Smart, determined, endearing and potently independent — Hattie Stone was a retired teacher and a World War II veteran proud to have worn the uniform and, 70 years later, to still fit nicely into it.
One of Sonoma County's most visible and best known veterans and advocates of honorable treatment of ex-servicemembers who struggle, Stone died Monday at home in Santa Rosa. She was 95.
"Her death makes a big hole in the veterans community here," said friend Dave Richey, who, like Stone, served in the Navy, though decades later.
For years, Stone appeared in parades in her own 1944 military jeep. She was past commander and a life member of Santa Rosa's Theodore Roosevelt Post 21 of the American Legion, a charter member of Michael Ottolini AMVETS Post 40 and a benefactor and member of the Pacific Coast Air Museum.
PCAM leader Lynn Hunt felt fortunate during the air show last August to walk into the VIP tent and spot an empty chair next to Stone's.
"It was kind of the last time I had to be around her and see that glow," Hunt said. "She just had that glow about her."
Born Hattie Louisa May in Oklahoma City in 1918, she grew up Hutchinson, Kan. At 25 in 1943, she'd begun a career as a teacher but put it on hold to join the Navy WAVES, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. She went to work at the Naval Communications Center in Hutchinson and soon was promoted to supervisor.
While in Hutchinson she fell in love with a musician and fellow Navy recruit named Vernon Browne. They married in 1944.
Following the war, they settled in San Bruno. Hattie pursued a doctorate in education at Stanford but stopped short of a dissertation. Her daughter, Verna Larson, said she taught public school and in the 1960s became Dean of Girls and Assistant Vice Principal at the then-new El Camino High School.
Larson's parents divorced and her mother later met and married Robert Stone, then an Air Force officer. As a civilian, he took work that brought him and his wife to Santa Rosa in the mid-1960s.
They'd lived for decades in the country on Mark West Springs Road when Robert Stone died in 1992. It was as a widow that Hattie Stone immersed herself in endeavors that involve and serve military vets.
She also loved playing the French horn in the New Horizons Concert Band.
And she couldn't spend enough time with 3-year-old great-grandson Nakoa Throop, son of her granddaughter, Delane Larson of Santa Rosa.
"She adored him. He was just all there was," Verna Larson said.
Stone's caregiver the past 20 months, Karla La Rosa, saw her through five recent strokes and indulged her desire to pile into the car for a meal out or a drive.
"They nicknamed us Thelma and Louise because we were always on the go," La Rosa said.
Plans for a memorial service aren't yet in place.