BROOKSVILLE — Tom Hogan Sr. watched his daughter step into her car.
Laurie Ellen Locke had visited her father's Brooksville home Wednesday afternoon to see family members who were in town. They had laughed and teased and told stories.
"Be careful," he said to her. "I love you."
His daughter, a beautiful brunette with piercing dark eyes, smiled at him and pulled away. On her trip back home to Ocala, she called her parents to ask if they had received some mail. It was a brief, ordinary conversation.
That was about 5 p.m. Within minutes, Hogan found out later that night, Mrs. Locke lost control of her 2008 Mercedes-Benz on a stretch of Interstate 75 in Sumter County. The car swerved off the road, plowed into a tree, flipped and caught fire.
Mrs. Locke was taken to Leesburg Regional Medical Center, where she died. She was 51.
"She was the light in my eye," Hogan said Thursday, his voice trembling. "She was a delightful, wonderful girl."
Mrs. Locke was a member of one of Hernando County's most prominent families. Her father has served as Republican state committeeman for more than four decades. His son and Mrs. Locke's brother, Tom Hogan Jr., runs the well-known Hogan Law Firm.
Mrs. Locke graduated from Hernando High School in 1978. Her husband, Ocala urologist D. Russell Locke, also attended Hernando High.
The couple, married for 30 years, had four children together.
Her sister, Mindy Watkins, described her as a devoted mother and aunt to all the children in her life. Mrs. Locke, more than anyone else, remembered the cute little things the kids would do when they were young. She could still tell the stories decades later.
"She was a wonderful person — very giving, very caring," said Trisha Bechtelheimer, owner of Westover's Flowers and Gifts in Brooksville, and a lifelong friend of Mrs. Locke. "She's the type that puts everybody else first — her family, her friends, everybody in need."
Mrs. Locke was a Hernando High classmate and close friend of Paul Farmer, who went on to international fame as a doctor in poor countries. For decades, she has contributed to the organization he founded, Partners in Health.
"She's been a supporter of Paul's throughout his career, even back in the days when he was writing hand-written thank you notes to people," Bechtelheimer said. When she called Farmer to break the news on Thursday, she said, "He was just so mad and upset."
And though Locke has not lived in Brooksville in many years, Bechtelheimer said, she continued to contribute to causes here, including Operation HeartFELT, which provides food to homeless students.
"She was one of the kindest people and warmest people in our class," said Jennifer Wheeles, who graduated with Mrs. Locke in 1978.
"I was just very thankful to know Laurie."
Skip Samples said Mrs. Locke was one of a handful of friends he's kept since kindergarten.
"Laurie is just one of the sweetest people I've ever known,'' he said. "She's always been nice to me and when you go back that far, this is tough, almost like losing a sister."
They stayed close enough that she sent him a text on Monday to comment on Facebook pictures of his recent trip to Colorado.
"It's hard to believe that Monday we were actually chatting."
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at (352) 848-1432 or email@example.com.