ST. PETERSBURG — In 1949 she was 25, down from Michigan State and eager to hit the beach. So the young woman who would later become known as Barbara Hunting Hanley, who had just sat for days on a bus, took another bus to Pass-a-Grille — just to sink her toes in the sand, maybe long enough to see that great orange ball slowly sinking into the gulf.
There and then, she decided to remain in St. Petersburg.
Mrs. Hanley died March 18, at home, of colon cancer that had spread to her liver. She was 86.
As a feature writer for the Tampa Tribune, she interviewed many of the top names in the arts, religion and entertainment from Bishop Fulton Sheen to Gregory Peck to Ella Fitzgerald.
Colleagues and friends describe her as a good listener and an indefatigable hostess. She once invited a dozen women friends over for a gourmet lunch. But as the women rustled to stand up, longtime friend Pat Baldwin recalled, "She said, 'No, no, don't leave. I've invited your husbands for cocktails and dinner.' "
She was born Barbara Louise Horton in Logansport, Ind. In St. Petersburg, she managed the sportswear department at Webb's City, married James F. Hunting Jr. in 1952 and later finished her degree at the University of Miami.
Baldwin's husband, the late Times news executive Don Baldwin, once said, "If she can string words together, I'll hire her," Mrs. Baldwin said.
For the next four years, Mrs. Hanley wrote a society column for the Times under the name Sunny Sims.
Later, at the Tribune, she seemed to hit her stride. Over 18 years she wove together celebrity interviews with Tampa's social events in an accessible style.
"She didn't mind the off-color joke," said former Tribune colleague Daniel Ruth, now a St. Petersburg Times columnist. "I don't ever recall her ever dropping an F-bomb, but she wasn't offended by it. This was, after all, a newsroom."
She left that job to care for John A. Hanley, her second husband, who died of cancer in 1982. Cancer also claimed the life of a daughter, Holly, 38, in 2004.
Mrs. Hanley stayed upbeat through her book club and trips to New York with the American Stage Company. For more than 30 years she also authored "Social Foundings" for the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, which anchored on the last page of the club's magazine, Smooth Sailing. Mrs. Hanley seamlessly interspersed sailing news with upcoming parties and other club doings.
"I can tell you, members would be anxious to see Barbara's write-ups about our functions," said Robert Lovejoy, the yacht club's general manager. "If your daughter had her wedding down here, she would talk about the linens and the food, how pretty the food was, the flowers. She was a very astute person and detail-oriented."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.