Ralph Smith says he remembers crying from embarrassment when his father's bakery employee Dorothy Nadine Armstrong kissed him when he was 5 or 6 years old.
Years later, Armstrong helped him reopen Joe's Bakery after he and his wife divorced in 1999.
"I'd either have to give up my kids or give up the bakery if it wasn't for Dorothy," said Smith, who's now 47. "She hung right in there and kept it going for me. You go through a divorce, and all of a sudden I (had) to go see mediators and attorneys, it seems like two to four times a week. She was sure a good-hearted woman."
Armstrong had worked off and on for Joe's Bakery since the early 1950s before she died Thursday of pneumonia and other illnesses. She was 66.
Her funeral is at 2 p.m. today at Rumsey-Yost Funeral Home, 601 Ind.
One of Armstrong's daughters, Carolina Cobb of Baldwin, recalled her mother's gardening and fishing. Her mother grew roses, mums, petunias and other flowers outside her home.
"That was her thing -- working outside," Cobb said.
Cobb, 43, also recalled fishing with her mother in the Kansas River and Clinton Lake growing up. Her mother liked catching catfish and would deep-fry it with flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper. Cobb is a cook at a Baldwin nursing home.
"She's just a loving, caring mother," Cobb said. "We was pretty close."
Armstrong grew up in Oklahoma and moved to Lawrence in the 1950s. During high school, she worked for Smith's father's businesses, including Joe's Bakery. Smith's father, Joe, started the bakery in the early 1950s.
"She's been around as long as I can remember," Smith said. "You know where she kissed me was down here at the bakery. I just remember sitting on the barrel there. I was probably telling her I had lots of girlfriends, and she reached over and kissed me and embarrassed me."
Smith bought Joe's Bakery in 1981, and Armstrong started working for him in the late 1980s or early 1990s, after her five children were grown. Her husband, Jack, died in 1992.
She did a little of everything at Joe's Bakery, 616 W. Ninth St., making sandwiches, frying doughnuts, decorating cakes and cleaning.
"She could do lots of things," Smith said. "Nobody enjoys cleanup. But Dorothy did. She'd get right in there and get my bakery cleaned up for me."
Her last day at work was Feb. 16, when she left because she wasn't feeling well.
"I didn't know she wasn't coming back, that's for sure," Smith said.
Armstrong had started losing weight and became sad after her companion, J.W. Basinger, died in October. The pair had lived together since 1997.
"I saw her losing weight. She wasn't very big anyhow," Smith said. "I said, 'Let me send you something to eat,' but she wasn't the same without him."