Claire Hunter shaped the Longboat Observer in its early days with 18-inch scissors and an X-ACTO knife.
She wielded these tools to ensure each word of text was precisely placed, along with a keen eye for copy editing and a strict adherence to grammar rules.
Her knack for details balanced her husband, Longboat Observer founder Ralph Hunter.
“He was the dreamer, the idea man,” said retired Longboat Observer Senior Editor Dora Walters. “It was Claire who saw that his ideas materialized and deadlines were met (and) kept him down to earth at times.”
Claire Hunter died Sunday, Dec. 15, at home in Bradenton. She was 84.
Born July 15, 1929, in Chicago, she graduated with a degree in sociology from Wellesley College in 1951.
She worked for United Airlines, in Denver, and then for a radio station and newspaper.
She moved in 1960 to Florida and became the executive director of DeSoto Celebration.
The Hunters hadn’t married yet when Ralph, with help from his daughter, Janet, founded the Longboat Observer 35 years ago, mostly out of boredom.
The first four-page issue appeared in print July 28, 1978, and Claire watched the new publication take shape from afar at her job with DeSoto Celebration.
Twenty years later, she admitted, “I really thought he was off of his tree.”
Ralph printed seven issues of the Longboat Observer but wasn’t prepared for the September doldrums. He stopped publishing, and he and Claire decided to marry.
The couple restarted the paper Oct. 13, 1978, and married Nov. 1, 1978. They honeymooned at Longboat Key Town Hall, where they covered a commission meeting that night.
Claire officially joined Ralph on the Longboat Observer staff in January 1979 — bringing the paper’s total number of employees to two; Janet had found another job during the hiatus, although she continued to help out and later returned as advertising manager.
Janet described Claire as the “shot in the arm” needed to move the paper forward at the time.
In the 1980s, the paper and its staff grew, especially as real estate sales — and advertising — grew, fueled by the construction of new condominiums.
Observer Media Group Multimedia Advertising Consultant Bob Lewis, who joined the Longboat Observer staff as production manager in 1991, described Claire as the “mother” to the Longboat Observer.
“Claire spent a week with me explaining what she expected, and I did my best to not disappoint her,” Lewis said.
After two weeks, Ralph told Lewis he’d passed the toughest test: Claire was happy.
Retired senior advertising executive Wendi Simons described the close relationship between the Hunters and their staff.
When Simons took time off to care for her ailing mother, she told Claire she would consider it her vacation time. Claire wouldn’t hear of it, insisting Simons also take a vacation.
“If you worked for them, you were family,” she said.
They functioned as a team, reviewing each week’s newspaper with staff story by story each Wednesday at a round table. They made big decisions by taking a walk together on the beach.
The Hunters sold the publication to current owners Matt and Lisa Walsh and Lisa’s parents, David and Ruth Beliles, in 1995.
In retirement, both Hunters participated in the Longboat Key Historical Society, Longboat Key Garden Club, Longboat Key Republican Club and Christ Church of Longboat Key, Presbyterian.
The couple also collaborated on the book “From Calusas to Condominiums: a Pictorial History of Longboat Key,” published in 2002.
“Ralph did the research for that book and wrote it all down, but she’s the one who put that book together,” said friend Evey Huntington.
The couple moved in 2010 to Bradenton but continued to drive to the Key for Sunday services at Christ Church and Wednesday bridge games until Claire became ill last year.
Even in their later years at the bridge table, the Hunters remained a team.
“She and Ralph were hard to beat,” said friend Carolyn Pol. “She and Ralph worked well together.”
Hunter is survived by her husband, Ralph, of Bradenton; stepdaughter, Janet, of Sarasota; stepson, Bruce, of Salt Lake City; brother, Kenneth Anderson, of Indiana; and two nephews.
A memorial service will take place at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 28, at Christ Church of Longboat Key, Presbyterian, 6400 Gulf of Mexico Drive. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to Christ Church or Tidewell Hospice of Manatee County, 3355 26th St. W., Bradenton, Fla., 34205.
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected]