BROOKSVILLE — Questions about her husband, the country's top jockey for two years and a fixture in horse racing history, started many a conversation.
Had she been watching on May 6, 1933, when Don Meade won the Kentucky Derby aboard Brokers Tip — the culmination of a saddle-cloth-grabbing, riding-crop-slashing shoving match down the stretch with jockey Herb Fisher, who finished second aboard Head Play?
Eighty years later, the "fighting finish" lives on in what might be horse racing's most famous photo, snapped by a news photographer lying on his back at the finish line.
Had it really taken 32 years for Meade and Fisher to make up and shake hands?
Yvonne Meade poured the drinks at Don Meade's Jockey Pub and answered the questions. And no, she had not met Don in 1933. She was 13 then, dancing between rows of fruit trees in rural Illinois and dreaming of New York.
She would drop out of high school to get there, land a part in a chorus and model for Chiquita Banana.
She would dance in a traveling road show that included Patsy Cline and Bob Hope, her family said, and form friendships with singers Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra.
All by age 24.
"Everybody always made such a fuss over Daddy," said DeeVon Quirolo, her daughter. Yet Mrs. Meade's accomplishments were every bit as unusual as those of her husband and equally touched by fame.
Mrs. Meade did tell her story in bits and pieces — about being a John Robert Powers model, living in Greenwich Village and dancing in Broadway chorus lines.
Around the time she met Meade, the fiery top jockey of 1939 and 1941 had managed to get himself banned from the sport.
Helen Lorraine Stankevich was born in 1920 in Walnut Hill, Ill., the daughter of Lithuanian immigrants. She changed her name as a performer to Yvonne Stanwyck.
With the riches from her husband's racing days gone, the family sometimes struggled. While her husband had only modest success as a horse trainer, the two pubs in Hollywood, Fla., helped pay the bills before his death in 1996.
Mrs. Meade stayed cheerful even through lean times, repeating a favorite phrase that covered wins and losses: "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."
"She was such a classy lady," said Desiree Barbazon, a daughter who trains thoroughbreds in Ocala. "She didn't come up with a silver spoon in her mouth. She did what it took to make it work."
Mrs. Meade enjoyed going to casinos and playing the slots or just fishing off a dock — and was then content to throw the fish back.
As her memory faded in recent years, her children assembled anecdotes that she had told them over the years. Together they created a narrative of glamor and celebrity, followed by struggles.
Mrs. Meade moved to Brooksville after suffering a stroke in 2012. She kept her spirits light, careful to wear just the right amount of makeup and celebrating the everyday with sparkling grape juice.
She died on April 20. She was 93.
"Yvonne lived life to the fullest," Quirolo said, "and was known for saying, 'It's time for PTA — party time again!' "
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.