Leona Ann Barnett (Shampine, née Sutherland)

Leona Ann Barnett (Shampine, née Sutherland), aged 81, passed away and reunited with the infinite on Saturday, September 16, 2023. After a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, she passed peacefully at home in the presence of her husband, Brett, and much-loved cat, Annie, surrounded by her caregivers and family members. Leona was a mother, a wife, a grandmother, a sister, an aunt, and, most especially, a friend to many. She was warm, caring, and enormously generous of spirit. For her friends, she was the voice on the phone for hours exchanging the latest personal news. For her kids, she was the mother who would pack handwritten notes into school lunches that read, “I love you bunches!”—much to the embarrassment of her children. She loved nature and inherited a profound and abiding respect for all living creatures. If Leona found a wayward ladybug or spider in the house, she would capture it gently in a tissue, release it outside and soothe, “There, right back where you belong.” An open-minded and adventurous spirit, she approached the world with a perennial wonder for everything in it. She insisted on trying new foods and new experiences, often shouting “YOLO!” well into her senior years—again much to the embarrassment of her (now older) children. She loved hosting laughter-filled game nights and never let her age stand in the way of a good time. At age 65, she was the one loudly ordering rounds of “horny turtle” cocktails on the beach in Saint Thomas. At 72, she was ziplining through the treetops in Ketchikan, Alaska, giggling all the way. She lived life as an experience to be savored and relished, grateful for each new morning. Her love of new experiences informed her love of learning as well. She never had the opportunity to attend college but was fascinated with the world. (When learning a new fact, she would sing-song, “It’s my ditty of the day!”) When it came to her children, she insisted that they have the opportunity for a purposeful higher education, even if she had to sacrifice much to make it happen. Moreover, she had a fierce love of music and theater, vowing that her children should understand the vitality of artistic human expression. Leona was born to Frederick Sutherland and Blanche Roberge on December 3, 1941, in Winchester, Massachusetts, in the suburbs of Boston. The second of five children, she moved often following Fred’s enlistment as an Air Force Staff Sergeant in the aftermath of WWII. The moves would bring her many places, to the Philippines and ultimately to Sackets Harbor, NY and then Clay, NY, where she would build her life and family. It was in Leona’s senior year of high school that she met her first husband, Jimmy Shampine, living down the street. Leona was immediately taken by Jimmy and faced with choosing between her mother’s desire for a Catholic wedding and Jimmy’s lack of enthusiasm at converting, she gladly said goodbye to the Pope. (Leona would always later insist, “The Catholic priest was relieved to see me go—I asked too many hard questions.”) Leona and Jimmy’s marriage would bring them three children and a house built on land carved out of Jimmy’s family farm, set under one of the property’s ancient and sprawling sugar maple trees. She adored her country life, feeding the wild birds (especially in winter when Upstate New York winters would roar—“If I don’t feed them, how will they get enough to eat?”), and as the weather warmed, falling asleep listening to the chorus of spring peepers calling for mates, or watching the fireflies in the brush behind the house, lit thick like blinking Christmas lights. Leona would be Jimmy’s steady partner as he rose to racing fame and revolutionized the sport of super-modified racing. She was his love and life partner, his first and most ardent supporter. Leona took pride in his many accomplishments, showing grace to let him have his spotlight and, when the crowds were gone, squeezing his hand to let him know she was always there. When Jim lost his life to the sport of racing in September 1982, she carried on courageously raising her family (three kids, aged 10, 7, and 4). She continued Jim’s legacy of kindness and generosity, representing him in many of his posthumous honors and hall of fame inductions.  She would go on to find love again with her second husband, Brett, a friend of Jimmy’s.  Together they would move from Clay, NY to Springboro, OH, then to Oak Ridge, NC, and eventually to Hoschton, GA, collecting friends along the way. A final move to Port Charlotte, FL to be with her extended family would remain out of reach, as time only just ran out. To know Leona was firstly to understand her gift of human connection. One of her first jobs was working at the local Henry and Hines Pharmacy in North Syracuse, where she would learn the names and stories of most of the people in town. Every teacher at school would tell her kids, “I know your mom from the pharmacy.” Uncoincidentally, this also served as an implied warning against any potential misbehavior. To be sure, she had a singular ability to extract anyone’s life story in the course of a single conversation. A trip to the grocery store (or her favorite pastime, bargain hunting at TJ Maxx) was often an all-day affair due to her socializing with neighbors and acquaintances, asking for the latest updates on family life. A meal out with Leona was not complete without knowing the background and stories of the entire restaurant staff. A hug for the servers to end the evening was common, even in the most formal of restaurants. She embraced human experience and had a natural ability to recognize the very human desire to be seen in this world. She would tell her children, “Always learn someone’s name. It’s the smallest sign of respect, but it’s everything.” Leona loved to linger over experiences. Dinners with her would invite observations about how slowly she eats. (Swirling her fork defiantly in the air, she would insist “I’m savoring it.”) Indeed, food would be a constant source of delight in her life, with her love of all things dairy foremost among them. Cheese was a ritual. Melted, oozing cheese, an even greater experience. Ice cream, worth a pilgrimage. Throughout her life, Leona would find any excuse to suggest a trip to the local Carvel for a vanilla soft-serve. Growing up, her little sister, Susie, was rarely given the choice to decline the invite. Nor later, were her kids. But, as she would say, “Who doesn’t love ice cream?” While experiential, she was frugal, a fact she attributed to her Scottish roots and her upbringing as the daughter of an enlisted man. It was not until later in life that she allowed herself to travel meaningfully, visiting Europe and the national parks of the great American West for the first time with a sense of wonder and appreciation she brought to all things. Seeing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, she wept, overwhelmed by the privilege to see it with her own eyes. Leona leaves behind her husband, Brett Barnett, and her three children: Serese (Joe) Marotta of Knoxville, Jill Shampine of New Orleans, and Chad Shampine (Jeff Ferrell) of New York City.  Also surviving her is one granddaughter, Emma Marotta, and two siblings, Paul Sutherland of Brewerton, NY, and Rosanna (“Susie”) Sutherland (Tom Chambers) of Sarasota, FL. She is predeceased by her first husband, Jimmy, her brothers, Richard and Donald, and her grandson, Joseph Marotta. Leona will be cremated, and dual life celebrations will follow in Upstate New York and Hoschton, GA. Leona kept a portion of Jimmy’s ashes with her, and she requested that half of her remains be mixed with his and interred in the Pine Plains cemetery in Clay, NY.  The other half of her ashes will await reunion with Brett on his passing, with their remains combined with those of their beloved cats, past and present. At the end, Leona will be in perpetual union with the loves of her life, and like the wayward insect gently returned to nature, soothed, being right back where she belongs.  In lieu of flowers, Leona requested donations to the Central New York SPCA (https://cnyspca.org), supporting their mission of “caring for those who cannot speak for themselves.” Arrangements by Lawson Funeral Home, 4532 Hwy 53 Hoschton, Ga. 30548. Lawsonfuneralhome.org. 706-654-0966.