A single working mother during the 1970s, a time when few like her were in the labor force, Leanne Gitell still managed to host her son’s bar mitzvah, which was as meaningful and grand to him as any event.
“Unlike any other kids who had two parents and much greater financial resources, this was all done by her out of love,” said her son, Seth, of Roslindale.
With perseverance and determination, Ms. Gitell raised two children after her divorce, while coping with heart disease for more than 25 years and returning to college in her 60s.
“I learned from an early stage that she really did not rely on a lot of people,” said her daughter, Deborah of Hollywood, Calif.
Ms. Gitell, who worked in administrative positions for Boston doctors, died of heart disease Sept. 22 in Boston Medical Center. She was 71 and had lived in Hull for more than 40 years.
She was an “absolute fighter,” her son said, and “a pioneer as a working mom.”
Adept at juggling many tasks at once, Ms. Gitell would prepare a hot meal for her children each night after work while simultaneously reading the newspaper and listening to television, her son said.
Health concerns did not make her full life any easier.
“All along she defied the odds,” said Dr. Charles Tifft, Ms. Gitell’s primary care physician for about 30 years.
Ms. Gitell, he added, “did it because she wanted to be there for her children and grandchildren.”
Born in Boston, Leanne Fisher spent her childhood in Dorchester and Newton. In 1958, she graduated from Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall School in Waltham.
She graduated from Boston University with an associate’s degree in 1960. Afterward, she worked as an assistant for Boston doctors conducting research. According to her children, she had an affinity for working with medical professionals because her father was a doctor.
In 1965, Ms. Gitell wrote a letter of support to Gerald Gitell, an acquaintance from Boston University.
“I just happened to see in the paper that some men serving in Vietnam would welcome letters from home,” Ms. Gitell told the Globe in 2010, for her former husband’s obituary. “Gerry’s name was among them, so I wrote him.”
After Lieutenant Gitell returned from Vietnam, they began dating and married in 1967.
They moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency and she worked at George Washington University.
“We had a wonderful life,” she told the Globe in 2010.
Ms. Gitell often spoke about her experiences in the nation’s capital, her children said, including the night the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in 1968, when she was outside, caught amid the riots.
“For her, it was a very exciting time, but a time of social change and trouble in America,” her son said. “It made a huge imprint on her.”
Rather than move to Southeast Asia for Mr. Gitell’s job, the couple decided to go to the Boston area in 1968. In 1969 they moved to Hull, where she lived for the remainder of her life.
Ms. Gitell particularly enjoyed living in Hull after Labor Day, when summer visitors began to desert the seacoast town.
Her husband had served with the Green Berets during the Vietnam War, leading patrols along the border of Cambodia to prevent attacks by the Viet Cong. He was diagnosed by the Veterans Administration with posttraumatic stress syndrome many years later.
“We didn’t know about posttraumatic stress syndrome then,” Ms. Gitell told the Globe for his 2010 obituary.
As a result of Mr. Gitell’s difficulties after the war, the couple divorced in the mid-1970s, though they remained friends and talked on the phone every day until he died in November 2010.
For almost 20 years, Ms. Gitell worked in administrative positions at what is now Boston Medical Center. In one role, she helped welcome new residents in the internal medicine department.
Her first heart attack occurred in 1984, when she was 43. After heart surgery in 1992, Ms. Gitell retired and pursued her passion for sewing and quilting. Buntings & Bonnets by Leanne were sold at stores around Boston, including Bloomingdale’s.
In 1985, a brief item in the Globe’s At Home section said the baby buntings could be “a beautiful baby shower presentation or a gift to the new mother to wrap baby in to take home from the hospital.”
After being out of college for 30 years, Ms. Gitell returned to Boston University to expand her knowledge, rather than to seek a promotion at work, her family said. She enrolled in night courses and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1996, receiving a scholarship for perseverance in returning to college and enduring serious illness.
In addition to making crafts, Ms. Gitell also liked to follow current events and spend time with her grandchildren.
A service has been held for Ms. Gitell, who in addition to her son and daughter leaves a sister, Diane Cooper of Natick, and two grandchildren.
“She was a very strong woman,” said Tifft, her physician. “She worked hard every day, she stood up for what she thought was right, and she lived her life that way.”
Michele Richinick can be
reached at mrichinick@