them off from their mother.
"They just kind of resent the fact that I'm in the picture," said Curtis, who added that almost all of Mrs. Stanfield's money is gone.
Whether Mrs. Stanfield was really victimized or simply spent her time and money as she chose depends on whose side you are on.
"She was her own person," Curtis said. "She didn't let nobody tell her what to do."
Patrick Stanfield, who runs an auto repair business out of his home, said he had last seen his mother a few weeks before the stroke. He visited her again at HPH Hospice. He whispered in her ear that Big Chub, her Appaloosa who died 20 years ago, would be coming along soon to pick her up.
Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2248.