Lea—Patricia Lea, 83, on January 28, 2018, in Mount Joy, Pa. Pat was born Patricia Lea Olson on March 15, 1934, in Battle Creek, Mich., the only child of Lillian and Alvin Olson. Brought up by her mother and grandparents, Pat felt unwanted and alone, nurtured only by the strict grandfather. She felt God’s presence (even though her grandfather disparaged all things religious), but not in Presbyterian church services with her mother. When she was five, in a vision the Virgin Mary told her that she was deeply loved. She converted to Catholicism as a teenager.
She loved learning and school, graduating from Battle Creek High School in 1952 and from Michigan State University with high honors in 1956. In college, she married Richard McIlnay. During the next few years they lived in Northport, N.Y.; Berkeley, Calif.; San Juan Cosala, Mexico; Hopewell, Pa.; and Iowa City, Iowa. In 1959, she began attending Iowa City (Iowa) Meeting. In 1961 she and Richard moved for his work to York, Pa. In York Meeting’s small brick meetinghouse, built before the American Revolution, she felt the energy of past seekers. She marched in 1961 with Women Strike for Peace and in the 1963 Washington march where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.
In 1964 she and Richard divorced. She moved to New York City with her children, teaching English at Brooklyn Friends School beginning in 1968. She worshiped with Friends in Greenwich Village and became a Quaker in 1969. Jazz gave her a new kind of life and a new transcendence. She spent time with Kenny Dorham, a jazz composer and trumpeter, whom she called the great love of her life.
In 1986, retiring from Brooklyn Friends School with an Outstanding Faculty award, she moved to Lancaster, Pa., to be near her family. She joined Lancaster Meeting, serving on the Peace and Social Concerns Committee and leading the monthly letter-writing campaign of Friends Committee for National Legislation. With emphasis on being in the Presence, she had strong mystical experiences and visualizations. She believed in the efficacy of her daily prayer. She found Spirit in nature, in art, in healing groups, and at retreats. She practiced laying on of hands and referred to Christ as “Jesus the Healer.” Gandhi’s My Experiment with Truth profoundly influenced her, especially the idea of continually seeking Truth.
She moved to Mount Joy in 1990. She supported the mentally ill with companionship in Compeer Lancaster, a program of Mental Health America of Lancaster County. Until 1998 she taught English at Consolidated School of Business and tutored at Masonic Children’s Home. She loved the beat of New York and visited her teacher friends there until near the end of her life. Transforming her home into a place of learning and fun for her great-grandchildren, she filled her house and back garden with thrift store toys, games, and learning materials. She cared for them every weekday until they began school and took them to doctors’ appointments, speech lessons, and Lancaster Meeting’s Camp FoxTales. Once they started school, she tutored them on Saturdays until the end of her life, her final lesson to them being the Lord’s Prayer.
A good listener with a grounded and peaceful presence, she loved to have fun. She chose words with care and fearlessly told the truth. She was unafraid of death because she knew her spirit would go on. At the end, unable to attend meeting, she said that meeting memories sustained her.
Pat leaves behind her children, Blake Yohe (Steve) and Corin McIlnay (Carol); four grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and her beloved friends in Lancaster Meeting and elsewhere.
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