A Harpenden husband has paid tribute to his "incredible" wife, the woman who he says he first met in his dreams.
Best known in Harpenden as "the lady who was never seen without her hat" Loretta Hardy of Barlings Road died on Friday, March 21, aged 88.
A mother-of-two Mrs Hardy designed and created her own hats in her early twenties before opening her own manufacturing factory, Loretta Millinery in Luton.
Mrs Hardy, who was born in Vivaro Romano, Italy, leaves behind her two grown up sons, Alan and Tony, three grandchildren, Laurence, Michael and Chantelle and husband of 67 years, Bill.
Mr and Mrs Hardy first met in 1944, when Mr Hardy was serving in the Royal Artillery in North Africa and Italy during the Second World War. Mrs Hardy worked in the Allied Screening Commission in Italy, where she supported escapee prisoners and worked as an interpreter.
Mr Hardy, 93, said: "I met Loretta in dreams first. People think I’m kidding when I tell them all, but I did.
"For North Africa to Italy I dreamed and when I got in to Italy I was sent to an office and who would be in that office? Loretta Hardy, and little did I know she was the one I dreamed about.
"I remember her hair, her massive curls. Everything was the same as I dreamed it would be.
"I can remember it today. By that night I had already found out her name and everything else. The next day some of the soldiers told her that he’s going to marry you, because I said I was going to marry her that day and she said "you must be joking".
Two years after meeting, the pair married in 1946 and moved to England in the same year, where Mr Hardy started his career in engineering.
The couple moved to their first house in Luton, before moving to Dunstable and Barlings Road in Harpenden in 1969.
Their first child, Tony was born in 1949 and in 1951, Alan was born.
Determined to get her dream job off the ground Mrs Hardy visited Harrods in London, equipped with a box of six or seven hats.
Mr Hardy explained: "She made hats that nobody else could. The main thing she worried about was her hats.
"She would never go out unless she had a hat on. She said if you don’t wear a hat, you’re not properly dressed - it was a bit like lipstick for her. Everyone knew Loretta and people recognised her by her hat.
"She went to Harrods with a box of hats, six or seven, walked in to the shop and said ‘I’ve got a box of hats here to sell to your boss.’
"The boss came out and he loved the hats. He put in an order for about 200 hats."
Mrs Hardy opened Loretta Millinery in her early thirties and over the years, up until her death, she expanded her business to 40 to 50 members of staff.
During her working years, one of her greatest companions was her German Shepherd dog, Gemma.
Mr Hardy said: "Gemma followed her everywhere. She would help her find the light switch when she arrived back late from work.
"Loretta couldn’t stop - I have known her to come along Harpenden Road at about 2am in the morning because she was trying to get an order of hats for export sorted.
"Gemma passed away a few years ago now. I think it was one of the reasons Loretta started to go under herself. If you wanted Loretta, you looked for the dog. "
Mrs Hardy’s funeral took place in Our Lady of Lourdes, in Harpenden on Friday, April 11.
Mr Hardy added: "Loretta was incredible. I never seemed to have to do anything. If anybody needed help, she would help them.
"The nuns, who she lived in Italy with, told her ‘you’ll never be short of money because you’ve got gold in your fingers. ‘
"She made me what I am today. I was just a poor labourer, wheelbarrows and cement, when I joined the army.
"We have many memories and everything I did with Loretta was a dream.
"I had an incredible woman, she was absolutely perfect - I’m just a lucky guy. "