BRANDON — Like many model railroad buffs, Russ Driscoll devoted an entire room to the line he called the Dixie Southern.
His HO gauge train chugged past downtowns he had built, complete with shoppers he had painted with tiny brushes, lakes he had poured and buildings named after his friends. The Dixie Southern represented everything important to the retired insurance executive, especially the diner he called Candy's Cozy Kitchen in his version of Ashland, Ohio.
Candy Kohler, his college sweetheart, grew up there.
They met while both attended the University of Florida and married weeks later. Both were Lutheran, talkative and knew what they wanted.
Both were throwbacks to simpler times who loved big band dancing. "We thought Elvis was absolutely horrible when we first heard him," said Candy Driscoll, 78. But after rock 'n' roll and the 1960s, even Elvis didn't look so bad anymore.
Mr. Driscoll was born in Staten Island, N.Y., a police officer's son. He met Candy through church, but their relationship blossomed after a choir director asked them to sing a duet.
"I said to Russ, 'This isn't a hard song,' " his wife said. " 'If you could practice every day this week, I think we could probably learn this.' "
Four rehearsals led to four dates. On Jan. 16, 1955, he gave her the pin from his Delta Chi fraternity. He proposed two days later. They married Jan. 29, 1956.
"He was not a flamboyant person but he was always well thought of," said Matt Petruzzelli, 83, a friend and fraternity brother. "He had a lot of good leadership abilities."
Mr. Driscoll spent 29 years with the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co., working his way to western regional vice president in Los Angeles. He retired in 1993. The couple settled in Brandon, where they read and did crossword puzzles together. Mr. Driscoll also remained active in his fraternity, which presented him with its highest honor in 2008.
On Wednesdays they drove to the Stardust Dance Center in Plant City, where a musician performed big band music. Then the crowd, most of them older than the Driscolls, began to fade away. The dance nights stopped in December.
Two years ago, Mr. Driscoll was diagnosed with kidney cancer, which later spread to his chest. Doctors at Brandon Regional Hospital removed him from a ventilator Jan. 16 so that he could talk to his wife, 58 years after he gave her his fraternity pin.
"Do you know what day this is?" Candy Driscoll said.
"Yes," Mr. Driscoll replied. "Happy anniversary."
He died Jan. 25. Mr. Driscoll was 77.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected].