CLEARWATER — Frances Leandri met her husband when they were both just 7 years old.
When her family suggested they date after high school, she was so embarrassed she hid in a closet. But they were right — she was beautiful, he was handsome, there was a love connection. They married at age 20.
Richard Leandri went on to greatness. He became a noted Pinellas developer behind shopping meccas Clearwater Mall, the Sponge Exchange, Sunshine Mall, Belleair Bazaar, Holiday Mall, Bardmoor Village and Gaslight Square. He logged countless volunteer hours and accolades before his death in 1998.
"We grew up in a very typical family," said their daughter, Roseanne Leandri Ryan. "The wife's job was to make sure the house was clean, the food was cooked, the children were cared for, and the husband's job was to provide."
Mrs. Leandri outlived her husband by 11 years. She died unexpectedly Wednesday, her family said of a cerebral vascular accident. She was 79.
She spent her whole life happily supporting her husband. Being Mrs. Richard Leandri.
But who was she?
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She was the youngest of 12 children born to Clearwater pioneers who came from Sicily.
She took care of her older siblings so much they called her Florence Nightingale.
She was quiet and graceful. She worked in the kitchen during dinner parties.
She spoke in a slow, soft drawl.
She was a mother of three who made spaghetti for her kids' classes and never missed her son's baseball games.
She always had her husband's food warm on the table with his knife and fork on the plate as he turned into the driveway.
She hated to be cold.
She was famous for her lasagna and meatballs, which she would make 1,000 at a time and freeze. She never measured, just eyeballed.
She was a Catholic who volunteered at St. Cecelia in Clearwater, sometimes bringing wine and bread to the altar and ushering in the same service.
She was called "Nonni," the Italian word for grandmother.
She loved to garden and would spend hours outside.
She was the gatekeeper of news in her family. She shared so many details of her children's lives with each other, they didn't need to talk to stay up to date.
She had a hip sense of style — leopard print tops, slacks, jackets. She never wanted to shop in the "old lady section." She lifted her hand and twirled when people complimented her outfits.
She got her first credit card and bought her first car after her husband died.
She drove her 88-year-old sister to the doctor Monday. She bowled later that day, her favorite hobby. She scored her best ever game, a 173.
She later packed 40 meatballs for her visiting granddaughter to take back to Seattle. She planned to push through her headache and babysit her great-grandson on the day she died.
She wasn't a complainer.
"She had a caring heart and maybe she saw that she could do things and that she was needed," said daughter Renee Leandri Teal.
She planted a daisy before she died, and it bloomed Friday facing her bedroom window.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8857.