Lolita “Lee” Chase
At 7:11PM, on the evening of August 17th, 2021, Lolita “Lee” Chase took a sunset flight over her beloved rose-filled home in the Carpinteria foothills. Destination, Heaven. Arrival time, immediate. Born on January 13,1928 in Long Beach, CA, Lee was the youngest daughter of Lida Mary Holden and Frank Wilson. Shortly after her arrival, Lee’s father left the family fold, making her mother a single parent on the eve of the Great Depression. Lee’s fondest memories during this challenging time were visits with her grandfather in Grass Valley, sharing Grandmother Wilson’s perfect sugar cookies with Aunt Bea and Aunt Guida and walking hand in hand with her sister Patsy to Sunday school. She was awarded a Bible for perfect attendance because as she often stated, “I had a heavenly father who never left me.” To support her family, Lee’s resilient mother took a job at Douglas Aircraft. She did the electrical wiring on the C-47 transport plane (aka The Skytrain/Dakota/”Gooney Bird”) which General Dwight D. Eisenhower described as “the most vital piece of machinery used in winning WWII.” Having a real-life “Rosie the Riveter” as a role model AND mother, inspired Lee to begin her first job at 14, working for a local milliner because she said “Women had to give up their nylons during the war but not their stylish hats.” This experience sparked a lifelong passion for fashion, one of Lee’s many creative pursuits. Upon her graduation in 1946 from Excelsior Union high school, Lee attended modeling school, a gift from her mother, the more affordable option to Pepperdine University, where Lee had been accepted. Shortly afterwards, Lee’s extraordinary beauty and charm was discovered by scouts for Rose Marie Reid, Canada’s premier swimsuit designer, who’s swim wear was carried at all the major department stores and who’d just moved her base of operations to downtown Los Angeles’ fashion district.
After joining the company, Lee was soon traveling throughout the United States, representing the glamorous line as a runway and print model. Her most exciting experience was standing in for her boss to emcee a fashion show at the Savoy-Plaza in NYC, at age 18! She also worked in the showroom, learning about sales orders and fabrics from the reps. In the atelier, she worked for the designer as a “fit model” while observing the creation of original designs and new technology developed for swim wear that enhanced each woman’s unique shape and led to patents that made her female “boss lady” in 1952, one of the richest fashion designers in the United States (Pre-“Spanx”). In 1948, Lee married her first husband followed by the birth of her first daughter, Cynthia Reed. In 1952, Lee returned to work at the same company, now as a single mom. She worked as a stylist and trained the sales reps, some of whom were making over $100,000 per year. Assessing the situation at hand, Lee chose to take her valuable knowledge of sales and fashion elsewhere, going into business for herself. She secured a loan from an uncle and partnering with a childhood friend, opened the first of two successful clothing stores in Belmont Shores and Newport Beach, CA. Lee’s natural creative vision and business savvy took off as she hand selected designers whose clothes she carried in her stores. One of whom flew out to California to “meet the lady who was outselling Saks Fifth Avenue” (also carrying his line). Lee procured antiques for her window displays which sparked another passion, interior design and antiquing. At this time she learned to ski by joining the LA ski club, learning in Mammoth, with trips to St. Moritz and Cortina, Italy where she sourced sweaters for her two shops. She then met the love of her life, H. Morley Chase, not on the slopes but on a blind date in Los Feliz. Their courtship spanned 7 years as they built their respective careers, Morley working for a Long Beach based oil company at the time. Date nights in Los Angeles were glamorous scenes in the ’50s and ’60s. Morley and Lee would meet for dinner at Chasen’s or Perino’s, attend live shows at the Coconut Grove at the Ambassador hotel to see Bing Crosby or Sammy Davis Jr. They built lifelong friendships in Newport Beach where they went on sailing “dates” with Morley’s friends and cousins. In 1963, Lee and Morley eloped to Las Vegas, then settled in Camarillo, CA near Morley’s family business, Chase Bros. Dairy. Lee gave birth to two more daughters, Carrie and Julie, then shuttered her businesses to become a full time wife and mother. She also took up tennis which she loved playing for many years with her dear friends and neighbors she established court-side. Weekends spent cruising the Channel Islands or Catalina island aboard their boat, aptly named the “Joy” were fun family outings as well as visits with her sister and brother-in-law Bob O’dell in Palm Desert. After selling a “spec” house they’d built, Lee and Morley moved the family to Carpinteria and into the home of their dreams. Lee’s natural energy was a perfect match for the house. She delighted in designing each room, wallpapering some herself, planning her English garden and indulging her love of baking. She always had a fresh batch of scones ready for visitors. Nurturing family and friends was always her top priority. She rallied with her new neighbors in the “Breakfast Club” and “The Walkers” during their daily, 6 AM, 3-mile walks. She also advocated supporting local business owners long before it was ‘in”, not just as a loyal customer but considered them friends. Both Lee and Morley loved entertaining visitors and throwing their annual Christmas party (kids included) which was legend. Lee would start planning and baking months in advance.
