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By Stephanie Hayes, Times Staff Writer
Published February 21, 2008
ST. PETERSBURG - Dora Cobleigh tried to talk about anything but herself.
At 94, she was the oldest member at her church, Bay Point Christian. Susan McEliece, church secretary, sat down to interview Mrs. Cobleigh for a newsletter article.
Details were few, especially when it came to the pain. She was a quiet lady, self-depreciating, modest. But ...
"You always had that feeling - there was that sparkle in her eye - that there was some devil in her," said McEliece.
Mrs. Cobleigh's parents didn't want her. She moved through an orphanage and foster care. At 12, she was placed with a foster family in rural New Hampshire. She went to school in a one-room house. At 16, she cleaned houses before getting a job in a woodworking plant, where she met her husband, Frank.
They moved to Vermont, where she worked at a glove factory, terribly behind pace. "They tried to show me how to sew on the thumb, but I just couldn't learn it," Mrs. Cobleigh told McEliece. "I sewed the fingers together."
The couple moved to St. Petersburg for the warm weather, eventually settling into a house in Little Bayou, right next door to Linda and Gary Munch.
"I'd see her in the bedroom," said Munch. "We could yell at each other through the windows." They chatted about the neighborhood, about their pets. Mrs. Cobleigh, who prided herself on her well-kept garden, built a little fence to keep the Munch kids out.
"She was a trip," said Linda Munch, who took her neighbor's quirks in stride.
Mr. and Mrs. Cobleigh had a good marriage. She loved her quiet husband. They stayed home a lot, hosting friends in the back yard. They didn't go to church.
When he developed Alzheimer's disease, the Munches helped Mrs. Cobleigh. In 1988, he died. The years of care were exhausting. When her husband died, she changed.
She got her ears pierced. She bought a diamond ring and a new furniture set. She started attending Bay Point Christian every Sunday, dressed in modern slacks and tops. She joined the seniors group and acted in skits at nursing homes. She was the Cheshire Cat once, a geisha another time.
She had that sparkle in her eye.
For a while, she lived on her own, but six years ago she moved in with the Munches. Every day, she'd go looking for her cats, Dixie and Trixie. They were allowed to wander outside, but only until 5 p.m.
She'd watch families in strife on the Montel Williams Show and Oprah. She'd joke - where were those hosts when she was young? She confided in Linda Munch about her abusive childhood.
Mrs. Cobleigh was tired, she told friends. Ready for God to take her. On Saturday, she died after suffering a stroke. She was 94.
Over the years, she told the Munches what she thought of them - they were a pain in her butt. But she loved them.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727 893-8857.
Born: Aug. 31, 1913
Died: Feb. 16, 2008
[Last modified February 20, 2008, 22:20:10]