Rita Frances Le Gette, a former teacher and homemaker, died Thursday of liver cancer at her Severna Park home, surrounded by her family. She was 74.
Friends described a woman always willing to put others before herself and lend a helping hand.
"When anybody would move into the neighborhood, she would try to get everybody together to greet the new family," said Rochelle Slutskin, who lived across the street from Mrs. Le Gette. "She was the first one on the porch with a casserole or a pie, or anything she could do to make somebody feel good."
Pat Hofmeier, a neighbor for three decades, said: "If you ever needed anything, Rita was always there, very quietly making sure everybody was taken care of.
"You really didn't have to ask for anything. It was like she knew that you needed something and she was there."
Mrs. Le Gette was born June 24, 1938, in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in Huntington Station, N.Y., and Woodland, Calif. After graduating as valedictorian of her high school, St. Joseph Academy in Sacramento, she went on to earn her bachelor's degree in education from California State University, Sacramento.
She met her future husband, James E. Le Gette, in an abnormal psychology class in her senior year of college. Mrs. Le Gette liked to tell the story of how she arrived at that class right after her camping class and always wondered how Mr. Le Gette was able to get past the smell of campfire smoke in her clothing. But he said he doesn't even remember it.
After graduating, Mrs. Le Gette weighed an offer to join the Peace Corps in Sri Lanka but decided instead to follow her other passion and teach third- and fourth-graders at St. Bernard School in Oakland, Calif., and the Marina School in California.
In summer 1963, she and Mr. Le Gette were married, and they eventually relocated to San Francisco when Mr. Le Gette became a special agent with the U.S. Secret Service.
Since 1980, Mrs. Le Gette resided in Severna Park, moving to Maryland for Mr. Le Gette's work.
Judy Forman met Mrs. Le Gette when they were room mothers in their sons' kindergarten class. Together, they traveled to lacrosse games, watching in any kind of weather, and to summer swim meets.
The two remained close as their sons grew up.
"If you needed a sanity call, you called Rita," Mrs. Forman said. "If you were feeling down about something and you gave her call, she found the goodness in everything."
Mrs. Le Gette was a homemaker, first and foremost, with a love of antiquing, music, genealogy and volunteer service. Friends said she was proud of her Italian heritage, cooking Italian food and saying "ciao bella" as she walked out the door.
Marco F. Le Gette, one of her sons, described her as "just a selfless, constantly giving, very, very, typical Italian mother."
She enjoyed spending time with family, friends and the parish community at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church. Mrs. Le Gette was an active member of the church, where she sang as a soprano in the choir for more than 25 years.
Mrs. Forman said her mother, who died in 2009, had requested a particular hymn at her funeral, but she did not know the name of it.
"Rita sang me songs for an hour over the phone until we found the hymn my mother talked about," Mrs. Forman said. "It was fabulous. I hung up thinking that was probably the best conversation I ever had with Rita.
"She nailed it."
Another neighbor, Carol Slovis, said Mrs. Le Gette loved her family "fiercely."
"Her family was her world," she said. "She had a very loving husband in Jim, and she raised four amazing children. They're going to be her big legacy."
But that support and love spread beyond her own family, according to Karen Gavutis Gomes, Mrs. Le Gette's next-door neighbor.
"I would say she was a combination mother, sister, best friend, mentor, coach, life guide — someone who made such a massive improvement in my life," she said.
"She gave me an ability to accept myself."
Mrs. Le Gette is survived by her husband of 49 years; three sons, Christopher J. Le Gette of Leesburg, Va., Brian E. Le Gette of Baltimore and Marco F. Le Gette of Severna Park; a daughter, Michele V. Dierking of Severna Park; a brother, Bruno F. Fabbri of Woodland, Calif.; and three grandchildren.
Family and friends may visit Tuesday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Barranco & Sons, P.A. Severna Park Funeral Home, 495 Ritchie Highway.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered Wednesday at noon at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, 689 Ritchie Highway in Severna Park, followed by interment at Maryland Veterans Cemetery in Crownsville.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun