FORT WALTON BEACH — The last time Nancy Brown saw her boss, friend and mentor, they talked about death.

“Do you ever think about dying?” Ruth Lovejoy asked as Brown left the Elder Services of Okaloosa County office Friday afternoon.

"All the time," Brown answered. "It's kind of scary."

"I just wonder what it feels like," Lovejoy replied, and then with her trademark dry humor, added, "And I wonder if you have to talk to people that you don't want to talk to even when you get to heaven."

Three days later, Lovejoy was gone. She was 93 when she died at a local hospital Monday evening.

As news spread, she was remembered as a force of nature, a champion of underdogs and a woman who did not back down.

She had been the executive director of Elder Services of Okaloosa County for more than 40 years.

She helped create assisted living facilities in Niceville and Crestview for seniors who can't afford steep nursing home bills. To do that, she convinced county officials to lease her two old hospitals for $1 a year. Then she worked to raise the funds to renovate the structures. Most recently she had been pushing to turn the old hospital in Fort Walton Beach into a senior center as well as a third needs-based assisted living facility.

She helped establish the county’s transit system and was considering taking it back at the time of her death.

Her agency ran the Meals on Wheels program for years, with or without federal funding, and she took pride in never having a waiting list. If you were hungry, you were fed. She always found a way.

"She was just a wonderful force of nature who absolutely championed the underdogs — the elderly and the handicapped and the needy in our community," said Brown, who was her personal assistant. "It was a privilege and an honor to know her and work for her."

For the past 30-plus years, Lovejoy’s name appeared in the Daily News nearly 300 times, usually because she was championing a cause to help the elderly. Most recently, she was named the Daily News 2018 Person of the Year.

Jerry Melvin, chairman of Elder Services' board of directors, said Lovejoy’s death was a major loss for the county.

He couldn’t say what would happen to Elder Services without her at the helm.

“We will have to meet and make a decision as to where we go from here,” he said. “She was the force.”

Although she is most widely known for her work, Lovejoy was also a mother, grandmother and a great-grandmother.

She lost her Air Force husband in 1960 to a drunken driver, which left her to raise their five young children alone. She later went back to school and earned two bachelor's degrees as well as a master's degree in counseling.

Her former employees reported to work Monday morning to do what Lovejoy would have done. Through their tears they made sure seniors who depended on the agency for their midday meal were fed.

“She would want us to take care of them,” said Pam Roeser, who worked for Lovejoy for nearly 30 years.