When Marilyn Jean Smith’s roommate Bonnie told her in April 1971 that she wanted to fix her up with a guy who was a friend of the man she was dating, Marilyn wasn’t too impressed with the details. “He’s divorced, 34, and a teacher.” Marilyn was just 25 and had only been in Phoenix two years. She hadn’t dated much since moving to Phoenix from her hometown of Akron, Ohio. It took some convincing, but she agreed to go out with this blind date, Les Leiter, who showed up in all brown attire.
“You looked like a mail man“, she told him on a later date. They laughed and kept laughing for the next 48 years (46 married). They had two sons, Edward and Stuart, plus two daughters-in-law, Jessica and Danielle, and two granddaughters, Sophia, 9, and Ellie, 5. Both girls loved their “Gram” who helped raise them, attended swim meets and dance recitals, hung on their every word and utterly adored them.
Marilyn started out as a teacher but when Stuart was born she told Les that she wanted to be a nurse, like her mother. It took her three years of classes from local junior colleges to get all the credits she needed for her nursing certificate. Nursing jobs were scarce then, but a new neighbor turned out to be the head of the oncology floor at Good Samaritan Hospital and helped Marilyn start her second career.
The one-time elementary school teacher was now an oncology nurse and learned so much about medicine and people and life over the next 23 years. It was hard work, but nursing came naturally to her. Despite her schedule, she found time for many family vacations with Les and the boys. Among their adventures, they frequently traveled to San Diego, Akron, Niagara Falls, the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, and Durango, Colorado, along with many other destinations which brought laughter and joy to the family.
As her sons grew and made lives of their own, Marilyn and Les enjoyed a wonderful trip to England and Scotland. Later, this now old, married couple loved an Alaskan cruise, as well as her dream trip to the exotic Galapagos Islands that Marilyn had admired after seeing the movie Master and Commander. She also traveled to France with her sister, Diane, which included a visit to Paris and Normandy.
In 2007, Marilyn’s health declined when she was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis, an auto-immune disease. It forced her to quit nursing, the job she loved. There were numerous other health issues that plagued her over the years, but her spirit remained unshakable. She became an avid gardener and her friends and relatives marveled at her beautiful garden filled with vibrant and lush plants and flowers. She also found time to give back as she volunteered for the Duets program. But as she had done throughout her life, Marilyn dedicated herself to being the glue for her family spending most of her time with Les, her sons and their wives, and her beloved granddaughters.
Marilyn died July 23, 2019 at the age of 72. She leaves her grieving husband and sons and her extended family, including sisters, Diane Smith and Elizabeth Turner, and brother, Douglas Smith and their families.
The Leiter family is planning a Celebration of Life to honor Marilyn in the fall. All who knew her and loved her are welcome. In lieu of flowers, the family requests a donation to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Please donate at https://www.cff.org/Arizona/. Visit https://www.hansenmortuary.com for condolences.Print Obituary & Condolences