ST. PETERSBURG — Cary Bond Thomas worked hard on her image. She lined her spacious closets with St. John knits from Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue. For many years, anyone who drove down Brightwaters Boulevard in Snell Isle saw her smiling face on nearly every For Sale sign, eyes brighter than those of the limited-edition Barbie dolls she collected.
The Realtor whose name was once synonymous with high-end homes worked hard for every seven-figure listing she sold, often starting her day hours before dawn. She closed deals at 7:30 New Year's morning and at midnight. When one seller went camping, she persuaded him to stand outside a pay phone at Yosemite National Park to take phone calls at predetermined times.
Ms. Bond Thomas died Thursday at Woodside Hospice of colon cancer. She was 68.
She had been diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, but continued to work and was working on real estate listings until weeks ago — using the same kind of tenacity that defined her career.
She was born in St. Petersburg, the eldest daughter of Ninian Bond, who came to St. Petersburg in 1920 and co-founded a string of hotels. Childhood rheumatoid arthritis kept her out of school until the fourth grade, but she caught up.
She married Bill Thomas while still in high school, and graduated from what is now Eckerd College. She taught English and Latin in Pinellas County schools, and kept working during a 1968 teacher strike, said Frank Blandford, her longtime boyfriend.
Her marriage to Thomas had ended by the mid 1970s. Another marriage to a St. Petersburg lawyer did not last long.
Ms. Bond Thomas discovered a new drive, one that would change her life. She got her real estate license in 1983, and quickly established herself as someone who could not be outworked or outmaneuvered.
"She would get up at 3 or 4 in the morning to start working her plan," said Blandford, 81, a real estate man himself. "She had a workbook with names and phone numbers. She was determined to do what needed to be done that day."
She drove a Mercedes coupe around Snell Isle and Shore Acres, stopping to open the window and chat with residents. She copied her newsletter at Sir Speedy and mailed it to everyone.
Ms. Bond Thomas was named a charter member of the million-dollar sales club of the Tourtelot real estate company in 1984. Four years later, the company honored her as its top overall producer with more than $4 million in sales.
Work was her primary outlet, though she also enjoyed shopping. She had lunch with the same 11 girlfriends on Fridays at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club for 40 years.
"She was not a Realtor at lunch, she was our friend," said Carmen Moore, who always sat next to her.
To celebrate the opening of a new Hampton Inn, the women threw themselves a pajama party as the hotel's first guests. They came with a change of clothes in an overnight bag, Moore recalled, and had just settled in when "here comes Cary with a valet carrying her clothes. We had on housecoats. Cary had on a cashmere robe."
She loved old movies but allowed herself few hobbies. "We would go out of town, to New York or London," Blandford said. "She would say, 'I've got to go back to St. Pete,' and cut the whole thing short."
Ms. Bond Thomas did more than sell real estate in her home town. She was a sustaining member of the Junior League of St. Petersburg and a member of the Stuart Society of the Museum of Fine Arts.
The only blemish on her reputation occurred in 2005. Ms. Bond Thomas acknowledged having forged an elderly man's signature in 2003 on a listing agreement for an $800,000 home she wanted to sell. She faced no criminal charges over the incident and continued to sell real estate.
"It was just a bad time and pretty emotional," said Blandford, who claimed Ms. Bond Thomas was trying to wrest back a listing someone else had gained unfairly.
The lunch group supported her. "We told her to just move on from these things," Moore said. "You move on, so nobody ever talked about it anymore."
Ms. Bond Thomas left Tourtelot Brothers and eventually joined Hofacker & Associates in 2010.
"She was not an easy personality," said Mary Evertz, a former St. Petersburg Times writer who started the lunch group more than 40 years ago. "But she wasn't in a business where being nice is a prerequisite. And she was at the top of her game, there's no getting around it."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2248.