Lee also had a heart for service and now the time to do so with her youngest daughters settled in school. She loved to volunteer with the other mothers at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and delivering food for Meals on Wheels. She continued this work with her daughters through the National Charity League, focusing on service at Valle Verde as Lee had a heart for the elderly which she hoped to pass on. When the girls headed off to college, Lee continued volunteering for the Music Academy of the West managing The Treasure House for two years and organizing a sold-out speaking engagement and book signing for Martha Stewart in 1987, which raised funds for the students of the Academy. The Braille Institute was another important nonprofit that Lee felt deserved greater recognition in the local community. She was committed to working alongside the other auxiliary members, whom she adored, on the annual Polo benefit, pulling off a successful and fun event each year, to support the students of Braille. When not volunteering, Lee was engaged in an in-depth bible study course, ‘Bible Study Fellowship.” Her Christian faith was as deep as it was closely held. She loved attending church, worshiping God and reading His word. It was her faith that sustained her through the biggest challenge in her life, Parkinson’s disease which was diagnosed in 2006. “I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me” was the scripture/go to prayer Lee said each day, as well as thanking God for her many blessings.
Though Lee and Morley were fortunate to enjoy many travels with dear friends, they now spent their weekends on their beautiful patio pouring over the newspaper, debating politics as usual – neither took for granted the freedom to cast a vote – or playing a mean game of dominoes which Lee usually won. Ever the model, she never complained about her suffering but instead, focused on others and their needs. A generous listener and friend, Lee also continued one of her favorite pastimes as her body slowed its paces, floral design; pulling from the many fragrant roses in her garden, to give as gifts for friends. She was a generous gift giver never missing a birthday and especially enjoyed shopping and sending care packages to friends, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who were her greatest joy. When Morley passed in 2013 on the heels of their 50th anniversary party, a labor of love Lee planned down to the last detail, she donated Morley’s vintage Navion to the Camarillo airports WWII museum, her last act of devotion to the love of her life. Even in Lee’s final years she was ever fashionable, putting together perfect ensembles for herself or others. She enjoyed time in her garden; the scent of her roses, feeding the birds, visits from the grand- and great-grandkids, “See’s” candy, hazelnut lattes, putting “pouf” on everything (Canned whipped cream), playing with “Herbie” her beloved border collie, watching Downton Abbey and her favorite PBS show, Doc Martin. Lee’s life was made joyful to the end by her amazing caregivers/friends Tammy Graham, Veronica Aguirre, Angie Pepe, Delisay Aquino, Abigail Rodriguez, Donna Severy and Alma Sirin. A special mention to Jose Guitierrez, whom Lee often described as “The son I never had.” Her family is eternally grateful to each and every one of you. Lee’s beautiful spirit, smile and huge heart will be missed by everyone, especially her daughters Cynthia (Bob) Blackman, Carrie Chase, Julie (Patrick) McCaslin, grandchildren Kirk (Wendy) Blackman, Stacey Blackman Sternberg, Trevor (Jamie) Blackman, Liam McCaslin, great-grandchildren Troy, Kyle, David, Corey, Klari, Bennett and Anna Lee. A private service was held for family.
Donations in honor of Lee’s memory may be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, the American Parkinson’s Disease Association or the charity of your choosing.