Thelma Irene Leonard Gelis
April 23, 2020
Thelma Irene Leonard Gelis, age 96, passed away peacefully on April 23, 2020, knowing that she was surrounded by loving family and friends even in the midst of the pandemic. For the past 3 years she had resided at Dunbar Village in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
She was born on June 21, 1923 in Carriere, MS before the advent of antibiotics, television or the internet. She went to school in flour sack dresses that her mother made for her, carrying a pail with a cold biscuit for lunch. She relished growing up on a small farm, wading in the creek and riding bareback.
Her parents were Clara Mae (Bradley) and Stephen Grey Leonard, who served in WWI and was gassed. Clara would take her children to visit her husband at a Veterans Hospital in Alexandria, LA where he died when Thelma was only 4 years old. Clara was widowed at an early age but proved to be a resilient and strong willed woman, traits she passed onto Thelma. Thelma was preceded in death by her seven siblings: Cammie, Edward Earl, Ruby, Mary, Dimple, Dot and Van Curtis. Early in life Thelma was given the nickname “Patsy” later shortened to “Pat” which is what her siblings, nieces and nephews always called her.
Growing up during the Great Depression, Thelma learned the importance of sharing whatever you had with neighbors. She watched as her mother bartered for a prized bag of oranges or traded a hen for a sack of oysters.
Thelma met her husband Gaston J.B. Gelis during WWII and, while he served in the U.S. Coast Guard, she moved to New Orleans to work at the Port of Embarkation in the war effort. After the war they lived in Slidell, LA. where she adjusted to being a part of a large French-speaking family. Thelma and J.B. were happily married for 51 years before his death in 1994.
Thelma is survived by her three children: Gwen Impson (John), Douglas Gelis (Nancy) and Tahmi Keir (Ralph 1949-2018). Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren include: Brett Landry (Sanjana and their children Raj and Meera), Amy DiMaggio (Andrew and their daughter Anna), Jesse Gelis (Claudia and their son Marcelo), Dan Gelis, Jason Keir (Michelle and their sons Joshua, Noah JB and Dylan), Barbara Keir Tucker (Antiwon and their sons Keir and Mays), and step-granddaughter, Denise Smith ( J.T.). She is also survived by her sister-in-law, Barbara Lovelace; numerous nieces and nephews who all called her their favorite aunt. Thelma’s lasting Christian faith and generous spirit inspired her to love deeply. Friends were too numerous to count and included her friends, her children’s friends and her grandchildren’s friends. She was everyone’s MawMaw.
Although Thelma died less than forty miles from where she was born she loved to travel, first with her husband and then after his death with other family members. Her adventurous spirit took her to France, England, Switzerland, Alaska, Okinawa, Korea, Japan, China and Belize.
Thelma and her husband raised their children in New Orleans then retired to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They loved spending time on the water and delighted in teaching their grandchildren to fish and crab. She lived in Waveland and then Bay St. Louis for the past five decades. Thelma spent her later years at Dunbar Village where she enchanted staff and continued to welcome her many visitors. Her family wishes to thank everyone at Dunbar Village for their kindness and care.
Thelma’s boundless love and endless optimism extended to all who knew her. It made her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren into the women and men they are today. Her legacy is love.
Thelma will be buried next to husband, J.B., in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Slidell, LA. The family plans to host a Celebration of Life at a future date.
In lieu of flowers, her family requests that donations be made in Thelma’s name to Macular Degeneration Foundation at supportbrightfocus.org.
Please visit www.honakerforestlawn.com to sign guestbook. Arrangements by Honaker Funeral Home, Inc., Slidell, LA.