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Tommye Joanne Bonner Leavitt passed away with friends and family by her side at Providence St. John's in Santa Monica, CA after a month in the ICU due to complications from surgery for colon cancer.
She was born on February 9th, 1940, on a family farm near Marshfield, MO to Claude Bonner and Hazel (Miller) Bonner. "Tommy Jo" became "Joanne" when she entered elementary school in rural 1940s Missouri, but she was proud of her full name, and used it on her online genealogy profile.
Though she lived her later life in California, she was a frequent visitor to her very extended family back in Missouri, and proud of her heritage as a child of the Ozark Mountains.
Joanne graduated from Marshfield High School in Marshfield, MO in 1958 and attended college at Missouri University where she studied journalism.
After living in Forth Worth, Texas for a period in the early 1960s, she eventually followed Route 66 out to California, like many others of her generation.
She met her husband, Michael Leavitt, shortly after his return from Vietnam in 1969, and married him in 1970. She worked as a travel agent in the early 1970s, and among her clientele were celebrity figures like Frank Sinatra. She used that opportunity to travel widely, going on multiple trips to Southeast Asia, including Thailand and Cambodia.
After enrolling her children at Edison Elementary in 1978 and moving to the Pico Neighborhood, she became a full-time community organizer and activist for the next 41 years, serving on the Santa Monica-Malibu PTA Council from 1979-1999, including a term as President from 1986-1988.
She also served on the Virginia Avenue Park Advisory board from 1985-2014, during which the park was completely redesigned and rebuilt and the first branch library in the neighborhood was established.
Her passion for affordable housing and early childhood education led her to also serve as a board member of Community Corporation of Santa Monica, a non-profit affordable housing builder, from 1991-2019 and on the City of Santa Monica's Child Care and Early Education Task Force from 1986-2019.
For the last 30 years of her life, her primary vehicle for community engagement was the League of Women Voters, where she served as President of the Santa Monica branch (twice, from 2002-2004), on the Los Angeles county-wide board from 1993-2004.
She also served in a wide variety of other high profile roles and committee chair positions on up until her death, including a recent stint as Vice President for Advocacy and Program.
Among her many accomplishments was helping to save Edison Elementary from being closed in the early 1980s, then leading the process by which it became a nationally recognized model for bilingual immersion education.
She helped preserve that status by assisting in the school's conversion to a charter after the passage of Proposition 187 (which otherwise banned bilingual instruction in California public schools) in 1994.
She also played a crucial role in the passage of numerous local school parcel tax and bond initiatives, using her broad array of connections to build a community-wide consensus in support of funding local schools over the past few decades.
Wrote her son Thomas in remembrance, "Of all Joanne's many, many efforts, her work on behalf of the children of Edison Elementary was closest to her heart.
"Once, when she walked onto the campus at John Adams Middle School, a former Edison student ran up and said, 'Oh, Mrs. Leavitt, you're here! I feel safe now.' No award or formal recognition ever made her more proud.
"That is her true, living legacy: thousands upon thousands of safer, healthier, happier, more accomplished children, in Santa Monica and beyond, busily making the world a better place themselves. 'Her kids," Joanne's kids."
Joanne was preceded in death by her husband of 38 years, Michael Leavitt, in 2008. She was mother to Thomas and Greg Leavitt, and sister to Jan Williams, Judy Kensigner, and Cynthia Goforth (a sister discovered very late in life).
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