Leota Austin Lambert Duarte

Leota Austin Lambert Duarte
August 22, 1920- June 28, 2013

Leota Austin Lambert Duarte was born on August 22, 1920 in the remote desert city of Estancia, New Mexico which she described as a "wide spot in the road". The youngest child of four, Leota was raised during the Great Depression by a hardworking single mother, Ruie (Mumsie) Haddox Lambert. She was unaware how poor they were until it became apparent they would've starved to death had it not been for a generous neighbor who daily provided them with his cow's milk, right from the udder!

Leota adored her grandfather, Thomas Haddox who babysat her while her mom attended Teachers' College. She learned to read at 4 thanks to her early education in the 1 room schoolhouse where her mom taught. Leota's terrific vocabulary and grammatical skills were legendary. She majored in English at East LA City College and later Whittier College.

A highlight of her childhood was going to the "big" town of Moriarty with big sis Marie and her boyfriend (later husband) Roy to roller-skate and eat ice cream.

When Leota's older sister married, brothers Leo and TC looked out for her. Leota was especially fond of Leo, who worked his way up to a high ranking position in the postal service. Leota was grateful to both brothers for contributing to the family income while still youngsters themselves.

Leo called her every Sunday from Denver for many years until his death in his 90's. He died l8 hours after their older sister Marie, at 95. Leota was intrigued by the idea that their deaths-so close together, may not have been coincidence.

During the Great Depression era, Leota's mother moved the family to Tempe, Arizona when she got work at the State Hospital. Leota and her dear life-long friend, Jean Foster, were free to wander about (daycare was nonexistent) after school. Leota's eyes would sparkle telling how they took advantage of the generous shop owners who took pity on them, never failing to give them a treat.

During this time Leota had a friend whose mom owned La Casa Viejo Restaurant (still exists) where she "practiced" on their piano. This mom befriended Leota, paying for lessons and hosting her l0 year birthday party. Although she dismissed her piano playing as amateurish, she played beautifully and was humble that way. Some of her favorites were "Glow Little Glow Worm", "Darktown Strutters' Ball", "Love Story, "Harbor Lights" and "Autumn Leaves". She played almost to the end of her days which helped the pain in her arthritic fingers and soothed her.

In her mid-teens, Leota and her mom moved to Los Angeles where she made headlines playing the lead in her Hollywood High School play "Cleopatra". Eleanor Smith another "life-long" friend followed her to LA and would later play a role in Leota marrying the love of her life, Joseph Simoes Duarte.

Leota met Joe when she was only l7. Joe was working as a baker over the summer and Leota's mother, Ruie was his boss at the restaurant in Sequoia National Park. They started dating but broke up just before WWII began.

After Pearl Harbor, Joe enlisted in the Army at which time Eleanor encouraged Leota to correspond with him. It was these eloquent "love letters" that brought them back together Leota said and resulted in her falling in love with him.

Leota enjoyed her first job as a telephone operator. In l942 she began her Naval Career with the Waves and was most proud of serving her country as a "Link Trainer" helping pilots learn to navigate in simulated flight. It was her close Navy friends who nicknamed her "Lambie".

In 1945, not long after the war ended, Leota and Joe were married. Fiercely patriotic, they both wore their military uniforms. They settled in Montebello, CA in their first home, where they started their family. Leota gave birth to Philip Anthony Duarte in 1947 and shortly after to Linda Leota Duarte in 1948. Lourdes Diana Duarte followed in l959.

In the early years of their marriage, Leota was very busy caring for her young children and helping her husband. She was Joe's 'right hand', providing administrative support to his businesses (Duarte International Sales Co. and later Delta Billiards). .

In l960 the family moved to Whittier where all 3 children were raised. Leota always made time for her children and was a doting mother. Impressively she still made time to contribute to the community through volunteer work. She found it rewarding to help those in need and began volunteering for The American Red Cross where she served for 30 years as a Disaster Relief Volunteer, helping during and after natural disasters. Her Red Cross duties also included Service to Military Families, contacting military personal abroad to inform them about family emergencies at home.

Leota traveled the globe through her Red Cross work, helping the homeless find shelter, working in the Gulf States and Kauai, Hawaii with hurricane victims as well as more local victims of flood and fire. Her work for the Rio Hondo Chapter of the Red Cross earned her many accolades from her peers, testimonials of gratitude from the people she helped as well as recognition in newspaper articles.

Leota was dedicated to serving those in need. She had a comforting way about her that put people at ease. She was fulfilled through her service with the Red Cross, but by age 75 could no longer endure the stress of traveling and hardships involved with disasters.

She therefore began to undertake more local volunteer activities continuing to help the community well into her later years. She even became involved in politics for a time and served on what is akin to the City Council for the unincorporated area of Whittier.

Leota served as a volunteer at Whittier Presbyterian Hospital where she assisted for some l5 years in various helpful capacities. Her most recent position was on the "phone tree", where she called recently released patients to check in and make sure they were OK and taking their medications. Her volunteer work earned her the title "Lifetime Member" of the Presbyterian Hospital Auxiliary.

Leota was a loving wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She most enjoyed spending time with close family and friends. She will be remembered as a patient and empathetic listener, a loyal and devoted friend, a woman of strong moral and political conviction, and a person of magnanimous spirit and generous actions. She appreciated the simple things in life; the beauties of nature-feeding the birds outside her porch, tending to her plants, bouquets of roses cut fresh from Joe's garden, music, a good game of Rummie Tile, an engaging conversation, Ingrid Bergman movies, and the smiles of joy on the faces of her grandchildren and more recently her great grandchildren.

Leota's generous spirit and kindness will be greatly missed by her surviving children and their spouses (Phil and Debra Duarte, Linda and Jerry Wolf, and Lourdes and Ken Hunt), as well as her 7 grandchildren (Alysha and Richard Calderon, Lorika Leota and Joseph Archibald, Joshua and Melissa Hunt, Nathan Hunt, Daniel Hunt, James Hunt, and Gavin Duarte), and her 7 great grandchildren (Richard Calderon III, Siera Calderon, Melina Calderon, Avalon Hunt, Cainan Hunt, Laila Leota Archibald, and Aubriele Archibald).

Services will be held Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013 at 3:00 P.M. at Rose Hills Mortuary, Hillside Chapel, Gate 17.

Funeral Home

Rose Hills Company
3888 Workman Mill Rd Whittier, CA 90601
(562) 699-0921

Published in Whittier Daily News from July 2 to July 5, 2013