BY TERRI P. MURPH, Contributor
ST. PETERSBURG — Born in the quiet town of Orange Heights just outside of Gainesville, Claranell Lattimore, née Fort, and her five siblings (three brothers and two sisters) grew up in a peaceful and happy home. As they got older, one by one they each left home to pursue their lives as adults.
She met Carlton Lattimore Sr., a band man in the United States Army. They soon became very smitten with each other and were married in 1954. As an army wife, Lattimore traveled with her husband to whatever station he was assigned such as Germany, Ft. Benning in Columbus, Ga., Ft. Jackson in Columbia, S.C. and Ft. Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C. It was at Ft. Bragg where he received an honorable discharge because of a bad back that rendered him disabled.
With three kids in tow, Linda, Carlton Jr. and Debbie, they decided to move back to Orange Heights, traveling once a month to Bay Pines Veteran’s Hospital in St. Petersburg for Carlton Sr.’s medical appointments. Soon they realized it would be better and more convenient if they would just move to St. Petersburg.
After arriving in St. Petersburg, their fourth and youngest daughter Vickie was born. Always wanting to be a stay-at-home mom, Lattimore did so until all the kids were school age or older.
One day Carlton Jr., their only son, brought home the school newsletter. In it Lattimore read an advertisement seeking school crossing guards and decided to apply.
“I wanted to be at home when my kids got home, and this would be a perfect fit,” she thought.
Her application was selected and she got the job along with the flexibility that she needed. She and four other ladies started together, but throughout the years they all changed jobs and went in various directions, but not Lattimore. She remained constant.
It is hard to believe now that it has been 45 and one half years that she has been dedicated to her post as a crossing guard professional, the last 25 years as a supervisor.
“I know that I have worked at every stop in the city. Rain or shine someone has to be there, and I have enjoyed being of service. I’m older now and my health isn’t as great. I decided it’s time to let the young people take over, 45 years is long enough,” Lattimore said as she confides that her territory has been mainly in south St. Petersburg.
Although she missed the kids last week when they returned to school and she wasn’t out there helping them to cross, one thing she won’t miss is getting up early. Now she can get up anytime that she pleases.
When asked how she will spend her retirement, she said, “I will rest up for awhile then decide what to do next. I enjoy working in my yard and tending to my garden so I know that I will have more time to do that.”
For sure Lattimore will spend more time with her four children, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, many of whom live in St. Pete. And if they are lucky, she will continue to spoil them with her home cooking.
The Lattimore’s are a very close group who has lots of family traditions, including Sunday dinner each week at the Lattimore family home (home base). She insists on doing all the cooking. Her daughter Debbie said, “She won’t allow us to help her, not even with the smallest thing.”
For Easter, everyone goes to a family-owned farm right outside of Gainesville. The children play games like tug of war, sack races and kickball. And on Christmas Eve, family and friends dress in their pajamas and report to home base where everyone participates in singing, playing games, opening gifts and just having fun. A musical phenomenon who plays several instruments by ear, her husband and their granddaughter Chayil entertains everyone with various piano selections.
“It’s all about being with family,” said Carlton Jr.
Now that Lattimore has retired, she will undoubtedly make up some new traditions. You won’t see her in her green uniform and neon-colored vest anymore, but you might see her at Walmart. If you recognize her, don’t be afraid to say hello. While you’re at it, congratulate her on 45 years of a job well done.