Death in the Family: A Sad Goodbye to Lois LaBonte

I have sad news to report. My aunt, Lois LaBonte, died last week. After four months in the rehab center, where she had been since her fall in September, Lois has finally moved on to a better, happier place.

I’d like to thank all of you who have offered your encouragement, support, and prayers. I know that you made me feel stronger and more able to deal with this.

I received the call last Thursday that Lois had a change in condition and they felt that it would not be long before she passed. Fortunately, my sister Lisa was still in the San Diego area after flying there the previous week to help move our aunt’s possessions. So Lisa was able to get to the center and to be with Lois when she died.

Lois LaBonte

I drove down the next day and Lisa and I spent the weekend taking care of details. Fortunately her husband Bill was able to fly out and help us. We made her funeral arrangements, finished moving her things, and we were also finally able to find someone to buy her piano and the rest of her antiques. The most difficult part, but at the same time in a strange way the most joyful, was going through her personal possessions. We spent hours at the storage facility sorting through photos, memorabilia, journals, letters, books, records, and more. We laughed, cried, and remembered as we sorted through her things, deciding what to keep, what to throw away, what to let go with the rest of her things.

Lois LaBonte

Lois LaBonte

Many of the items that we kept were mementos of Lois’ 30 years in show business. She was an actress, singer, and dancer, who performed in many productions. She was a member of a singing and dancing group called The Establishment, which was quite well known in the 1970s. They frequently performed in Las Vegas, opening for many celebrated acts including Liberace, Ann-Margret, Robert Goulet, Bob Newhart, Perry Como, Engelbert Humperdinck, Burt Bacharach, and Redd Foxx. The Establishment was also a part of the Jonathan Winters Variety Show, and Lois sang some voice-overs for several other television shows, including Hawaii 5-0. She appeared in musicals alongside Carol Channing, Ginger Rogers, Betty Grable, and Tammy Grimes.  She also dated a few fairly well know actors of that era.  This is the way I want to remember my Aunt Lois.

Lois LaBonte

That’s Lois on the bottom left, with the hat.

Lois LaBonte

First look and see that the Establishment had second billing with Liberace. Then notice the area around the Caesar’s Palace sign. Been to Vegas lately? Looks a little different, doesn’t it?

The first half of her life was fascinating. Sadly, that era was cut short in 1991 when Lois was the victim of a tragic car accident that put her in a coma for several weeks and left her with a traumatic brain injury. She was never the same, and from that day forward suffered from balance problems, loss of self control, depression, and many of the other typical complications of a serious brain injury. She gradually alienated most of her friends, and after my mother’s death in 1993, with the exception of a few steadfast friends, Lisa and I were all she had left.

Recent years had been very tough for Lois. She cut off contact with Lisa and me. She frequently stated that she didn’t want to live any longer, particularly after the death of her beloved dog Barrymore. The one thing that kept her going was her love for all animals. She was a staunch vegan and animal activist, who donated as much as she could to animal rights organizations, particularly ones like Farm Sanctuary and the Animal Place that fought against cruelty to farm animals. She always said that everyone wanted to protect dogs and cats, but it was the cows, chickens, and in particular the pigs who were treated so heartlessly. Her apartment was decorated with the cards, photos, and calendars the many organizations give to their donors, and she was very proud when she received personal thank you letters from people like Ingrid Newkirk of Peta, or Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary.

Lois LaBonte

Lois with my niece Brynne.

I was going to write a separate obituary, but I realize as I read this that I already did. My aunt was a wonderful, funny, smart, and talented woman, and the world will be a little dimmer without her. She was my Aunt Lois and I loved her. I will miss her dearly. There is no memorial service scheduled at this time. We will be honoring her wishes and spreading her ashes with those of her beloved Barrymore’s at a later date.

Lois LaBonte

Lois with Barrymore shortly after her accident.

I’d like to finish with her own writing. Long after her accident, she wrote “Memories of My Show Biz Days, in which she recalled some of her favorite stories. If you’re interested, just click on the thumbnails below.

Lois LaBonteLois LaBonte

Lois LaBonteLois LaBonte

In memoriam, Lois LaBonte, 1935-2013.

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Comments

  1. says

    Oh, ever since you told me about Lois I have not stopped thinking about her (I am very sensitive this way with certain people, she felt her strong spirit, I know I sound cooky, I can’t help it) I am so saddened to here of her passing, but as you said she is in a much more comfortable happy place together with Barrymore. My deepest condolences to you and Lisa. She is singing and dancing in heaven, God rest her beautiful soul. xoxo
    Lisa @ RunWiki recently posted..Strawberry Napoleon with #SilkAlmond Pastry CreamMy Profile

  2. Alice says

    Just ran into your aunt’s chest/wardrobe and Playbills at a liquidator in Pacific Beach. Silent auction, currently.

      • Alice says

        There were Playbills and other programs from Hello, Dolly! and The Unsinkable Molly Brown. There were headshots in the top drawer of the case. And I did an internet search of her name and pulled up your site. According to all of the cast signatures and letters from producers/directors that were in the chest, she was well-loved.

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