For Florence Oliver, 83, life was a ballroom dance

Leisure World resident `enjoyed good causes'

For the Record

February 27, 2005|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

Florence Oliver was known around Leisure World as the ballroom dancer who made even the complicated steps look easy.

Before her death last week due to complications from Alzheimer's disease, she attended most monthly ballroom dances at the Silver Spring senior village - even when a "dance" meant little more than just holding tightly to her husband.

"She was always true to her word," said Ben Oliver, her husband of 54 years. And he, in turn, was true to his, caring for his wife until her last days.

She entered a nursing home two weeks ago and quickly faded. "It was almost like she didn't want to continue," her husband said. She died at Laurel Regional Hospital on Thursday, her 83rd birthday.

Almost exactly a year ago, Florence and Ben Oliver were central figures in The Sun's six-part series on aging, "Dancing in the Twilight." The stories chronicled their struggle with Florence's Alzheimer's disease.

She was born Florence Frigione in Scranton, Penn., the youngest in an Italian family where six of 13 siblings survived infancy. Florence's father was a merchant; her mother instilled in her a love of books and a strong Catholic faith.

Florence was a mischievous kid; as a softball catcher, she coaxed batters into flailing at bad pitches. But she was graceful, too. She was a competitive roller skater known for delicate extensions and quick spins.

At 18, Florence moved to Washington and was hired as a secretary at the Bureau of Ships. There she met Ben, who was starting his career in federal-records management and found excuses to linger at her desk.

After their wedding, the couple piled an uneaten wedding cake into the trunk of their car; they were stunned when it survived the trip home without a scratch.

The Olivers eventually settled in Bethesda and had two children. It was a family of proud government workers (even the dog was a bureaucrat; Wags came from a secretary at the Bureau of Prisons). Florence worked 25 years as a Navy management analyst; her civilian service awards hung in her home.

After moving to Leisure World, Florence stepped in when an isolated neighbor, the late Charlotte Kleinbecker, began to suffer dementia. She took care of the virtual stranger until her own illness interceded.

"She enjoyed good causes," her husband said, "being helpful, having things work the way they should, being fair."

A funeral service for Florence Frigione Oliver will be held at Our Lady of Grace Church in Silver Spring at 11 a.m. Tuesday. Florence is survived by her husband and two children, Kathryn Oliver Kadilak and Michael Oliver, and four grandchildren.

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