My stepmother Rita passed away yesterday. She had her sister by her side during a peaceful transition. Her health had declined rapidly after my Dad moved into a nursing home in December. They last saw each other on Valentine's Day, when they were both being treated in the same hospital. The nurses rolled my dad's bed beside Rita's bed, and they held hands and had a chance to say goodbye. The day after that, my dad returned to the nursing home and Rita entered hospice.
I met Rita when I was 9 years old, when she became my Dad's confidante and girlfriend. They were together 45 years, married for the last 25 or so.
Rita M. Keintz was a PhD, an avid creative, an intellectual, and an amazing partner to my dad. They worked and lived all over; Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Chicago, and they retired together in Pittsburgh, her home town. Rita adored her siblings and was a loyal and active caregiver for her own mother, Hermina, when she developed Alzheimer's. Rita always did the right thing by everyone. She was a good person.
Rita genuinely loved the arts and culture, and was influential in my life in this way. She was the only person in my family who I could connect with about art. As a teen, she would take me to see "probably too mature, but definitely excellent" films, and we'd smoke cigarettes and eat pastries afterwards talking about the story. We'd share books, visit museums and exhibitions, and go to all the spots where the artists hung out. Rita would plainly discuss sophisticated stuff with me and functioned more like a 'pal' than a parent from day one. This was just right, since I lived with my mom, and we saw each other a couple times a year. Rita genuinely loved the arts and had a deep appreciation for artists, becoming one herself in later life, as a maker of beautiful purses.
Rita made friends everywhere she went and was known to talk excitedly - and in quippy partial sentences - about a good movie or telling stories about her happy childhood in Pittsburgh. She was active and engaged and smart. She did crosswords and played Scrabble with a vengeance. The Sunday NY Times was a sport, and she was a champion. She loved cookies more than anyone I know, a Pittsburgh thing, she told me: lavish cookie spreads get put out at wedding receptions.
Rita proudly cut her own hair and barely went grey ("see this reddish color, the ladies can't believe it!" she'd say). She smoked American Spirits like a chimney ("but not as much as before, Liz"). She didn't really care what anyone thought of it. She loved a smoke and would take a walker outside a restaurant and puff away until the staff shooed her to the curb. It was a sign of her independence, and she was fiercely independent.
Rita LOVED sports, and watched college basketball with unbridled enthusiasm - sometimes having to leave the room to watch privately lest anyone interrupt the game with idle chatter. She had been a professor at Rutgers and Villanova and had many interesting stories about "those nice basketball players" in her econ classes. Somehow, if they asked her charmingly enough, they could always get their grade bumped up, "they have to play after all (wink)!"
Rita had impeccable taste, loved hunting for bargains, and treated everyone the same. She was never a snob, having come from a good middle class family and soared her way through upper levels of academia and DC think tanks before it was common for women to do this. Rita, as a second wife to my Dad with no children of her own, made my brother and me, and later my kids, members of her clan. She delighted in having grand-kids and was kind and generous with them. I will forever be grateful for that.
So I want to share a bit of her life, and how she was an influence on me: she was a safe harbor of art and an appreciator of soul within the boring storms of a making a 'productive' life. She was important.
Rita loved Jane Austen, and foreign films, and usually saw every Oscar nominee (except the action flicks). Still to this day, when I feel out of sorts, I crave a good movie. I got this from her. If the movie made you cry, or think differently, it was a good movie. If this experience was too mysterious to articulate, then it was a GREAT movie. "My Brilliant Career," was one of Rita's all time favorites.
Rita loved cameo pins, beautiful pottery and unusual textiles. She had an eye for antiques and found a historic 12-person table in Chicago for a song. She bought it for the university my dad worked for and everyone oooed and ahhed at her savvy and taste. She knew quality.
In honor of Rita, I'm going to find myself a good story, have a good cry and appreciate her today. And thank you for taking such good care of my Dad, Rita. You did right by him always.❤️
While I had briefly met Rita before I never spent any significant time with her until the day she took me to Six Flags Amusement Park in New Jersey. There we spent time walking and talking and getting to know each other.
All was going well until we decided to ride an old wooden roller coaster - I believe it was called the "Runaway Train."
Anyway, as the cars left the "station" the whole coaster started to shake and after the first drop I could do nothing but swear as I was actually downright terrified. You name it, I said it. George Carlin would have been proud. Rita was silent.
After the ride she said, "We won't tell your father about that," and she made a friend of me for life.
Rita's advice throughout my life was always on point and gracious. I'll especially miss our talks about movies as she not only introduced me to "Classic" movies but had great insights into art and foreign films. Her recommendations were outstanding.
I will miss you Rita.
Thank you for enriching my life.